how do I explain that I don’t want a management job anymore?

A reader writes:

About a year ago, I was promoted to a supervisor role, which I have since realized is not a good fit for me. As a result, I’m looking to return to a senior analyst role, but I am finding a lot of resistance from prospective employers. In a recent interview for a position that was eerily similar to the position I had before becoming a supervisor, I told them I was looking to return to a role that allowed me to use my analytical skills and that I truly enjoyed that type of work more. But I could tell the hiring manager was worried I may up and leave, as there were no future opportunities in the department, and I think that is why I didn’t get the job, even though HR said my references were great.

How can I make it clear in an interview that I have no management aspirations, at least not in the near future, without it sounding negative? Is there a good way to say you feel more comfortable as a worker bee rather than as a supervisor?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaguar

    So for these From the Vault letters, there’s not really much immediate point in offering further advice, right? Is there an AAM posting guideline about this?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s up to you! I actually think the point of the comment section is more about discussion with each other than it is about speaking directly to the letter-writer (some letter-writers don’t read the comment section at all, after all, or read it once and then don’t think to return to it), so that wouldn’t change with these.

      1. 42

        Tangentially – do you alert letter-writers (via email) that their note was chosen to be published?

          1. 42

            Ah that’s good. I was wondering if maybe they don’t read the comments because they don’t know they’re in the blog. Or maybe it’s just potentially intimidating to read comments. Hm.

      2. Jaguar

        Well, I guess for posterity’s sake, the way I would handle this, assuming the LW (or anyone else) is okay with handling a bit of managerial work as needed, would be to clarify that you didn’t particularly enjoy managerial tasks and would prefer not to move into a management role again, but are willing to do some of it given your experience (as in the case of a manager being on vacation, someone leaving unexpectedly, etc) as needed on a non-permanent basis.

        For instance, I was the OH&S manager at one of my previous jobs in addition to my regular duties. Hated it! But I still leave it on my resume and, if asked, I clarify that I’m willing to lend my support and experience to the organisation and will even be a part of the safety committee if there is one, but I have no interest in being in charge of the company’s safety. I find that gives people a pretty clear look into my feelings on the subject such that they don’t feel like I’m a flight risk if there’s no opportunity to expand in that direction (and makes it clear that I don’t want to do it).

    2. BRR

      I also think a lot of these situations can apply tomany individuals. So further discussion might not be useful to the LW anymore but can help others going through a similar situation.

      1. myswtghst

        This is what I was thinking – a lot of the letters from the vault start up conversations which are relevant for a lot of us!

  2. Squirrel

    What even is the purpose of a PIP if the intention is to fire the employee? I know it gets used as documentation as to why someone was fired, but it seems like a misnomer to call it a performance improvement plan if its purpose isn’t to have the employee perform better.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      To make sure it’s absolutely clear to the employee what the issues are and what they’d need to do to improve, and to demonstrate that they did that.

      In some cases, it’s a genuine effort. In other cases, the manager is pretty sure it’s a lost cause but does the PIP anyway because if nothing else you want other employees to know that they won’t be summarily fired without warning if they’re having performance struggles.

    2. Sunshine

      I would think at that point it’s not always a foregone conclusion that the employee will be let go at the end of the PIP. But, if you’very made it to that point, it’s kind of a “one last chance” to correct the behavior. They’ve already been made aware of the problems and haven’t stepped up to the bar. I’d love it if the PIP finally got the employee to turn it around, but in my experience, that doesn’t happen. And if they do change, it’s temporary.

    3. Trout 'Waver

      If a person is fired for poor performance, they’re still allowed unemployment in my state. Our company’s unemployment insurance premiums don’t go up (or go up less than they would with a layoff) if we can document that a person was fired for poor performance. So, the PIP is used in that regard. I can’t say I agree completely with it, but there you go.

    4. animaniactoo

      I have a friend who basically went through a personal crisis and did some falling apart on the job for about 6 months, and then was actively working on getting her stuff back together when she was put on a PIP. She’d been with the organization for 17 years, and rather than talking to her about the fact that she was a normally competent and often superstar employee who suddenly wasn’t, they took it as an opportunity to start getting her out.

      So even when she was meeting the conditions of her PIP, it really didn’t matter. She asked and had it confirmed that there was nothing that they could particularly point to that she still needed to be working on. Some stuff she got taken care of faster than others, but overall – if she was an employee they’d wanted to keep, it would have been good enough.

      However, her position supported a director who they were trying to push into retirement and she was a crucial part of his ability to continue to function there. So getting her out was key to their objective of getting him out. Which they did manage to do about a year later. But as a 17 year employee with a lot of co-worker loyalty and likeability, they couldn’t *just* fire her without a lot of blowback. In her case, the PIP was basically a proactive move for them to prevent mutiny in the ranks when she was fired.

      Not saying this is every situation, but it’s one that happened to her.

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

        Oh, yeah, PIPs are definitely handed out as a CYA tactic when managers are looking to thin ranks. I worked for an agency where all of the senior members of a team were laid off and replaced by junior members (doing the exact same work for half the pay). This was getting into some iffy territory legally, as all the senior members were 40+ — so about a month before the layoffs all of the senior members were handed PIPs for what amounted to trumped up charges. Things like “you need to smile more when you give direction” and stuff like that.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        So in this case it was basically a 90-day heads up to start looking for a new job. (or however long)

    5. Alienor

      I’ve known a few people who went through a PIP and were not fired at the end. That said, most of them only changed their behavior for as long as they were on the PIP and then went back to their previous ways after they’d successfully completed it.

      1. Jennifer

        One friend of mine managed to get herself off a PIP, but eventually got fired anyway.

    6. MillersSpring

      At FormerJob, I had a subordinate (his boss reported directly to me) who previously had been on two PIPs before I joined the company. Then his boss came to me and said that the employee had been sleeping at his desk. This was a regular 9-6 office job, so he had no work factors that would have caused him to be that sleepy at his desk. Plus he was a spout designer for our teapot clients, and instead of creating new designs, he was going into the archives of one of our former spout designers, adapting those unused designs, and claiming that designer’s (much better) work as his own. It seemed like his creativity suddenly improved. Scouring the archives was probably a decent strategy, but not lying about it. We fired him without a new PIP.

    7. Vicki

      I would like to point out that the poor review (and the PIP) were a surprise to the LW (“This comes out of the blue”).

      WHile the question was “what do I do now” and the answer addressed that, I’d also like to add that this sort of question should NEVER come up because a poor review should never be a surprise and a PIP should be less of a surprise.

      This is the mark of a very bad manager.

  3. Trout 'Waver

    I hired someone (Ceresi) with management experience once for a technical role. Ceresi said she was fine with being an individual contributor. She then tried to go around me to my director. Instead of saying, “Have you run this by Trout yet,” my director would instead try to solve Ceresi’s problems and then assume that I was both aware of the issue and had refused to help. It turned out that she was intentionally doing it to angle for my job. Each time, I explained to her that I could solve the problems she needed help with, and that it was appropriate to ask me before going to my boss. Or, at the very least, make me aware that she was talking to my director.

    It got so bad that my (completely clueless) director actually asked me if I wanted to step down so he could promote her. I objected and pointed out the myriad reasons why this was a bad idea. It wasn’t until my director’s boss told him why my objections were obvious and valid that he dropped the idea. Ceresi moved on to a role that perfectly suits her shortly after all this.

    So, yeah. I’m quite gunshy about hiring former managers now.

    1. AnotherAlison

      I think it’s a tough situation for the analyst-turned-manager-turned-analyst to be in. The career path and $$ can often stagnate in a technical role, if you don’t move to management. My company (engineering) has created some special roles for really fantastic engineers who didn’t want to be managers, but you couldn’t do that for everyone. The other thing is, those engineers don’t typically want to be project engineers for 40 years either. In my business, it would get repetitive doing the same mid-level work after 10 years max. (If you go to senior, you’re managing others.)

      People get into management and go “Oh hell no” and then go back to the individual role, only to find the same old problems are there, and there are no promotions.

      I wish it wasn’t that way. I’m definitely more suited towards being an individual contributor.

      1. myswtghst

        It’s a really interesting paradox to me because (especially with skilled or technical roles) you often do hit a bit of a wall in terms of advancement as an individual contributor, but also because it takes a really specific (and often unusual) combination of skills to be an effective technical manager. I’m in a position where I’ve seen a lot of both – people who were promoted to management roles because they were great ICs but floundered because they didn’t have / develop the skills needed to be a good manager, and people who had the management / people skills but none of the expertise needed to really understand what their teams were doing.

  4. MechE31

    Have you tried applying for a job that is a higher level? I went “backwards” from a management position to a higher level technical position than I previously held and had zero trouble explaining this move. The technical position has a nearly identical salary range to the management role. It lacks the management bonus, but makes up for it in that I get paid straight time for OT vs no paid OT as a manager with the expectation of OT.

  5. stevenz

    #3 re looking for a job.

    I have a standard answer to this which has the virtue of being true. It goes something like “in this line of work I find that it’s best to always be open to possibilities. It’s pretty standard practice in this field that often the only way to move up is to change jobs.”

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