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NFER March 2020
NFER March 2020

Career wrong-turn – How to step down and minimise the fallout

January 29, 2020, 12:36 GMT+1
Read in about 4 minutes
  • Sometimes a career wrong-turn can necessitate departing from a role earlier than expected. Jill Berry looks at how to step down while minimising the fallout...
Career wrong-turn – How to step down and minimise the fallout

Whenever I’m asked to advise someone considering a move into a new role, I emphasise the importance of ‘finding your fit’.

Weigh up whether this is the right time, post and school for you, and how your skills, temperament, vision and values align with this particular position and organisation.

You won’t be able to fulfil the role perfectly from day one, since you’ll inevitably learn how to do the job from actually doing the job itself. However, you do need to feel that there’s a synergy between what the role and school appear to need and what you have to offer.

Carefully research whether this appears to be a good match, and use what you find to shape a compelling written application and prepare for the interview.

If, at any stage of the appointment process, you start to feel that this may in fact not be a good dynamic – perhaps owing to reservations over whether you and the headteacher or governors will work well together – then have the courage to step away.

This isn’t an exact science. It can happen that you accept a new role, believing the fit to be right, but over time come to realise that this isn’t the case after all.

You may feel frustrated that the role isn’t enabling you to develop into the professional you hope to be. Perhaps it’s simply the wrong post for you, or will require you to work alongside leaders with whom you aren’t in alignment.

If that applies, then change things. Work forms too large a part of our lives for it to make us feel unfulfilled and miserable. Recognising you’ve made a career misstep doesn’t have to denote the end of your career completely, but you will need to navigate the process carefully.

1. Give the required notice

Don’t leave an employer in the lurch; make sure they have adequate time to replace you.

2. Be honest

Be forthright with your employer as to why this particular role hasn’t worked out, but beware of blaming others. Explain how, over time, you’ve come to realise the role’s requirements don’t match what you’re able to contribute and conclude by stating that it’s better for you and your employer to part ways.

3. Do your research

Search carefully for your next post, and don’t accept something quickly out of fear for how temporary unemployment and a career gap might look on your CV. It’s more important that your next role is a good fit, rather than one to which you’re ill-suited. Consecutive missteps will be harder to explain and justify than one isolated example.

4. Keep the faith

We’re all fallible, and all get things wrong sometimes. One mistake doesn’t equate to total failure. You need to settle on a narrative that shows what went awry on this occasion – both to help you learn from the experience yourself, and to help you communicate what happened to others. The right job for you is out there – you just need to be determined to find it.

Jill Berry is a leadership consultant, author and former headteacher.

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