L.A. asks:

I’ll soon celebrate my 15th anniversary as operations director at an international medical technology company. It’s a nice job, but after all this time, it no longer challenges me. In part also because there are no further growth opportunities for me in Europe.

As you can see from my resume, I never finished university. I’m regularly confronted with this when I show interest in another job. For a position at my level, you’re expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree, I’m often told by recruiters from large agencies. Last year, therefore, I started a part-time university course in business administration.

As my work alone takes up an average of 50 hours a week, you can imagine that this puts a lot of strain on my private life. A solution for me would be to work less (temporarily). I brought this up with my boss in the US, but he doesn’t see any options. Our company is owned by an investment company and is currently being set up for sale and my personal ambitions would conflict with this.

I would even be prepared to take a step back, for example by working as a buyer somewhere. I already had some discussions about that, but I haven’t yet been able to come to an agreement with a potential employer. Can you advise me?


The headhunter answers:

I see how, after so many years in the same position, you desire a change of scenery. It surprises me that you haven’t gotten this ‘itch’ before. It also amazes me that the recruiters you’ve spoken to think so highly of a university degree for an operations role.

In purchasing and operations, to me, personal skills and experience are essential. Your network and your market knowledge are also invaluable in your job performance. Moreover, you do have several diplomas in practical training relevant to your position. However, I can understand that you want to complete an academic education.

There are some special aspects to the demotion you’re contemplating. Not every employer will like your motivation. And you’ll probably start out working for someone who’s at your current level in the organization. After completing your studies, you’ll want to move up, which could be threatening to your manager. Not every employer will appreciate that and it doesn’t seem like an ideal solution for yourself either. Why would you want to climb down the ladder at all? You’ll earn less and it will do nothing for your career.

Why not look at an early-stage startup or a smaller company instead? With your network and experience, you have a lot of added value to offer them. Startups can make good use of your input at the early stage of setting up a supply chain, but often do not have enough work for a full-time job. You could work fewer days and spend more time on your private life and study. You could negotiate a flexible contract and perhaps work as a consultant for multiple companies.

This seems much more fun and educational to me than falling back on a ship that has sailed. If you approach it cleverly, you could even keep your income at the current level or maybe even increase it. With the right timing, you’ll have finished your studies at ramp-up and you’ll be ready to grow with the company.

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