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I have an unconventional career path from management to engineering, which is considered backwards to traditional, when a person first gets hired for sort of junior engineering position and then grows up to tech lead and, above, to head of unit, increasing amount of management portion and decreasing engineering portion of daily work. Also, I'm sure that among both hiring managers and lead engineers, who can and often do take part in an interview during hiring process, it's kind of a warning bell when a person who applies to a tech position has a lot of prior experience with almost none that could be relevant and direct for the position.

So should I try to sell my reverse-traditional career path and represent it as a huge advantage for the organization (self-sufficient worker, can estimate with low error, can lead things when they turn into chaos); or should I better render it to match actual technological/engineering requirements?

PS. I've been on the other side and I've interviewed very different people. None of them has similar path. So I don't have enough information to even predict my own reaction.

Update: after getting several comments, I have to define some information more precisely:

  1. The question is actually about the cover letter. What happens at the ongoing interview, is completely out of scope of this question.
  2. My prior experience as a manager is great. I am educated, trained, I loved this job. My success rate is high, however isn't 100% (yup, I failed on some projects, particularly on the first one). But thereafter things got complicated.
  3. My current lifestyle doesn't allow me to be stressful and under pressure all the time, and management work is all about that. The reason is that I got mixed up in bodybuilding, with all its regimen, insane water consumption and frequent training sessions.
  4. So, the core point is me restructuring priorities, not prior failures or disappointments.
  5. I actually have a formal Computer Science education (BSC). But I don't believe it could let me raise a bid because a) it's twice as short as my working experience; b) it's out-of-date-ish, since I got my diploma in 2009.
  6. I've been working as a freelance software engineer part time for last 2 years to regain skill and learn new things (many have changed since 2009). This information is out of scope, though. Moreover, I don't believe it's a good idea to showcase my freelance experience alongside with experience as an employee, besides the former isn't as impressive.
  7. My goal is to get an engineering position. I won't oversell my management experience, unless it suits the job description (e.g. at a startup that lacks self-sustaining).
  • You might want to rephrase this. Asking what you should do is not so useful for future visitors to the site. – Telastyn Mar 10 '15 at 19:36
  • Your Q is about cover lever but then in your "P.S." you talk about interviewing. IMO you should be ready to answer this sort of question in an interview, not the cover letter. – Brandin Mar 10 '15 at 21:07
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    ^ This. I was asked this in an interview and honestly told them I was not ready for management and was bored out of my mind, and I was hired. – Lawrence Aiello Mar 10 '15 at 21:09
  • @Brandin, cover letter, not interview. I edited the main description and pointed it out as the first list item. Sorry for vagueness. – rishat Mar 10 '15 at 21:48
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    You really think that a 2009 diploma is "oldish"? – Maria Ines Parnisari Mar 11 '15 at 0:54
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As a person who did this, here is how I did it.

I changed the title on my resume' from Project Manager to IT Specialist. I was in no way prepared for management at the age of 24 and hated every day of work, and was willing to do whatever I had to get out (I actually get paid more at my job now, oddly).

I was asked in the interview "What made you decide to go back into programming?" and I told them the truth, which is that I was extremely bored in management, and that my inexperience of programming in the real world was impacting my ability to manage effectively. I was hired (not for that answer alone, but in general). It wasn't a complete turnoff to them.

I think that any programmer can appreciate someone who wishes to manage, but wants to actually know what it is like to be a programmer. Too many managers don't. Way too many.

Management is certainly in my future, but not right now. And it probably isn't for you either, and that's okay. I wouldn't sell "management skills" to them in your CV, since that isn't what you want. Actually, don't even bring it up. If they ask you what you did at your previous position, be prepared to explain and be ready for the question I mentioned above. Convey to the hiring manager how you will be a good engineer for their company and can help solve their problem.

  • To put 'IT Specialist' headline is a good idea. But what did you do with position names of all the jobs you have had? – rishat Mar 10 '15 at 21:52
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To be honest, I think it has more of a negative touch and I wouldn't try to put it in the focus of your application.

Basically I would have two possible interpretations for this case if someone would apply to a job in my company:

  1. You weren't really qualified for a management job / didn't get along with the people or couldn't handle the stress. That's why you are 'reverting' to a tech position. If you are at the same time trying to sell them your management skills this won't add up.

  2. You are over-qualified for this position. Generally it's always a bad move to hire an over-qualified person. This people are 'smart-asses' or will sooner or later leave for a more demanding position.

As your potential new line-manager (who in most cases will play a role in the application process) I would most likely think that you are hard to manage because of your own management skills rather then I would think it's a bonus for the team.

While of course neither of the above points are necessarily true for you and I'm just playing devils advocate here, I still think that there is a high change that your application will be evaluated according to this and that you will be dropped out early in the process, before given the chance to correct such prejudices.

In the end I would advice you to rather focus your application on the tech part and why you are a good fit for this tech-position instead of trying to sell your management skills, that were never asked about by that company.


Disclaimer: Other hiring reps may have a different approach in that particular situation and react in another way - this is just what I would think, if you would have applied to my company.

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    What if number 1) is true though? By that logic, what is wrong with it? I ask because I did number 1 and I believe it was the right move for me. I was in no way prepared for management. – Lawrence Aiello Mar 10 '15 at 21:08
  • @LawrenceAiello there is nothing really bad about it, but it's also not beneficial - so I would see no point in mentioning it in the cover letter. Also if you admit this so openly, you won't be able to sell your management skills to the company at the same time, as the OP planned to do. – s1lv3r Mar 10 '15 at 21:17
  • Ah yes, I agree with that. He shouldn't sell those skills if he is not prepared for that yet. – Lawrence Aiello Mar 10 '15 at 21:18
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    @s1lv3r -- he makes it clear it is not about under/over-competence but he simply wants to regulate the stress level of his job in order to fit it with his desired work-life balance. not everyone wants to utilize 100% of their capacity at all times (myself included), it can be stressful and you can start hating life as a result. work is not everything. workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/6100/… – amphibient Mar 12 '15 at 15:45

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