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Bruzzese: Working in lower position hones management skills

A few years ago, you might have turned up your nose at ever taking a job with a title or pay-grade below your current level. You might have believed it was a stupid career move, and no way were you going to accept anything less than what you have now.

Then, you lost your job.

Now it doesn’t seem like a stupid career move or beneath you to take a job that will provide a paycheck. In fact, Paul Facella says taking that a lesser position may just be one of the smartest things you’ve ever done for your career.

“Lower-rung jobs humble you and hone you,” says Facella, a top management guru. “You’re going to learn things you might not otherwise have had the chance to. And, you’re going to be given a chance to move up really quickly.”

Facella, founder and CEO of Inside Management, had his first job at 16 working the grill at McDonald’s. He worked for the company for 34 years, rising through the ranks to become a key executive. Still, he says his proudest moment was when a manager raised his pay 5 cents an hour to $1.30 after his first three weeks.

“I didn’t even know you could get a raise,” he says, laughing.

Facella is busy promoting his new book, “Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald’s,” ($24.95, McGraw-Hill), and says he wants to assure many job hunters that accepting a job they believe is “beneath them” will have great benefit.

“Look at it as an opportunity with a big ‘O,’ ” he says. “Working that kind of job, you can see how management operates and what works – and what doesn’t. It will help you get ready for your next job by observing both the good and the bad.”

But what about those who already have had management experience? What can they learn by being knocked out of those ranks?

“A lot of managers have really gotten out of touch. They don’t get out of their office. But once they’re face-to-face with customers, working with a crew and for other managers on a daily basis, they’re going to see firsthand what is going on. They’re going to understand what motivates people – and they’re going to be surprised by what they learn,” Facella says. “And when they go back to management, they’ll be better for it.”

Further, Facella says not to worry about how accepting a lower position will look on your resume.

“Three or four years ago, accepting a lesser job than what you have now might have been looked at differently than it is now,” Facella says. “But there is no one who hasn’t been touched by this crisis, and I think hiring managers in the future are just going to say, ‘Well, you did what you had to do and I understand that.’ ”

Facella says the history of “elitism” by some workers – especially young employees – who believed they should be paid top dollar when they had little experience, may have been driven from the workplace scene by the current financial crisis.

“I think a lot of folks are going to be humbled by this experience,” he says. “I think they’re going to see that it’s OK to learn from the bottom and work your way up. They’re going to find that learning the ropes before taking over a business makes sense.”

For example, Facella says that workers are much more likely to develop trust and respect for leaders they believe really understand what they do every day, and the only way to do that is by actually spending time working the grill or dealing with customers face-to-face.

“People who are accepting lower jobs right now need to go into these jobs with a positive attitude,” Facella says. “You might find it hugely gratifying, and find that it’s more fun, more diverse. Employees at that level are often close-knit and become friends. You might find it’s something you really like.”

Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy … and How to Avoid Them” (www.45things.com). Write to her c/o: Business Editor, Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.

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