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I have had a successful 20-year career in corporate HR, and have been approached by a national level non-profit.

Dear Laurence,

I have had a successful 20-year career in corporate HR, and have been approached by a well-known, national level non-profit. It has a mission that I believe in quite strongly and that I would be happy to contribute to. But it obviously means a big step down in terms of pay and conditions.

My worry is that while I would be happy to work in this way for perhaps the next five years, I don’t want to completely close the door on my old higher-flying life. Is it possible to return to the corporate world after an absence with a non-government organisation?

Ready to volunteer, Singapore

Laurence SmithGenerally speaking, I think my advice would be to go for it. Because I believe progressive corporates – and given that you’re a purpose and values-driven person, you wouldn’t want to work for any other type of corporate – would value and appreciate the different perspective that you would gain from working with a non-government organisation (NGO) and bring back into the corporate world.

I guess the one question I would ask before you take this step – because there is always some risk involved – is: is this a one-off, one-time opportunity, or might an opportunity like this come along five or 10 years later when perhaps you are more ready to leave the corporate world and embark on something like this more fully?

While I think that the type of corporates you would want to return to would appreciate and respect the knowledge and experience you’ve gained, there is a risk that some corporates would not.

If you do it now, I think there is a small degree of risk. But I think you should follow your heart and passion and work with what best aligns with your purpose.

Still, also just think if the right timing is now, or perhaps a few years later.

As an example, I can think of a very good friend who was a very senior HR leader and did indeed take a couple of years ago to work with an NGO in a field she deeply believed in.

After a couple of years, she returned to Singapore and took on an equally senior HR role.

But to be honest, I can’t think of too many corporate people that have done that.

Perhaps, that’s because when they do experience life outside that world, they don’t actually want to return to the corporate way of life – even with the higher salaries and higher flying.

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