Sometimes a career doesn’t follow a straight line up the corporate ladder. Depending on your goals, you may decide that a jump to the left or the right is the next best “forward” step on your career path.
When professionals take this route, it’s called a lateral move. Although it may not seem to take your career to the next level, a lateral move can sometimes be the right step ahead in your career.
What Is a Lateral Move?
When it comes to a lateral move, the meaning can be nuanced. At its simplest, a lateral move is when you take on a new job that’s at the same career level as your current job, but may have different duties. A lateral move is not the same as a career change, though, as you generally stay in the same career field or even the same company. But a lateral move is similar to a career change in that you’ll usually perform different tasks and (hopefully) learn new skills.
There are two types of lateral moves you can make:
- Internal lateral move: You stay with your current company but take on a new role at your current professional level. This usually allows you to keep your benefits (like health and vacation days) while trying something new and applying any transferable skills.
- External lateral move: You leave your current company for either a similar role at a new company, or a new role with a different title, but at your current career level (entry-level, mid-career, etc.).
Why You Should Consider a Lateral Move
A lateral move gives you the chance to grow and enhance your current skill set. For example, if you’re making a lateral move from account manager to salesperson, you’ll learn how to sell the product, and how to negotiate and close a deal. You’ll also be out in the field growing your book of business. And because you’ve already experienced the account management side of the company, you’ll have a better understanding of how the client will be managed after the sale, making you a more knowledgeable salesperson.
Lateral moves also help you grow your professional network. Obviously, if you make an external lateral move, you’ll meet new people through your new job. However, if you choose an internal lateral move, you’ll also meet and work with new colleagues that you may not have had the opportunity to connect with in your old role.
Sometimes, the best way to go forward in your career is to step sideways with a lateral move. The higher up the career ladder you go, the fewer positions there are above you, meaning there may not be as many opportunities for promotions. There’s a chance your career could stall for years if you stay on your present rung, waiting for a position to open.
A lateral move may also be the right choice for you when it offers better work-life balance. The new role may not offer a better title, higher pay, or more vacation time, but it might provide you with more flexibility or the opportunity to work from home.
A lateral move can also help you rediscover your passion for your work and re-engage you with your career. Perhaps you’re feeling the signs of burnout, or you’re happy in your chosen career field, but the role isn’t what it used to be. Or, you like your company and your coworkers, but need to find a role that’s more exciting or fulfilling.
And, a lateral move may also be the right move if your present employment situation isn’t ideal. Maybe you and your boss aren’t clicking anymore, but you want to stay at your current company. Or, if you’re concerned that a layoff is imminent, a lateral move to a new company may be the right choice to help you maintain your income or health insurance.
Is a Lateral Move Good for My Career?
A lateral move can be the right choice for your career, depending on your long-term professional goals. So, before you consider a lateral move, make sure you understand where you want to go in your career and assess how it will step you closer to that goal.
For example, an internal lateral move exposes you to new areas of the business. This exposure gives you the opportunity to learn about aspects of the company or product that you may not have learned about otherwise. This enhances your overall professional skill set, which makes you a more well-rounded and experienced worker.
An internal lateral move also demonstrates your commitment to your current employer. Perhaps you’ve become bored with the role or outgrown it, but you don’t want to leave because you love the company. A lateral move can help you re-engage with the company and its mission.
At the same time, your internal lateral move benefits your company. They don’t have to hire and train someone from scratch (you already know when payday is, what the holiday schedule is, and what the policies are–along with highly coveted institutional knowledge), and they get to retain a talented and invested employee that meshes well with their culture.
When a Lateral Move May Not Be the Best Career Move
Sometimes, though, a lateral move is not the best career move. As you’re thinking about what you could gain from a lateral move, don’t neglect to consider what you could lose if you make the switch.
If you make an external lateral move, you may face a pay cut. Depending on the job, you might not have as much vacation at the new job compared to your old position. And, sometimes, additional benefits (health insurance, vesting in the 401k) can take months, if not years, to access.
And though no one but you knows what’s right for your career, there is the possibility that coworkers, supervisors, and even future employers may have a negative opinion on your lateral move.
For example, some people may think you lack ambition (why aren’t you trying to move up the ladder?). They may draw their own (incorrect) conclusions: you’re trying to avoid taking on new responsibilities, and you’re flaky or unreliable. Or, worse, like you can’t hold down a job.
Sometimes the Path Up Leads to the Side
One last parting tip: as you’re evaluating a lateral move, ask yourself if it’s a good step or just a step. Will this side step help you achieve your future career goals, or will you find yourself in the exact same place you are now in a year or two? Make sure that your lateral move is not a dead-end move. It should be a step forward in your career, even if it is to the side.
Whether it’s a lateral move, a career change, or the desire for something new, FlexJobs has job postings for every kind of job seeker. With fresh listings posted every day across 50 career categories, members can log in and start their search. Not a member? Learn more about how FlexJobs can help you find the job you’ve been searching for.
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