Lateral career move

Strategizing Your Lateral Move

Strategizing Your Lateral Move

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Updated August 22, 2022

Not all big career moves are made by climbing the corporate ladder. Sure, asking for a promotion sounds pretty appealing, but it’s not the only path to exciting new opportunities involving professional growth and development.

So, what is lateral mobility? 

There are two paths when regarding lateral moves. In both, professionals can expect to take on a similar role but in a new department, location, or specialty that doesn’t stray too far from where they already stand career-wise.

Internal transition: This role shift is made within your current company, which is convenient for employees wanting to keep their insurance, clientele, and other perks that come with staying with the same employer.

External transition: This route means making similar changes in your role but with a new organization entirely. It can be ideal for professionals looking for different opportunities than their current company can provide.

Before deciding which route to take, it may be best to consider the reasons for a professional sidestep in your career rather than moving on up.

To be, or not to be… moving up.

For some, roadblocks may hinder upward mobility within their organization, and for others, a lateral move is more beneficial for their long-term career goals. Here are just a few examples of each to help broaden the perspective on why a horizontal step rather than a vertical climb may be worth exploring.

Reasons for not moving up:

  • Perhaps the corporate ladder at your organization is more linear than inclined. With a company lacking in positions higher up that reflect a greater level of responsibilities for you to carry out, a lateral move could be the next best option.  
  • Maybe there’s hesitation on either your side or your employers’ because more time is needed to develop leadership skills required for a higher position. If you’re looking to be challenged but not quite ready to lead, making a lateral move may be ideal for your career growth.
  • Say there is a need for an upward position to be filled, but there are budget restrictions that prevent leadership from being able to offer the pay grade desired for the role. A temporary side shuffle to test the waters can help confirm your fit for the position and pass the time until compensation can be adjusted.

Reasons to choose lateral mobility over upward mobility:

  • It’s completely normal to seek change that doesn’t require abandoning the work-life balance you’ve worked so hard to acquire. You can still take your career to the next level by applying for a similar position to gain valuable insight, grow with a new team, and improve your skillset.
  • There’s a chance that a department or leadership change-up is just what’s needed if you feel that you may have outgrown your role. A lateral move is also ideal for burnout prevention if responsibilities become increasingly overwhelming or you’re looking to regain the spark of a fulfilling position.
  • Even better, maybe a promotion is in the works, but you’re hungry for more visibility and networking opportunities before making the leap. Stepping to the side can help prepare for stepping up once an alluring higher position eventually comes along.

Should you move laterally?

Well, now that you have an idea about what a lateral move is as well as its pros and cons, you must ask yourself if it’s the right career move for you. Lateral mobility can bring you many new exciting challenges or even ease some preoccupations about your current role. 

Keep reading to find out how to explain a lateral move in an interview!

If you’re considering a lateral job move, you should frame your transition in a way that allows you to gain experience through change and how that change can benefit your company. For instance:

Do you want to diversify your skill set?

It’s entirely possible to feel stuck at work. If you feel like you want to stretch your legs and pick up or dust off some skills that might help your long-term career goal, a lateral move is the right bet for you. 

Explain to new or current employers that you’re excited to test out a career pivot where your experience can be utilized without starting from scratch since you would be in a similar role with different responsibilities. 

Do you want a better organizational fit?

Sometimes a company or a team’s culture isn’t for you, and that’s okay. The last thing anyone wants is to be unhappy at their job, it staggers productivity and leads to constant job hopping. Besides, if you’re spending a third of your day in a full-time job, at the very least you should feel that you like what you do. 

In cases such as this, be confident in suggesting that lateral mobility is how you plan to stay within your current company though with a different team. If a new company altogether hasa a better fit for your working style, let future employers know that this transition is better suited for your longevity.

Do you want to try some other things?

There is comfort in routine. Knowing the people and their quirks, the office politics, and all the ins and outs of a job can appear boring or safe, depending on your perspective. A lateral move can help you get some middle ground, doing similar things with different people. 

Here you can explain that your hunger for growth can be better satisfied by changing things up with lateral mobility. By wanting to explore other areas of your current company or even a new one, you’re showcasing a desire to be a more versatile employee.

The utmost thing to consider, though, is whether this move will help your long-term career goals.

How to make a lateral career move

It’s important to be intentional when making decisions that directly impact your career goals. 

Begin by evaluating where you are on your career path and where you still want to go. Ask yourself the tough questions such as: 

What are you hoping to achieve by making a change at this stage in your career? How would a lateral role benefit from your expertise and vice versa? And, after a year or two down the road, will this move have brought you closer to your desired professional goals or keep you in the same place?

Next up is a job search! This can be either internally or elsewhere to see not only what’s available but what responsibilities, pay, and other expectations may follow. Job seekers can benefit from working with a recruiter for the confidentiality needs of those not yet ready to announce their search.

After that, the only thing left to do is talk it out with leadership. Make your case for why a lateral move is in your and their best interest. Depending on their range of capabilities and how well you’ve demonstrated the usefulness of a change may decide whether you continue with your current company or look elsewhere.

Whatever the reason or course of action, lateral mobility can be just as advantageous as moving on up the corporate ladder. As long as you’re on a path toward career growth and professional development, there is no set direction to be followed.

Plan your lateral move with an expert recruiter in your industry.

Contributed by Mary Dominguez and Ana Martinez

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