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Why you shouldn't neglect lateral career moves

By Jon Spratt on May, 15 2018
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Jon Spratt

Traditionally career success is judged by how quickly you rise through the ranks in an organization. 

Lateral moves are often viewed in a negative light because of the misconception that they don’t help you advance your career. A lateral career move is when you make a change to another position or department at the same level as your previous position.

Traditional vertical career moves can be compared to a ladder; they will help you ascend to a higher level in an organization but it’s also a path with limited options and perspectives. Lateral career moves are more like a lattice; you can go in a variety of directions and have a wealth of new opportunities.

While you may worry that lateral moves won’t help you advance your career, this is far from the truth. Even if you’re switching departments entirely, i.e. from sales to marketing, you may be further from a promotion but will have more marketability in the long run.

Since you now have experience in multiple departments you will likely be suited for management positions later. Experience in a prior role can also benefit you in a new one, as you will have different insights and familiarity with different aspects of an organization.

Even though it may seem like you’re starting over entirely in your new role, contacts and mentors from your previous position can help point you in the direction of building new contacts relevant to your new position.

This means that your network will grow to cover a variety of departments within an organization, giving you a greater understanding of how to meaningfully contribute in your role. You will also have greater visibility within an organization and will gain additional skills and knowledge.

A lateral move is also a great way to break out of a career ‘rut’. You may be feeling like you aren’t being challenged, or that your values could be better matched with another department. If you don’t love what you do, exploring a greater variety of options could help you find a job you truly enjoy.

Lateral moves often come with additional training, add responsibilities, and force you to leverage and improve upon your current skills.

Competencies are a great way to start exploring lateral moves. They allow you to clearly see your knowledge, skills, abilities, and behavioral qualifications, and when compared with the competencies required for certain jobs you can lay out a clear plan for making a career change.

Career pathing and competencies combined let you map out a path from your current position to an end goal, which could include a lateral move or two.


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