Making a Lateral Career Move: The Pros and Cons

by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. Quintessential Careers (www.quintcareers.com)

You have been working hard, tracking your accomplishments, and promoting your personal brand within your organization -- all the right moves to obtaining that promotion you know you deserve. Instead of the promotion, however, your boss calls you in for a chat and tells you that you are being talked about for a lateral position that just opened up, a position with the same or similar title and pay grade but in a different part of the organization.

Or, perhaps it's you who has decided that for whatever reason you will not get promoted within your department -- but you love the organization -- so you are considering a lateral move with what you hope will be more opportunities down the line.

Whatever the reasons for considering a lateral move within your current organization, take a moment to read this article -- and then take much longer to weigh the pros and cons of applying for or accepting the lateral move. If you're feeling forced to take the lateral move, you might consider whether you are doing something wrong.

Finally, remember that some of the best run organizations understand the value of their employees and the importance of retaining the best workers within the organization -- even if that means shuffling some people into new positions, so do not assume that a lateral move is a knock against you. The key is understanding the organization's corporate culture and whether it does indeed value its employees.

Pros of a Lateral Move

  • Promotion Potential. Organizational structures have become much flatter with the downsizing that many organizations have done in eliminating middle management positions. With this flatter structure comes fewer opportunities to be promoted, but making a lateral move and gaining more experience and more contacts within the organization should make you a much more attractive candidate for a promotion when a position opens in the future.
  • Improving Job Security. A lateral move from an under-performing or soon-to-be-downsized department gives you a chance to not only stay with the company, but also show your value in a new department.
  • Increased Marketability. Gaining new skills and broadening your capabilities and accomplishments can also make you a much more attractive candidate to headhunters and outside organizations with positions to fill. So, even if you are happy with your organization now, it never hurts to make yourself a more attractive job-seeker.
  • Professional Development. If you have been in your current position for a number of years, you may have become so good at it that you know all there is to know -- perhaps even become a bit bored with it. By taking a lateral move and learning new skills, you may again become excited with the challenges you'll face.
  • Fresh Faces. Taking a lateral move means working with new people and new teams, giving you the chance to make new friends and contacts -- especially important if you are tired of the people you currently work with, or simply like meeting new people.
  • New Boss. Let's face it, not all bosses are made equal. Maybe it's time to switch to a new boss and show him/her what you're capable of doing. Your current boss might be just fine, but perhaps s/he just does not see you for your potential. Or perhaps it's simply the opportunity to learn from a new boss, especially if you feel you have maxed out with your current one.
  • No Additional Responsibilities. While a lateral move will provide you with new challenges and learning opportunities, because it's at the same level as your current job, it will not tax you with more responsibilities. It's a good solution for someone seeking a new challenge, but not yet ready to tackle more responsibilities/pressures.

Cons of a Lateral Move

  • Internal Perceptions. You'll want to analyze the corporate culture of the organization -- because in some organizations, folks making lateral moves are seen as the people who just don't have the skills to get promoted, and you'll certainly want to avoid that label.
  • No Closer to Goal. If you're like many folks, you have a specific job title you want to reach in your career, and a lateral move takes you no closer to your goal.
  • Same Salary. While a promotion carries with it more money (and perhaps other perks), a lateral move usually offers no financial incentives -- and in some cases, perhaps a lower salary.
  • Further From Your Passion. While a lateral move might make the most sense in moving your career forward, it often takes you out of your field - and away from your career passion. While not always a bad thing, many unhappy workers realize at some point they are unhappy because they are not working in what they love.
  • Chance of Failure. In any job, there is a chance of failure, but if the lateral move is way outside your current comfort zone or into a department that has internal turmoil, there is always the chance that you could fail and lose your job.

Final Thoughts
For those in the corporate world, it's ingrained in our thinking from the beginning -- and from popular culture -- that climbing up the ladder is the direction of choice as well as a sign of success, but in today's business environment, that simply is no longer the case.

If you're contemplating a lateral move -- whether on your own or suggested to you -- schedule a talk with your current boss. It's possible your boss either does not know your ambitions or has a misconception about you or your situation. If you have a mentor within the organization, schedule a meeting with him/her as well.

A lateral move may make sense for you and your career, but before you make that final decision, be sure to do your research and make an informed decision.

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