Lateral Moves: Sideways Can Be as Good as Up!
In the past, it could be argued that moving up was the only moving forward, and progressing up the structural ladder was the only marker of success. However, in today’s workforce, more and more individuals are putting the ladder aside (so rickety!) to explore lateral movement instead.
But what is lateral movement? Well, its name alone is quite explanatory! A lateral move is a shift from one organisation to another, or from one department to another, with no real change in paygrade or structural placement. If we stick with the ladder analogy, it’s like climbing up a handful of rungs and then hopping over to a ladder next to you.
If that sounds about as exciting as a slap across the face, don’t write it off just yet! A lateral move can actually be one of the most thrilling (and fulfilling) changes you can make to your career – and for a number of reasons.
Super-charge your skill set
Whether you make the bold decision to move out of your current specialisation into a completely new field, or stick to the same role but at a different organisation, you are poised to take on a vast array of new skills that you may not have acquired if you had remained in the same place. This could involve understanding how a totally different market works, or just adapting to new people and processes. Either way, these will help you acquire a wider breadth of knowledge, and a stronger understanding of the fundamental elements that stay consistent across different setups – all of which will be invaluable experience for you and your career.
Net a larger network
The right contacts can be key, and the more you have the better. A diverse internal network equips you with a wide reach across an organisation, which in turn can benefit your productivity and visibility. Meanwhile, a wide external network is fantastic for acquiring information about future projects or opportunities that you might want to explore, and such connections may even assist you in securing them!
Find a better fit
It’s unfortunate but inevitable – at some point, you may find yourself stuck with a boss or co-worker who make finding success and happiness in your work life near-impossible. While immediately trying to flee such a situation probably isn’t the way to go (you might just end up sprinting from job to job every month were that the case!), if you feel trapped in an unhappy environment and find that it’s genuinely holding you back in terms of performance and your overall mental-health, it’s certainly worth exploring a transfer to a different department with a better selection of people and processes (or a different company, if the issues you’re facing are part of a larger shortcoming). And this actually leads in to our next point!
Re-order your priorities
Whether you’re exploring new interests, trying to reclaim your work-life balance, or just angling to do anything that makes work more enjoyable for yourself, then a lateral move makes a lot of sense. Wanting to move into a department that’s less likely to eat into out-of-office hours, or an organisation closer to home – or with better employee benefits – are all completely valid reasons to look for other opportunities available to you. It also gives you more control over what your next step will be, as you will be deciding what your key requirements are moving forward (and by forward we mean sideways, of course)!
Seize new opportunities
If you can’t go over, go around! Should you find yourself at a roadblock in your career trajectory, moving laterally could be the way to go! You may have found out that you can’t progress any higher up within your current company, either due to a lack of positions or a lack of experience. In such cases, moving sideways could be a great way out of such a bind – either into an organisation that has a longer progression path planned for its employees, or somewhere that will challenge you and allow you to pick up the experience you need for a move upwards, rather than having you stagnate.
If that’s not enough to convince you, we even have some testimonials from Talent Pointers with first-hand experience! From coding to culinary critiques, these examples truly exemplify the type of dynamic change a lateral move can bring to life.
"Before moving to London I’d spent four years working as a Software Engineer, a journey that took me from third-line support to leading greenfield projects. I loved it, but always had other interests, primarily writing; I used to spend most lunch breaks typing up blog posts and articles, which worked well as a brain-refresh from staring at code all morning.
After the move, though, I found I wasn’t clicking with the London tech scene. After a few eye-opening interviews, I realised it might be time to switch careers, and began considering what other skills I had that I could tap in to. Writing was an obvious answer, as I had a “portfolio” of sorts thanks to those midday sessions at my last job. It’s definitely been an adjustment, and I now write all day before going home and coding on personal projects – my hobby and day job have completely 180’d! – but it’s been a huge amount of fun and really diversified my abilities. Some days I do miss coding, but now I know that if I ever wanted to go back in that direction I’d have a much more rounded set of skills to bring to the table!"
"I realised it might be time to switch careers, and began considering what other skills I had that I could tap in to."
"In the middle of a career running my own business I spotted an opportunity – quite by chance – to write paid restaurant reviews. Over five years of doing half my work for free and writing a two-post daily blog that I never put live, i managed to get myself installed as a paid inspector for three nationally known restaurant guides, eating out over 300 times per-year. While this may sound fun, the groundwork needed to get the opportunities and the fight to keep weight off simply wouldn’t have been possible unless it wasn’t an effort to do.
I fell into the role because I had a massive passion for making dining out better that I had no choice but to vent which led me to eat, write and pitch relentlessly until I could quit the day job. After another three years I actually switched back as the job simply wasn’t sustainable full time - you’re on the road 200 days a year, your life becomes a constant battle with cholesterol and you get incredibly picky and principled about where you’ll actually consider eating. Now I’ve found a balance and know my hobby from my career, with the luxury of doing 100 or so reviews each year on the side while running a really innovative business that also gives me an outlet for the business-orientated writing I so love to produce. Find what comes naturally. If you have to force the learning or effort it’s not the right move!"
No matter what your reason is for investigating a lateral move, it’s important you treat it with the same consideration and thoroughness that you would any other major career change. While a lateral move certainly removes some of the major stress points that come with a job search (such as the initial uncertainty and then growing desperation), it’s vital that you properly consider what you hope to achieve from such a change, and then work to achieve the closest version of that goal as possible. Ultimately, the aim is to step into work feeling even better than you did before – and isn’t that a form of career advancement all on its own?