When Should You Make a Lateral Career Move?

Moving upward is certainly not the only option when considering a change in your career.  A lateral (or sideways) career move is classified as a shift to another position of comparable salary and responsibility level.  Individuals who opt for a lateral career move can accept a new, but equivalent, job within either a new company or  their current organization.  While vast differences may not immediately prevail, these types of career shifts can often prove beneficial as time goes on.

Lateral Career Move - Businessmen_paper airplanes

Changing careers, in any capacity, can be a complicated decision. Employees often decide upon a career move because their current job isn’t meeting their needs, whether financially, or in terms of personal and professional growth and fulfillment.

Yet, when considering a lateral career shift, there seem to be an additional group of factors to take into account.

Reasons for and benefits of making a lateral career move

In addition to a sense of monotony within their current position, an employee may seek a lateral change because options for rising advancement are not currently available. Perhaps, however, there is an available position that – while it may offer an equivalent pay and workload – will also offer the employee an opportunity to gain a new skill set and expand upon an area of expertise which will become useful to them once the prospect for an upward promotion arises.

In fact, when the move is made within the same organization, gaining a new skill set through a lateral employment move is not only beneficial to the employee, but also to the employer. The company now has a valued employee with confirmed abilities, newly acquired skills, and a proven dedication to the organization.

Conversely, a new job with a new company means the employee has the opportunity to create new contacts as well as acquire new expertise.  Even a horizontal career move can broaden the employee’s professional network and expand upon their skills and overall aptitude, ultimately enhancing their resume and making them a more marketable job candidate.

While lateral career moves may not come with an immediate pay raise, the general experience may lead to more lucrative opportunities down the road.

Considerations before making a lateral career move

Although there are numerous advantages to making a lateral career change, the decision should only be made following ample research and deliberation.

Does the new position offer a possibility for advancement and growth?  While income may not necessarily be the main consideration in this case, it is wise to research the new job as well as the possibilities and options it may provide in the future. Look to others within the same department or division, and if you find the job is a “dead end” and will never offer any upgrades, it might not be the right decision after all.

Is the career move being made out of sheer boredom or will it prove valuable in the long run?  While it might be fun and exciting to change careers, as with most things, even the new job will come mundane after a while.

How will this move affect your life and career goals?  If the move is one that relates to your current career, it can be considered an extension in your training and experience. If, however, it is too far removed or remote from your current job description, then this would not be a lateral career move, but a complete career overhaul.

Lateral Career Move - Jobs Street signs

The Takeaway

As the advantages to horizontal career shifts become more plentiful, the practice itself is becoming more widespread and desired within the business world.

Yet, before choosing to make a lateral career move, be sure to do your research. Is your current employer stable enough to sustain your planned career changes? Will the move to a new organization benefit your current career goals? Carefully consider your reasons for seeking a lateral move, and decide if it is the best choice for your professional objectives, both now, and in the future.

Fred Coon, CEO


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