Lateral Moves Are Not Necessarily Career Killers

I recently read an article on the Fortune section of the CNN Money site by Jena McGregor on making smart lateral moves in your career.  My initial gut reaction was that lateral moves are like slow career suicide.  I thought about all the career advice I had gotten on avoiding lateral moves and how it seemed implicitly communicated while working on my degrees that true success was moving up and grabbing that next title.   In reality, I think it boils down to what really motivates you and how you use those lateral moves to make yourself a better professional.

photo by aloshbennett via PhotoRee


Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely instances of people just bouncing around because they are bored.  I have seen it within my own network, and these individuals quickly gained the reputation that you couldn’t count on them for the long term.  These people seem to have no real plan or purpose to the moves they were making.  They were just working on more visibility with certain leaders or they were trying to make a quick escape from a current, less than ideal position.

On the other hand there are lots of examples of people making lateral moves that have enhanced their careers.  It’s not only made them more well-rounded employees, but improved their leadership capabilities.  This has happened in my career, where in the first several years out of grad school I made more lateral moves than upward moves.  I was able to gain a more comprehensive view of the business operations that I believe made me a more effective leader once I was ready to make the next move up.

The Fortune article points out some great things to consider when making a lateral move and I encourage you to check it out, but I thought I would add a few more points from my own experience to consider when leveraging lateral moves in your career:

Values Fit – does the new role fit your values? Most people who pursue work that is congruent with their values feel satisfied and successful in their careers.

Career Fit – know what you want from your career.  Knowing what skills you want to develop and experiences you need for the long term will help you decide if the move will help you get there.

Leadership – You can still demonstrate leadership traits while making lateral moves in non-leadership roles through influencing others, mentoring, project leadership, etc.

Time Spent – when making lateral moves you really need to put time into the position you are considering.  This will allow you to effectively learn new traits and avoid making it look like you are job hopping aimlessly.  I would say that spending at least a year in a role would be the minimum.

For some people, the next rung in the ladder is not what motivates them.  They are more motivated by new challenges that can only come from lateral moves.  If you are one of these people and instead, blast up the ladder you may find that going back to that work you enjoy may become much harder, because steps down the ladder can be viewed even more negatively than a lateral move.

Have you had positive or negative experiences from making lateral moves?  What did you learn from them?

About the author: Heath

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