Career Development

When and How to Make a Lateral Career Move

January 2, 2021

As you progress further in your career, you may feel more pressure to constantly climb the corporate ladder. However, not all career moves are about moving up. Sometimes, it makes more sense to make a lateral career change. In this article, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of lateral career moves, as well as the steps you will need to take to make one.

What is a lateral career change?

A lateral career change is when you switch to a job that is similar in responsibility and pay to the one you already have. Lateral career moves can happen within the same company or between different employers. On the surface, it can seem like a waste to make this type of career change. However, you may realize a lateral move is the perfect career choice for you.

There are two types of lateral career moves. Each has the potential to be beneficial. Here are your options for lateral career changes:

Change jobs but not companies

Some lateral career moves are made within the same company. If you change jobs within your company, you may be given new tasks and responsibilities but will already be familiar with your employer’s protocols and the company culture. 

Change companies but not jobs

You might instead decide to apply for the same position at another company. If you make this type of lateral career move, you might have to learn new systems and a new company culture, but you will probably already be familiar with most of the job’s skills, requirements and responsibilities. 

Why should you make a lateral career change?

It seems counterintuitive to spend time searching, applying and interviewing for a job that is similar in scope and pay to the one you already have, but there are several good reasons why employees should consider making a lateral move.

Learn a diverse skillset

Even if your new job is similar to the one you already have, there is always something new to learn. Every job brings new challenges, so even if your new job has many of the same responsibilities as your old job, you will have to learn a new system, new conventions or new programs. These are all transferrable skills you can take with you that may affect your next lateral career move or promotion.

Increased visibility

Changing departments can help you get acquainted with different supervisors at all levels. The more supervisors and managers who are familiar with you and your skills, the more likely you are be acknowledged or promoted. If you prove to be a versatile, adaptable employee with a diverse skill set, you become more valuable to your employer.

Pursue promotion

Sometimes, you may find yourself in an exciting career with plenty of opportunities, but you might be working in a department with no potential for growth. If you are working for a supervisor who is unwilling to give out promotions or if no new promotions are on the horizon, consider changing departments. You should always be aware of whether or not you are reaching your full potential in your current position.

Read more: Career Development

Stay at the same level

Although almost all employees would be pleased to receive a promotion, not everyone wants to work in management or supervisory positions. Management roles are often focused on filing documents, mediating disagreements between employees and departments and making sure projects stay on schedule.

In some fields, these positions have little to do with the actual creative or technical work being done in a company. If you prefer to work directly with a product, you may decide to turn down a managerial job offer.

Job satisfaction

Your happiness is paramount when you are trying to decide whether or not it is time to search for a new job. If you do not like the work you are doing or your coworkers or boss, then consider changing companies or moving to another department. Moving to a position that makes you excited to come to work every day is often the best choice.

Read more: How to Deal With Job Dissatisfaction

When should you not make a lateral career move?

Although there are many benefits to making a lateral job move, doing so is not the right step for everyone. Here are a few reasons why you may not want to make a lateral career move:

Same or less pay

The best lateral career moves come with at least a modest pay increase. This is particularly true if you are changing companies. However, employees who are staying with the same company need to be especially wary of wage stagnation, as employers are often reluctant to give raises to their current employees. If your new position has an increased workload, negotiate for a raise.

Perception

Since most employees are focused on getting their next promotion, your coworkers or supervisors might judge you for making a lateral move. If you are staying with the same company, it might look like you are trying to avoid the added responsibility you would be given at higher levels. Employees who change jobs frequently earn a reputation for being unreliable. Make sure you share your true motivations for moving with your supervisors and some of your most trusted coworkers.

Related: What a Resume is Really Telling You

Dead-end job

If you want to eventually receive a big promotion, you want to ensure that making a lateral career move will not impact your career goals. Sometimes, switching departments can take you out of the line of succession for supervisory and management positions. Evaluate your reasons for moving and discuss them with your current manager. If they can guarantee you a promotion in the near future, it may be worth it to stay.

Setbacks

On a similar note, every time you switch jobs, you might put off obtaining your dream job. If you choose to stay in each of your positions for a few years, keep in mind that if you make a lateral job move, it might take you a little longer to reach the upper levels of your career path. Consider where you would like to be in five to ten years and plan accordingly.

How to make a lateral career change

If you decide that a lateral career change is the right option for you, there are a few necessary steps you must take:

1. Self-examine

Take some time to think and decide exactly what you are hoping to achieve with this career change. Make sure that a shift in job title is the best solution if you are currently dissatisfied at work. Once you are sure that this is truly the right choice, you can move forward.

2. Set goals

Determine what you want to get out of a career change. Write down your necessary requirements for salary and benefits. Decide exactly what you would like to stay the same and what you want to see change. Arm yourself with thorough information before you proceed to the next step.

3. Speak to your supervisor

Schedule a meeting with your boss or manager and explain your decision. Share your thought process and make sure they know you are serious about making the change. Give them the opportunity to convince you otherwise, but be sure to keep your own goals and interests in mind. If they cannot offer you an exceptional reason to stay, thank them for their time and continue with your plan.

4. Find the new job

Depending on the exact career change you will be making, you may need to job search within and outside your current company. Talk to the hiring manager in your office, post your resume on job boards or reach out to your professional network. Prepare in advance for how you will explain your career change choice to an interviewer or hiring manager.

5. Develop professionally

After you switch to a new job title or employer, it may take some time for you to find out if it was a good choice. As you adjust to your new role or environment, work on developing your professional and personal skills. Find the elements of your new position that are the most different from your previous job, and learn to adapt. You will find plenty of opportunities to develop, if you seek them out.

Job search for your lateral career change

Once you have decided whether you are interested in finding a new position, a new company or both, it is time to begin the job search. Here are some relevant tips for both situations:

Read more: The Essential Job Search Guide

In-house job search

If you have decided to make a lateral career move within your own company, the most important step you can take is to network with your coworkers and supervisors. If you work for a large corporation, start with a job search online. During the application process, make it clear to your supervisors and the supervisors in your desired department that you are interested in a new position. Let the word spread among management and follow up on any leads as soon as possible.

New employer job search

If you would rather change companies, then it is time to check local job boards. Search for your job title in an online search engine to see which companies are hiring to fill positions like yours in your area. Network with any professional contacts who work for your target company or a similar organization. You should also make sure that you have the skills the new company is looking for and acquire additional training if necessary.