3 Tips to Making a Lateral Career Move

By Ryan Morris - Dec. 22, 2017

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There will be times in your career where there’s nowhere to go but up.

But there will also be times where the way up exists, but where the way to it is blocked to you.

At times like these when you can’t move up and won’t move down, the only place left for you to go is to take a step to the side.

In the business world, this is what’s called a “lateral move.”

But what exactly does a lateral move consist of? And how do you know when you should make one?

We’ve put together a list of tips to help you figure it out.


1. What Exactly is a Lateral Move?

Historically, the only way to progress in a business setting has been through either internal promotion or by taking a better job somewhere else.

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The act of taking on a similar position with similar pay, whether somewhere else or at the same company, is one that business folk have derided for years.

This is what’s known as a “lateral move,” so called because you’re moving sideways (so to speak) rather than up or down.

It’s not hard to see why corporate types might take issue with a move like this.

However, lateral moves have been gaining in popularity in recent years for a number of reasons.

Lowered job security and increasing unpredictability of the future has led to people being more willing to take on jobs with the same pay but at a more stable company.

Additionally, many have started looking at lateral moves as a way to gain additional skills that can be used to advance a career later on.

Either way, a lateral move is a long-term play — you’re not going to see the benefits of enacting it for months, maybe years.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

2. Times When You Should Make a Lateral Move

So now that you have more of a grasp of what a lateral move is, what are a few reasons you might have to make one?

After all, taking on a new position of any kind is a risk, regardless of whether it’s at the same company or a new one entirely.

You might decide you don’t like your new boss, or that you don’t want

The following are a few excellent situations in which making a lateral move is a good idea:

  • When you need to learn new skills: If you truly feel as though you’ve learned everything there is to know about your current position, taking a position with similar pay but different responsibilities can help you develop new skillsets that might aid you in future job hunts.
  • When you need to secure your future: If the future of your current company — or even just your position itself — is looking bleak, it’s not a bad idea to take on different job elsewhere, even if that job is pretty much the same as the one you had before.
  • When the situation at your current work becomes untenable: Maybe you and your boss have had one too many disagreements. Maybe your coworkers have grown to resent you. Maybe the company’s culture has just become too toxic for you in general, or you’ve realized there’s no chance of you being promoted from within at this point. If you find yourself in any of these positions, it’s worth it to make a lateral move to another company or department.

3. Times When Making a Lateral Move Might Be a Bad Idea

While there are a lot of great reasons to make a lateral move with your career, it’s important to keep in mind that not all reasons are good ones.

That is to say that, depending on your individual circumstances, a lateral move might still be a bad move for you personally.

Here are just a few situations in which a lateral move might not be the best option for you:

  • When you’re actually just unhappy with your job: If you’re making a lateral move in order to break yourself out of the monotony of your particular position, that’s one thing — but if the problem is that you just don’t like being (say, for example) a programmer, then taking on another programming job somewhere else isn’t going to solve your problem.
  • When you move into a position that’s too far away from your goal: It’s possible to take on a similar position whose responsibilities are nonetheless so far away from what you were doing before that your lateral move can actually become a step backward. You want to be sure that you’re taking on a position that’s moving you closer to your ultimate career goal rather than further away from it — or, at the very least, you want one that’s equidistant.
  • When you’ve already made too many other lateral moves: If you keep moving from one similar position to another without ever moving up, then eventually, someone is going to start wondering why you aren’t getting promoted. Whether their fears are justified or not, it’s not a good look for you.

Wrapping Up:

That’s all for this one! Just keep in mind:

Any time you make a lateral move, you want to keep your ultimate career goal in mind.

Then use this career goal as the measuring stick for deciding how well your lateral move is going.

As long as it gets you closer to this goal — or at least solves some of your problems while not taking you any further away from your goal — then your lateral move was most likely a big success.

Best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

3 Tips for Deciding When to Go For a Two-Page Resume
3 Tips for Keeping Your Professional Portfolio Tight
3 Tips for Deciding if Grad School is Worth the Trouble

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Ryan Morris


Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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