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6 Times Lateral Career Moves Can Push You Forward

confident professional woman in a new job

Will a lateral career move help your career or hurt your career?

The answer to that question depends on why you are making a lateral career move.

There are times where even the most driven and ambitious professional will find themselves failing to progress within an organization. When faced with such a situation, two questions should be asked:

  1. If I wait it out, is there the potential to advance my career to the level I want?
  2. Am I willing to wait for it to happen?

If the answer to either of those questions is no, then it’s probably time to look for a new opportunity. That may mean searching for a bigger role elsewhere or it may mean a lateral career move.

While a lateral career move has gotten a bad rap over the years, there’s nothing wrong with moving sideways to move ahead – if such a move gets you closer to your goals. You may find a move to a new company provides a brighter future, more stability, or more of an intellectual challenge. You may keep the same title but have expanded responsibility, more engaging work, or a chance to grow your skills.

It may also be necessary if you’re pivoting out of a niche career or in an expert role where job opportunity or advancement is limited.

When a Lateral Move Helps Your Career

You should always treat your career as an entrepreneurial venture. Don’t think of it as building a career within an organization but rather as building your career trajectory. Just as you might take a detour of a few blocks to get past an auto accident that’s blocking the road, you may need to move laterally to clear roadblocks in your career path at your current employer. The real question to ask in any career move is will it get you closer to your ultimate goal.

1. Learning new skills.

Business leaders need to master many skills. Making a lateral career move that affords you the opportunity to learn new skills can be a big advantage. This can make you a more attractive candidate when the next opportunity becomes available.

It may also help you develop new habits. As you are exposed to different ways of doing things and a fresh approach, you may be able to unlearn things from your past role that may have prevented you from advancing.

2. New company, new opportunities.

No matter how good you are at your job, there may be times where there isn’t upward mobility within an organization. There may not be opportunities or the people holding those jobs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. When you find your career path blocked, a lateral move to another company that represents new opportunities and promotion potential can easily be justified.

3. Further proof of expertise.

In football, there’s a term for quarterbacks that flourish in a particular system or environment. They’re called “system QBs.”  They are generally seen as successful because of their environment and not necessarily their skills  It’s not until they move to the same position on another team – using a different system – that people start to change their opinion. A lateral career move can similarly do that for you by acting as proof of your abilities. If you can do the job in one company, and then succeed again in another, it can demonstrate that you weren’t just successful because of the system.

4. Life goal attainment.

Depending on your circumstances, you may have other important life goals. Right now, work-at-home positions and flexible schedules are high on many people’s lists. A lateral career move may starting a new joballow you the freedom and ability to work and live the way you want while still progressing on the career ladder. Other opportunities that may seem lateral on the surface but can actually be major accomplishments are moving between corporate and startup environments, or between non-profit and for-profit organizations.

5. Leave a toxic environment.

While it’s never good advice to let a potential employer know that you’re looking for a new job because your current workplace is toxic, it’s a legitimate reason to make a lateral career move. A bad work environment can damage your career and make a negative impact on your life outside of work. It can also lead to job burnout.

6. Avoid job burnout.

Even in a great company with a supportive work environment, doing the same job day in and day out can wear you down. Job burnout is common for driven professionals. It can take a toll on your mental health and your ability to find the energy you need to accomplish great things. It might even be the reason you’re not advancing in your career as quickly as you’d like. A change of scenery, a new assignment, or a change in responsibilities can rejuvenate your enthusiasm for your job.

A Lateral Career Move Can Push Your Career Forward

Here’s one more football analogy. When a quarterback throws a lateral pass, it’s one that goes laterally sideways or even backward a bit. It may seem counterintuitive since the goal is to move forward down the field. So why do it? Sometimes it’s necessary to do so to move to position the receiver for forward progress. Running straight ahead may send them right into the defender. Going laterally may halt their momentum for a moment but position them for a clearer pathway to head to the end zone.

A lateral career move can do the same. It might help you clear the roadblock in front of you at your current job and position you for future opportunities. In football, fans don’t care if you threw the ball down the field or threw it laterally as long as you get the touchdown. It shouldn’t matter in your career either as long as you can achieve your goals.

If you’re feeling stalled in your current position, thinking about making a career change, or looking for expert advice, connect with the mentors and advisors at Ivy Exec. Ivy Exec can help you gain a better assessment of your current situation, decide whether a lateral career move is a good idea for you, and help you achieve your career goals.


About the Author

Paul Dughi has been in executive management positions in the media industry for the past 25 years. At age 55, he earned his MBA in Business Administration while working full-time as President of a multi-station TV group. He is the author of two books on Marketing and Management.