Career Trends: The pros & cons of a lateral career move

4 min read

Edition: October 13th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

Key factors to consider are your career goals and whether a lateral move will enhance or detract from your target path. (Image Credit: Adobe Stock)

In career-speak, a lateral career move goes sideways, instead of up. So your move to a new role is at the same salary, level or both from where you are coming from. It’s smart to consider all of your options, including lateral options.

You may think you’re ready for a bigger role or deserve more pay or are a quick-enough study that you can succeed at a job you have never done before, but employers want a track record.

If you’re only relying on recruiter-pitched opportunities for your leads, then you will only or mostly be looking at lateral moves. If you want the bigger role, more money or some other change, then be prepared to identify these opportunities through your own research and network.

The Pros: A lateral move could make sense for you

1: Gives exposure to different areas of the business

  • If you aspire to a general management role where it is useful to know different areas of a business, then a lateral move from one department to another is beneficial.
  • If you already work cross-functionally and want a deeper understanding of another role, then taking a job in that new functional area makes sense.
  • If you can do your same job but in another location, you gain multi-regional and potentially cross-cultural experience.

2: Fills in professional development gaps

  • A lateral move to a group where you need to work in a team will give you useful collaboration experience.
  • Another aspect might be going from internal-facing to external.
  • You also get to flex new skills and attributes given your different responsibilities.

3: Changes you enough to feel renewed but not so much that it’s disruptive

  • Even if you love your job, you may appreciate the variety that a lateral move can provide.
  • If you move in the same role to a different company, you experience a new culture, interact with new people, and change systems and processes, even if your tasks and responsibilities stay similar.
  • If you move laterally within the same company, you still change up your department culture, your day-to-day teammates and day-to-day activities.
  • In both cases, there are aspects that stay the same so it’s some change but not too much.       

The Cons: A lateral move has its downsides

1: Change always entails risk and lateral compensation moves do not cover that

  • Even if you’re changing just some aspects of what you do or where you work, that entails risk.
  • Whenever you switch companies, you have to rebuild your relationships, credibility and track record.
  • Even just switching departments entails some rebuilding.
  • If you don’t make the transition smoothly, it could be like an organ transplant that doesn’t take – you reject the new role, or it rejects you!
  • If you move for the same pay/title, you are taking on that risk uncompensated.

2: If you’re already where you want to be you may not need to work elsewhere

  • One of the benefits of a lateral move is the chance to experience a different department or company, but you may not be interested in that.
  • It also may not benefit you if your role doesn’t intersect with other functions that much.

3: A lateral move interrupts your depth of expertise and a track record

  • Moving around entails switching costs, one of which is the risk of a transition that doesn’t go smoothly.
  • Another risk is interrupting the specialisation in where you are.
  • When you focus on a single role or similar roles throughout your career, you deepen your expertise.
  • You establish a track record over time, in up and down markets, in growth spurts and turnaround situations. 

What does a lateral move depend on?

Since there are both pros and cons to making a lateral move, there is no one right answer. Key factors to consider are your career goals and whether a lateral move will enhance or detract from your target path. You also need to weigh the opportunities available to you and how a lateral move compares to your alternatives.

The ideal career move at one time in your life may not be as beneficial or too great a risk or even more necessary depending on where you are on your path, so timing is yet another consideration. Consider your specific timing, options and goals against the prospects of a lateral move and decide accordingly.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above mentioned article are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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