How lateral moves can actually be GOOD for your career

It is recommended to take some time each year to review your career plan. There is power in making decisions about what you want for yourself, boldly defining those goals, putting them on paper, and creating a timeline that you can hold yourself accountable to. Yes, a plan is nice. But, it's not always realistic or tangible. Some of that falls on lack of discipline, but some of it also falls on outside sources (i.e. economy, company changes, being in a flat organization with limited upward mobility, and people not moving on/retiring). As a result of these factors being outside of your control, it's important to include a little flexibility in your career plan. One major area of flexibility that you should consider is the lateral career move.

Here's why...

With certain degrees or courses of education you've taken, it seems pretty clear where you should be headed, right? It's pretty clear - you get the education, you apply for an entry-level position within your your industry of interest, and work your way the ladder. Sound about right? Well, yes, sounds like a wonderful plan. But even the most well-thought out journeys can run into a few forks in the road that can make you feel stagnant and frustrated. One of those forks tends to be the request to consider a lateral move over a promotion. Insulted, are you? Well before you clutch your pearls in disgust, let me give you some points to consider:

  • Will this new role provide you opportunities to learn something new?

  • Will this new role give you a chance to work with other people within your firm?

  • Will this new role give you access to perks and people of influence within the company?

  • Does this position offer resources that motivate you (money, recognition, a flexible work environment)?

As you write out your career plan, before you decide how things should go in the next five years, take some time to think about what motivates you. What is important to you? What areas of your skill set would you like to develop? Are you networking with people of influence that could elevate your career in the near future? Is there a leadership style that you would prefer to work under?

Answering these questions about yourself, and what would motivate you to wake up each day and be HAPPY to get to work - these are the factors that could help turn a lateral move from a negative to a positive.

"You can take a lateral move to gain experience in another function, depending on what experience gap you need to develop", says Rose Castillo Guilbault, co-author of The Latina's Guide to Success in the Workplace.

Another thing to consider is the power of the P.I.E. success model. In his book Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed, author Harvey Coleman explains this model he developed as a focus of three components for success: performance, image, and exposure. In his theory, Coleman states that performance accounts for 10 percent, image accounts for 30 percent, and exposure accounts for 60 percent of the success model. Therefore, taking a well-thought-out lateral move can give you an opportunity to learn new skills to enhance your performance-ability, which will in turn elevate your image within the firm and your industry. A combination of performance and image can then add to your personal brand as a 'professional' that will open up opportunities for exposure to other influential people and opportunities, both in and outside of the company.

So the next time you're presented a lateral opportunity, consider these questions above and do some soul searching on whether or not this position would allow you to exercise the P.I.E. model of success. If not, then politely decline with confidence in knowing that this lateral offer just isn't in alignment with your professional goals at the moment. But if the answers to the questions above highlight the potential for personal and professional advancement; then give it some serious consideration.

Want to discuss a strategy for your next career move? Schedule a free 30-minute career strategy session with me, and help get your important questions answered. Click here to schedule your call today.

See you at the top!


Michelle Gomez, The Latina Career Coach Author, speaker, and career coach

Founder and CEO – Michelle Gomez Coaching, LLC.

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