What’s a Lateral Career Move?
When thinking about career development, people can focus on moving upwards; climbing up the ‘career ladder’ or progressing higher and higher up the company ranks. Traditionally, many organisations have been built on a hierarchical structure, where a company’s chain of command flows down from senior management and executives to general employees. It’s within this structure that an employee might want to work their way up, from when they enter into an organisation until they reach a leadership position ‘at the top’.
However, this view of ‘career progression’ is quite narrow. It can sometimes focus on the level of seniority someone reaches rather than a comprehensive look that considers the depth and variation of skills, knowledge and work experience they’ve gained throughout their career.
In comparison- a lateral or horizontal career move is when an employee moves from one position to another position within an organisation - or even sometimes to a completely different industry. Although the employee isn’t experiencing the same upward mobility they would if they received a promotion and transitioned to a more senior role within their field, there are a number of benefits a horizontal move can provide, especially within the public sector:
Expanding your skill set
In the current and highly competitive job-market, the broader the range of knowledge, skills and technical expertise a job seeker or a current employee possesses, the easier it is to stand out from the competition and the bigger asset they are for their prospective company. This is becoming increasingly important, with the most in demand and highest paying jobs of the future predicted to be ‘hybridised’ which will require candidates to possess a number of multi-disciplinary skills. Research from the technology company Burning Glass states that due to the rapid rate of digitalisation, occupations that traditionally didn’t require technical- based skills like writing, marketing or customer service, now require more data analysis, cloud-management and general IT skills as organisations move many of their processes and services online. According to Burning Glass, as of 2019 one in eight job postings was highly hybridised, encompassing 250 different occupations. However, these stats are expected to grow over the next few years at a rapid rate.
One of the best ways to adjust to the growing hybrid job-market and attain a broad and varied skill set is through making a lateral career move, as this ensures you become exposed to new responsibilities and knowledge. Rather than staying within the same role and slowly trying to make your way up the ‘corporate ladder’, moving into another area of the business which you have an interest in, is a great opportunity to not only ignite your passion, but add new skills to your resume. As the research from Burning Glass suggests, one specialised skill set won’t be enough to give you a competitive edge in future – businesses need a breadth and depth of skills, so the more you can add to your resume, the greater the competitive edge you’ll give yourself.
Furthermore, a horizontal move can also leave a positive impression on your manager or team leader, as your move demonstrates your willingness and enthusiasm to learn more about the company and readiness to take on a challenge. These are traits employees’ value highly and could help you if considered for a promotion or leadership position in future.
Discovering or Exploring A New Career
Interestingly, in a Gallup poll on employee engagement, only 31.5% of U.S. workers said they were engaged in their jobs, while 51% said they were ‘not engaged’ and 17.5% were ‘actively disengaged’. Exploring a new career – especially one you’ve always had an interest in- can be a great way to renew a feeling of engagement as you’re changing up your routine and learning new skills. In fact, according to another online study conducted by the company Cornerstone On Demand which asked 2000 full time employees why they would be willing to make a lateral career move, 41% said it would be to explore an entirely new career path , while 57% of respondents said they’d partake in a lateral career move to find greater personal satisfaction.
Luckily within the public sector, there are some great opportunities to ‘try before you buy’, for those who are feeling disengaged and wanting to explore a different career path they’ve always been curious about. Many government organisations offer secondments or contract work across their organisation and allowing people to move between different departments, which can give employees a perfect chance to test out a new position, or new responsibilities – without committing to a role full time. If they happen to really enjoy the secondment or contract work, all the better! They’ve potentially uncovered a new career path to explore, in which there might be more opportunities to grow and develop or in which they are more interested and passionate about. It can also feel like a ‘safer’ option than leaving an organisation entirely.
When Lisa Alteri left her finance role where she had experienced a number of ‘successes’ before her she decided to make a lateral move to the sales department of the U.S based company Kraft Heinz. Because she was brand new to sales, she was actually taking a job considered at an ‘entry’ level and at a lower pay grade than her previous position. However, changing her career path allowed her to have a renewed passion for what she was working on and allowed her to discover a whole different department of the business that she enjoyed working in and could progress and grow. On making the change to a different career path, she said: “If you’re really interested in something, chances are you’ll be good at it, so you’ll have the perseverance and drive to keep on learning.”
Open The Door To More Opportunities
While a lateral move might mean you stay on a similar experience level or pay grade in the short-term, in the long term it could provide highly beneficial for your overall career development. Once acquiring additional skill- sets and experience by making a lateral move, you might find you’re approached by external companies for your newly diversified skill set. For example, for someone who started in a marketing role, but then did a temporary stint in client service/management, they could then be approached by an organisation looking for a B2B marketer as they now not only possess general marketing knowledge, but knowledge on what businesses expect and want from their service provider.
You may also find that due to your lateral move and diversified experience, you progress into a higher pay bracket, as your growing skills and learnings means you can offer more value to your employer- for example, a communications manager that works with the web development team on secondment could potentially learn how to build website pages and email pages in addition to their current role. This means that they could then create an EDM from start to finish and doesn’t require the company to invest in any additional resources.
Moving to a different area of the business also means you’ll get the opportunity to work and collaborate with an entirely different team of people. Connecting and building your relationship with a new work team is a great way to expand your professional network as you suddenly have a greater range of people that can refer you to any potential job opportunities that pop up in future, or ensure you are front of mind, when they next require someone to get involved with a cross-functional project.
Moving to a new department or starting in a completely new industry can be a daunting process as it feels like you’re starting from square one; from knowing all the ins and outs of a particular project and everyone on your team to suddenly having to start again on a brand new project with a brand new team. However, challenging yourself within your career – while daunting at first- can be highly beneficial. It allows you to build resilience, as you learn to adapt to new ways of doing things, work with a wider range of people and trial new approaches to problem solving. It also ensures you learn at a rapid rate, as you learn what new things you try work well and what don’t.
Furthermore, remaining stagnant in a job can create boredom and contribute to you becoming disengaged in your work as it all starts to look the same. When you’re faced with a challenge or something ‘new’, you’re forced to stop travelling on auto-pilot and concentrate on what strategies to resolve or overcome said challenge. This increased level of focus and concentration allows you to become re-engaged and motivated in your work.
If you feel like you’ve explored all of the current opportunities to develop your career within different departments or positions, it might be worth reaching out to a recruiter to see if there are any external opportunities available within your chosen industry.Public Sector People specialise within the Public Sector and are always available to assist those looking for a career refresh within government organisations.
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