For those who have been focused on advancing up the career ladder, a lateral move to another company might seem counterintuitive, but there are a number of arguments for it—particularly in today’s dynamic job landscape. If you’re considering a lateral move, read on for some key reasons taking the opportunity might actually be more beneficial than staying in your swimlane.
As with many buzzwords, the concept of a ‘T-shaped’ employee appears to have originated at McKinsey. T-shaped individuals have deep expertise in one area, but also bring a broader skill set to the table while making connections between the various functions and ideologies they’re familiar with. The counter to a T-shaped employee is ‘I-shaped’, or a narrow specialist. While specialists play an important role in many organizations, employers are increasingly realizing the value of employees who can bring diverse experiences and points of view to the table.
Although you may be banking on earning that next promotion in your current role, a lateral career move can give you an opportunity to develop a more T-shaped skill set, allowing you the chance to not only learn new hard skills but also to gain an understanding of how different departments and roles fit into the broader organization. As the hiring market shifts towards more skill-based roles, use this to your advantage. The next time you’re looking for a position with a new company, expanding the types of jobs you might be eligible for and increasing your fluency in multiple business languages is something to consider.
If you’re a software engineer, for example, making a lateral move into product management may increase the competitiveness of your profile for future engineering jobs, as many employers are excited to find engineers who understand the product management function and know how to work effectively with these colleagues. The same goes for transitioning into data science if you’re looking for a role more closely involved with the business side of the organization
If you’ve been in the same type of role for a while, things can easily start to feel repetitive and/or lack the element of challenge —and eventually lead to burnout if you’re not engaged when you come to work. A lateral move can be an effective way to switch things up when an upward move isn’t in the near-term cards, and even increase your earning potential if the move makes you more engaged—and therefore a better performer.
While looking for roles with a new company is one way to combat burnout, a lateral move can be just as effective—or even more preferable if it helps you discover a job function you’re happier in. Before jumping straight into the external job hunt, consider which job functions you might be interested in and explore whether those opportunities are available with your current company.
Colleagues are often some of the most valuable professional connections you’ll make, as they not only know you as a person, but can also vouch for your credibility and work ethic. Between new colleagues and a new manager, a lateral move can help to expand your network beyond your old team and set you up for success as your career grows.
That said, if you do move internally, do what you can to preserve the relationships with your old colleagues. While it can be exciting to start something new, avoid burning bridges—and check in with them periodically to keep the relationships strong.
While upward career moves are more often accompanied by higher salaries and correlated with ‘career success’ than lateral moves, keep in mind the other factors that can impact how happy you are at work. If work-life balance is high on your list of priorities, it might be worth looking into which teams at your organization offer more flexible hours. On the other hand, if you’re looking for mentorship that’s not provided by your current manager, there may be a leader on a different team that could better facilitate your career growth.
Regardless of your reasoning for considering a lateral career move, rest assured that upward isn’t the only way to grow—particularly in an increasingly competitive jobs landscape with more and more well-rounded employees to choose from. In addition, moving between teams in a company is often easier once you’ve established some trust and credibility within the organization, so don’t forget to consider potential lateral moves as you think about your next career play.