Smart lateral career moves and strategies to speed up your career trajectory without getting on the wrong track
You know that feeling when you sit in traffic on your way to or from work, unable to move forward. No one likes it. Sometimes it makes sense to change lanes and take a side road exit so that you can more quickly get where you want to go. Sitting in the traffic jam with frustration and resignation doesn’t get you anywhere.
It’s very similar with a career path, especially when you feel you are stuck or getting nowhere. The traditional career ‘moving up’ or progression is largely a thing of the past because so many organisations have compressed or flattened their hierarchies and eliminated support structures that were previously part of the career ladder. So moving laterally has become the new way to the top.
I have 5 simple Move Over or Move Out steps that can help you to get on track to Move Up.
# 1 Make a Plan
If you don’t want to go in circles, start by planning your next moves strategically. Start to proactively plot your own career plan to make sense of possible diagonal and lateral moves. If you struggle with it, find a mentor or a career coach. Don’t wait for your employer, as they most likely won’t do it for you. So, the first thing to know is that it’s up to you to chase and land opportunities that will help you to move up.
You can start by envisioning your next ‘up’ move, and then reverse-engineer the qualifications you need to make a serious run for that position. By comparing the skills required by your next-step job to the skills you currently have, you’ll quickly see the gaps that a lateral move can fill.
# 2 Get in the Zone
Your informal self-assessment will likely uncover areas where your skills could be stronger to get you to the next level. Determine specific strategic actions that will help you reach your career goals faster.
For example, considering steps like a short-term rotation to cultivate relationships with other departments and functions, or working on an assignment that puts you and your team on a customer-facing project.
I know. That old chestnut you may say, but think of it as a strategy with a great cause. It is a challenge to find time for volunteer projects in the midst of your career and personal responsibilities. But, volunteering with a personal strategy intent can be a great way to rapidly expand your network of influencers, backfill business skills and do something good for your community.
You could join an organisational committee whose volunteers complement—yet don’t duplicate—your existing network. Look to your current skills for a logical footing (for example, if you work in social media, join the marketing committee).
Volunteering enables you to transition to an assignment that builds your business skills, once your credibility is established. Volunteer assignments tee up results-driven case studies for employees to bring back to their day job, illustrating business skills that prove their qualification for general management.
#4 Make a Decision
An important part of effective career planning is working out what’s right for you. If you reach a career crossroads where a move feels wrong based on your own goals and vision—whether it’s sideways, up, or down—listen to yourself. Not everyone’s path makes sense as a vertical trajectory.
Spend time to redefine what career advancement really means for you. You may discover that your current position provides you with the flexibility and true advancement opportunity that you want, or you may realise that your current position just won’t get you to where you want to be. You have a choice – make a decision and you will be on your path to succeed personally and professionally.
#5 Leverage & Promote yourself to the next position
Whether your lateral move comes about by good planning and self-promotion or by being in the right place at the right time, there are ways you can maximise your time spent at a particular level. One advantage of lateral moves is that they allow you to experience different viewpoints and perspectives.
I have worked with many motivated employees and I always felt that by offering lateral moves as an alternative to straight-upward movement was particularly important for the younger and mature age co-workers who felt that they were not advancing. The opportunity to work as part of different teams can give variety and depth to employees’ work experience. ‘Careerists’ bring a strong desire to share their experience and drive, and to make a difference, so offering multiple avenues to learn and grow can be essential for retaining top younger and older talent.
I suggest that you start to find that place or path by promoting your own career plan with a few simple steps:
- Identify a pain or opportunity point in your organisation and how you are uniquely suited to help solve that challenge from your current position.
- Build a simple, digestible plan for a new role, department, or service you might lead.
- Communicate with key players in your organisation to let your intentions be known.
- Take your efforts as seriously as you would a new job search.
I know from personal experience that it takes creativity, persistence and confidence to create your own next step, “but if you’re truly hungry for advancement in a flat world, make it yourself.” And if you are not able to engineer your next career move, take my next advice and consider to:
Whatever it takes look out for yourself and remember to hunt wisely!