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Career Progression: The Traditional Vs. the Lateral Move

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Progressing within your company starts by looking in the mirror: have you done everything you can to advance? Achieving mandated and personal goals, working well with teammates, and showing leadership skills are just a few ways to climb the corporate ladder. However, there are a variety of elements completely out of your control.

A smaller company may have limited advancement opportunities. There may be heavy competition in your area of expertise. The financial reward might not fall in line with a higher level of responsibility. With so many factors outside of your control affecting advancement, making a decision on whether to follow the traditional path or make a lateral move is tougher than ever.

Advancing Traditionally

Traditional advancement comes in the form of promotions. These promotions typically come with salary raises, so receiving a bump every two to fours years quickly adds up. If you’re aspiring to be a company leader, the path to management—and immediate financial reward—typically comes through this linear path.

However, it’s easy to stall out once you hit the managerial ranks. Really, it’s math; there’s just fewer positions the further you move up the food chain. In some ways, this is like putting all of your eggs in one basket. You can spend a decade working toward this goal, only to find there isn’t another position for you once the music stops playing. To continue developing your career, now you might have to look externally for a management position—which also means adopting an entirely new culture.

Moving Laterally

Lateral moves often mean your salary will remain stagnant. That just comes with the territory when you take a similar position at another company. Based on financial reasons alone, lateral moves often have a negative connotation. This can be attributed to the simple psychology of feeling like you’re not moving ahead, but that attitude is somewhat shortsighted, especially considering the plateau we just discussed that can occur in the traditional advancement path.

With a lateral move. it’s easy to broaden your skill set. It’s the difference between being viewed as kitchen knife, or as a Swiss Army knife. The more skill sets you have, the more valuable you are. But to make a lateral move, you must have patience, as well as varying interests. If you’re willing to play the chess game, it can pay off in the long run.

Which Path Is Best for You?

Only you can determine whether a traditional path or a lateral move (or two) makes more sense for your career. The decision starts with following your interests—if you’re not interested in being a leader, then you might be miserable joining the management ranks, no matter how much money you make. Again, your particular employer, as well as the current job market, will deeply influence your opportunities.

While we won’t say that lateral moves are better than the traditional arc, we will go as far as to say that they shouldn’t be frowned upon. By taking the time to look at your career horizon instead of just the step right in front of you, it’s possible that the rewards might be greater over time.

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