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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

4 Surprising Ways a Lateral Move Can Benefit Your Career

In your career, if you’re not moving up, it can feel like you’re not moving at all.

And because of that misconception, lateral moves don’t always seem like a great idea. You’ll have a comparable title, make a similar paycheck, and essentially be on the same level as you were in your previous role—but in most cases, further from a promotion than if you’d stayed put.

So if you have the opportunity to make a lateral move into another department or functional role at your company, a few key worries may keep you from pulling the trigger.

In most cases, though, those worries aren’t cause for concern; rather, they’re benefits waiting to happen. Consider these common doubts:

Worry #1: This Won’t Help Me Advance My Career

At first glance, a lateral move may not seem to push you up the career ladder. If you’re moving from a sales associate role, for example, to a marketing associate, you’re basically starting from scratch in your new department—you probably would have been closer to a promotion if you’d stayed in sales.

But that doesn’t mean you career isn’t going to move forward. A lateral move can actually give you more marketability in the long run. By understanding more aspects of the company as a whole and how different departments fit together, you’ll likely be better suited for management or executive positions down the road.

And, your experience in your prior role can help move you forward, too. When I moved from a technical support position into marketing, I was already intimately familiar with the company’s products and customers—which helped me jump in and contribute meaningfully to my new department from the start.

Worry #2: I’ll be Starting from Scratch

You may be within the same company, but after a lateral move, you’ll have a new boss, new co-workers, and new responsibilities to master. And now that you’re in a new functional role, all the contacts you made in your previous position—mentors, clients, and peers at other companies—will no longer be the network you need to move forward. It can seem like even though you’ve only moved down the hall, you’re starting completely from scratch.

While it’s true that you’ll need to stretch your networking muscles again to start digging in to this new role, your current network can help you get there. Your current mentor can likely point you in the direction of a new mentor in your new department—and your previous colleagues may have friends or contacts they can introduce you to.

Building your network within your new role can be challenging, but in the end, you’ll end up with a network much larger—and even more useful—than your original one.

Worry #3: I Won’t Make More Money

For the most part, a lateral move is just that: You move to another role on the same level with similar pay as your current position. But depending on the specific move you make, you may actually be able to use the move to your advantage—even when it comes to your paycheck.

When I moved from a supervisor position to a marketing role, HR confirmed it was a lateral move—however, I researched the market value of my new position and ended up negotiating a $4,000 salary boost in my new role.

That’s the beauty of a lateral move—a new position means a new opportunity to negotiate. Is it always possible? No. You may find out that the move truly doesn’t warrant a salary change. But you may find out that it does, especially if you didn’t negotiate the salary for your previous position. So before you accept the new offer, do your research and make sure you’re getting the full value of your new role.

Worry #4: I’m Mot Moving Up, So I Won’t Be Challenged

When you make a lateral move, it doesn’t always feel like you’ll be doing more—just something different. And without increasing responsibility, will you still feel challenged? Will you feel like you’re advancing professionally? Or will it feel (and when it comes to your resume, look), like you’re staying stagnant?

It depends on your specific position, of course, but a lateral move can actually increase your responsibility significantly. A similar role in another department could, for example, carry the responsibility of managing interns or other direct reports. Or, in my case, maybe you’re moving from a managerial position to one without direct reports—but you’ll be responsible for more big projects that have major visibility within the organization.

It may look different than your prior role, but it can—and should—be just as (if not more) challenging.

When you make a smart, thoughtful lateral move, you can move into a role that you will enjoy much more, will give you more visibility, and will help you build the skills and network you need to advance even quicker than if you’d gone the straight-and-narrow route.

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