How to Make a Lateral Move

Sep 8, 2010
6 Min Read

In a lateral move, a strong employee takes on a new position at the same level as his former position. Most companies encourage these because they are mechanisms for keeping good people happy and sufficiently challenged without promoting them and/or paying them more.

Reasons for Lateral Moves

Lateral moves also save businesses the cost and risk of bringing in new employees who are unknown commodities. You may want to consider a lateral move if any of the following circumstances apply:

  • You’re more interested in stretching your wings and experiencing new things than moving up the ladder as fast as possible.
  • You feel you are at a dead-end in your current position, and you want to open a new door.
  • The company is decreasing its focus on your area, and you want to better position yourself for long-term career growth.
  • You’re at odds with your manager or a coworker, and you have been unable to resolve the situation.
  • You’ve discovered an opportunity to work in an area that will bring you closer to your big-picture career goals.
  • You’re being recruited by a manager you would love to work for.

Doing Your Homework

Think a lateral move is right for you? You should certainly go for it. Just keep in mind that, in order to learn about internal opportunities, you will have to do the legwork. You may get lucky and have a savvy manager approach you with a job offer, but, in most cases, you’ll be on your own.

Start by finding out if your company publicizes job openings to employees and review the website religiously. If you see a position that intrigues you, discreetly follow up with the hiring manager. While this process is in motion, keep the prospects coming in by networking with as many senior managers as you can. Get to know them on a personal level, and ask them casually what they’re doing in their groups.

During these discussions, never criticize your current manager, department, or position. If a manager thinks you’re a spoiled brat who’s running away from a difficult work situation, he won’t want to bring you on board. Phrase your inquiries positively and innocently—you just want to learn, remember?

Making the Transition

Scouting out an appropriate opportunity to transfer internally is one thing, but actually making the transition happen is quite another. Here are a couple of tips that will help you. First, just because your company is behind your decision 100 percent doesn’t mean your boss will be.

Whether you’re pursuing a move through human resources or directly with another manager, keep the discussions under wraps until the transfer is close to being finalized. If your boss doesn’t want to lose you and finds out what you’re up to too early, she may subtly—or not so subtly—block your progress.

Avoiding a Territory War

Once it’s time to ink the deal, make sure HR is in the loop so that everyone involved adheres to the agreed-upon transition plan. Don’t depend on your old boss and your new boss to work it out amongst themselves. Your old boss may try to hold on to you as long as she can, and, next thing you know, you’ll have a major territory war on your hands.

Being Discreet

Don't talk about the move to your colleagues before it’s official, because you might compromise your reputation in the group if the job falls through. You will probably also feel pretty silly.  It can never hurt to be as discreet as possible until your new job is a sure thing.

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