How To Take A Sideways Step In The Job Market

Are you going up? Sometimes you don’t need to take a promotion in order to get a new job or to get ahead in the career stakes. Taking a sideways move is just as valuable and can get you where you want to go, faster.

The career path for many types of jobs is pretty straightforward. For a project manager, it often looks like this. Start on project support and small projects, manage bigger and bigger projects, then become a program manager — a  role that, according to salary survey data from Arras People, pays more.

Continuing with project management jobs as our example, some would argue that the family of project management job titles is quite clear cut. You could say that program management and project management are different skill sets and program management is not necessarily the natural progression. But most people would see more money as a step up on the career ladder and something that comes with getting a promotion at work.

However, going up isn’t your only choice when it comes to moving jobs. Taking a sideways move can be very profitable as well.

Reasons to Shun the Promotion

“There are actually more reasons to take a lateral move than to accept a promotion!” says Martha Finney, co-author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times are Tough.

Martha lists the following as incentives to hop sideways:

  • “You love the company but hate your boss.
  • You love the company and want to build your portfolio of skills and experiences to make you more valuable on the corporate track – such as different corporate functions or global experience.
  • You love the company but recognize that maybe the days are numbered in your particular business unit and you want to switch over to a more promising division.
  • You love the company but see that the only available opportunity for you to stay there is a lateral move (your current job is being phased out, you want to live in a specific geographic location, etc).
  • The lateral move is part of a formally established developmental program that you trust.”

A sideways move means picking up a similar role to that you have now in a different organization or division of your current company. Always check the job description to find out what’s included in the responsibilities so you can ensure it’s a fit for both your interests and the level you want to maintain.

Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for CBIZ Benefits & Insurance, puts it like this:  “I define lateral career moves as when you can take on a new department, project, people or responsibilities. These moves should always be made,” she adds.

Diane Youden, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers specializing in HR effectiveness, agrees that moving sideways can be advantageous. “Without a doubt, more senior roles require the ability to quickly assess a broad range of situations and their impact on the business strategy,” she explains.

“Experience is the most impactful ‘training’ you can receive to broaden your points of view and enable you to think more holistically and strategically.”

If you are going to take a new job that moves you sideways, you want to be sure that it really will help your career in the long term.

“Ensure that the lateral move is perceived as an enhancement to your career,” says Youden. “As companies look for the talent of future, attributes such as adaptability and flexibility in dealing with change and new situations are key to being considered for more senior roles.”

Project managers adapt to new situations with every new project, so that type of challenge will be nothing new to you. However, the difference between taking on a similar project in the same team and switching companies to do a similar role is huge.

Learning about a different company culture – not to mention their project management vocabulary and processes – will give you the variety and breadth of experience that looks great on a CV.

Read next: How to plan to leave your job

The Reasons to Consider Lateral Moves

You don’t have to move companies to take a lateral move. Mellard believes that if your company has a mentoring scheme you should take advantage of that to gain experience in other areas through lateral moves. “Mentees should be challenged and encouraged by their mentors to find what lateral moves they can make in their current position,” she explains.

Mentor programs should focus on the breadth of experience the mentees are obtaining and lateral career moves can provide this span of knowledge.”

Regardless of whether you are considering staying put or moving on, any new project management job offer needs to be carefully thought through. “As with all aspects of your career, seriously consider all the opportunities that have been put before you,” says Finney.

“Don’t make emotional or hasty decisions. Also factor in the question of where you are in your career. If you are just beginning your career, you can afford to take more, but calculated, risks – even if it means passing up on a small financial increase in your take-home pay. The experience is far more valuable than the cash.”

How to make the decision

Are you now wondering if you should take a sideways move or hold out for a promotion? Talking to an experienced mentor can help.

Why not book a call with me and together we can unpick what’s keeping you up at night!

Elizabeth Harrin

A version of this article first appeared on this website in 2010.