The motto in traditional corporate culture is “Move up or move out,” but the career landscape is changing. While previous generations entered the workforce planning to keep one job their entire lives, more than 90 percent of Millennials will keep a job for just three years.
This new environment means job seekers need a new strategy: lateral movement.
Rather than moving up incrementally in one department (i.e., climbing the ladder), lateral movement within a company gives you firsthand experience in many departments, which makes you a more marketable hire and a more effective worker.
Why You Should Move Over Before You Move Up
Today, gaining a wide range of experiences is critical if you want to move into higher-level positions. Here are some advantages to getting experience in different departments:
1. You’ll develop a good track record. Excelling in diverse positions shows management that you’re capable of handling whatever is thrown at you. When the opportunity for leadership arises, you’ll have a history of success at the company and lots of people who can vouch for you.
2. You’ll show employers you’re flexible. Lateral movement impresses employers because it shows you’re willing to do what it takes to help the company and work outside your comfort zone.
3. You’ll develop a diverse skill set. Moving laterally helps you build skills you might need in the future. A variety of experiences also diversifies your professional portfolio and prepares you for possible career changes. You never know when your dream job will pop up, and your experience might be just the “something extra” employers are looking for.
4. You’ll see the bigger picture in your industry. Working in diverse departments gives you a bird’s-eye view of your company and your field. You’ll see how decisions affect every sector of the business and how each department connects.
Personal Barriers to Lateral Movement
Despite the advantages of lateral movement, you might still be unwilling to give a different department a try. Here are three common personal barriers to embracing lateral movement and how you can overcome them.
1. You’re afraid of failing. It can be frightening to step off the ladder, knowing you could lose everything you’ve worked for if you fail in your new role.
Solution: Seek someone you admire — inside or outside your company — who can give advice about your new role. A mentor can help you avoid pitfalls, recover quickly from mistakes, and plan how to move forward in your career.
2. You’re lazy. It’s normal to feel a sense of laziness when it comes to taking on new tasks. But laziness is usually only masking boredom or a lack of motivation.
Solution: Find your passion. Combating laziness means finding something that will light a fire under you. If you’re already employed and have some vacation days saved up, why not take a “workcation” and focus on exploring your passions for a week or two?
3. You want something more prestigious more quickly. Some people want to climb the ladder quickly for a better title and a better salary. They long for the status and pride that comes from achieving a high position. Putting time and effort into moving laterally doesn’t seem like it will pay off quickly enough.
Solution: Change your perspective to adopt long-term thinking. Understand that without learning about every area of the business, you’re less likely to succeed in future leadership positions. Consider lateral movement an investment in your career — building experiences and skills that will prepare you for your dream job.
While climbing the ladder may seem easier, think of it this way: Ladder-climbing gives you tunnel vision, while lateral movement allows you to see the bigger picture. Besides, what’s the fun in climbing a ladder that never ends when you could explore every avenue of your company and find your passion instead?