Does it Make Sense to Take a Lateral Position?

One of the hardest questions when you are looking for a job is whether or not to apply for, or accept, a lateral position. What’s a lateral position?  It can mean the same title and job responsibilities, but also includes positions with a similar pay range or product knowledge.

Some job seekers dismiss lateral moves out of hand, but this may not be the best strategy. Why?

If you are currently unemployed or relocating, getting back into the market is important.  Even if a lateral position isn’t ideal, you are more marketable when actively working. Plus if you are placed in a similar role there should be a small to no learning curve. You can hit the ground running and start off with success. This is especially important in sales roles, where you may already know the players and can make a big impact quickly.

For those actively working:

  • If you have done the role before you are more apt to be successful in a new environment. You can be an instant support for co-workers and management and set the stage for promotion.
  • By saving your new employer on training and start up costs you can bargain for a better salary.
  • A lateral position is well worth it if gets into your dream company or into a company that has a stronger product. Whether your dream job is working for a Fortune 500 company or a small startup lateral moves can help get you there. Any company with cutting edge technology is worth pursuing.
  • Advancement is important to most people. If you are currently stagnant and do not see progression in your current company, it can make sense to take a lateral position with a company with room for growth.
  • Lateral moves can also be a way around a tricky boss situation, or let you move into a company that has a corporate culture that is more fitting to your lifestyle. Talk to your peers to find out what working for the company is like day-to-day.

As with any decision there are pros and cons. Here are some things to be wary of when making a lateral career move.

  • Starting over in a new company can bring challenges. Getting to know the new corporate culture and finding your place with co-workers will require time and effort.  It’s worth it if its an up great from the previous company, or a new title and salary growth make up for the stress of it.  However, if you are only offered a lateral position, and are happy where you are, it may not be worth it to make the change.
  • When beginning a new job at a new company you may be at the bottom of the barrel as far as advancement goes That is ok if you are given a higher position but may not be worth it if taking a lateral move. Also remember the old adage. “The last one in is the first one out”.
  • Taking a lateral move raises questions from future employers whether you are willing to take on more responsibility or have the ambition for new challenges. Make sure you will be able to explain the decision to move laterally to future employers.  That all too often interview question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Employers are not looking for the answer to be “working the same job.”
  • Often when switching companies you lose the corporate benefits you acquired like vacation time and a good health insurance plan.  Again it may not be worth it if the job is the same and benefits are less.

A lateral move can make sense if its setting you up for advancement down the road, providing you with a better product or a stronger company, but it can also signal that you are not ready to move forward if you move laterally on a whim. Make sure the decision is strategic, and if it is, then jump!

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