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Don’t Be Afraid of Lateral Career Moves

Topics: Career Advice

Want to move up the corporate ladder? You might need to be willing to go sideways. Horizontal or lateral moves can be just as big a boon to your career as a straight shot up the org chart. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of lateral career moves.


(Photo Credit: Pablo Romeo/Flickr)

There’s a reason why it’s called “the road to success,” because success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Of course, vertical advancements are a great sign that you’re progressing in your career nicely – but so are horizontal moves.

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Pieces of the Puzzle

In order to understand why and how both types of “promotions” are important in your career, you must first understand that dynamics of a successful company. A company is much like a puzzle, and the puzzle pieces are made up of the individual departments (sales, finance, management, etc.) within the company. Although each puzzle piece is different and serves a specific function, every puzzle piece plays a significant role in making the puzzle whole and complete.

Vertical vs. Horizontal Career Advancement

Vertical advancement is what many professionals refer to as “moving up the corporate ladder.” Typically, when you advance vertically in your career, you’re awarded a bump in pay and a higher-ranking title within your department (or puzzle piece). Horizontal advancement is when you move laterally within your company (to another puzzle piece), as opposed to upward – it’s more like a bridge than a ladder. Unlike upward mobility, many horizontal advancements are purely title changes (or transfers) and do not come with a raise, which is also why these types of “promotions” are less desirable than vertical ones. However, just because you’re not moving up the corporate ladder, doesn’t mean you’re not progressing in your career.

Example: Account Manager to Salesperson

For example, say you’re an account manager for a firm that sells commercial business insurance. If you were to be awarded a promotion that advances you vertically, then you would, most likely, move to a managerial position where you are responsible for other account managers within your same department (or line of insurance). However, with a horizontal move, your promotion means you’re being transferred to support insurance agents who sell a different line of insurance, but there is also more room for growth in the new department than the one in which you’re currently working.

Although the vertical advancement comes with a raise and higher-ranking title, it doesn’t always guarantee that it’s the fastest way to move up in your career. For instance, if your desire is to transition from an account manager to an actual front-line salesperson, then the path that lends the greatest opportunity in the example would be the one where you advance horizontally. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind and always come back to what your ultimate end goal is in your career, otherwise you run the risk of chasing a paycheck instead of your dreams.

Lastly, remember that your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, stop trying to skip over the important milestones of your career just to get to the top quicker. The lessons you learn along the way will set the foundation of what you need to be successful now and later in your career. Best of luck!

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We’re curious to know what your thoughts are on vertical and horizontal advancements. Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter or leave a comment below.

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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