A few months ago, I was having a career conversation with a Software Engineer friend of mine. She mentioned how her current team did not align with her career goals. We also discussed the underrated career tip- a lateral career move (change job not company).
I have moved laterally before and I know several folks who have done the same within their company. So, I shared my thoughts with my friend and felt the idea was compelling enough to write a post about it.
Before I share my thoughts, I would like to quickly reference a Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey that highlights some interesting data about the same:
The survey participants specified these motivations for making a lateral career move: greater personal satisfaction (57%), to pursue an entirely new career path (41%), and to take up a professional challenge (40%). In summary, HBR found that we are motivated more by professional growth opportunities that promise purpose and fulfillment but not necessarily a promotion or a bigger paycheck. That’s when people prefer lateral career moves into positions with similar titles and pay grades in different departments with no financial incentive.
In my experience, done right, a lateral career move can bring both a fulfilling opportunity as well as a financial incentive/ promotion.
Why make a lateral move
Building a career is a lot of strategy work that needs careful evaluation of both short and long-term goals as well as life’s priorities. There are several reasons to make a lateral move, all depending on your motivations when making the move. I can name a few that I have personally experienced:
Build new skills and relationships
Within the dynamic software engineering field, folks move laterally between areas like frontend, backend, infrastructure, etc to gain more breadth, explore their interests and eventually gain depth in a particular area. I know several folks who have made a successful lateral move into areas like product/ program management or swung the management-individual contributor (IC) pendulum at their existing company to gain significant experience before opting for a bigger better opportunity outside. Alongside, your network within the company expands too.
Get exposure to different products or services
If you work in a company that has multiple products or services, a lateral move is a great way to get exposure to it. If you are someone who is product-minded, has business acumen, and has an interest in strategy, you will be surprised at how much your learning compounds by moving within a company.
In my case, I worked in the Enterprise products organization at McAfee, later made a lateral move to the Consumer products organization. This allowed me to understand the difference between how the business works, how enginnering changes and how products/features are shipped. At Intel, when I moved from one business group to another, I understood the core business a little better getting to work on an initiative that spans the entire company and stretch myself a little more with scaled-up responsibilities.
Experience a different team culture
For the most part, there are two types of cultures- company-wide and team-specific. A lateral move gives the opportunity to experience a different team culture and working style (in case your current team’s culture isn’t the right fit).
How to make a lateral move
Networking within the company is the best way to make the lateral move. You may be able to discover opportunities via your mentor or sponsor as well if you have one. Sometimes, you can even work with your manager to plan out the move by communicating your career goals to them, exploring if there’s something that can be done within your team, or else find this opportunity within the company.
In some cases, if you do not want to communicate this with your manager and simply explore, the internal job board is a great way to find out what the open roles are and connect with the team whose role interests you.
When a lateral move is not enough
While moving laterally provides a good boost to your overall career strategy, there are times when a lateral move is simply not enough. It could attribute to the overall company culture and growth dynamics. As Charity Majors points out- Not every opportunity exists at every company at every time. It all comes down to ‘optimizing for your own growth and happiness.
Ultimately, we are responsible for our careers and for the choices we make. The best way to decide is to reflect on your current situation, determine your short-term/ long-term career and life goals, and explore to find the right fit.