Discussions around career advancement are typically all promotion, promotion, promotion. There’s an assumption that getting a promotion – or getting a new job that more or less amounts to one – is the only effective way to take a step forward along your career path. That’s why your resume and LinkedIn profile probably don’t just say you worked in sales at your current software company, but probably has two entries at that company: one for the 6 months you spent as an SDR, and another for when you moved up to AE.
Gotta make it extra clear you got promoted, right?
Well, yes. This is not a blog post that aims to downplay the importance of promotions, or the value of showing them off on your resume as evidence of your skills. But promotions aren’t the only way to move along your career path. There’s also the lateral move. Lateral moves aren’t always a short route to more money, but they are a significant, if longer-term, investment in your career. And they’re not for the faint of heart – it takes boldness, as well as a lot of self-reflection, to come to the decision to make a lateral move. But if it works out, you may find yourself happier than ever to go to work every day.
“Lateral moves aren’t always a short route to more money, but they are a significant, if longer-term, investment in your career. And they’re not for the faint of heart.”
What is a lateral move, and when is it time to make one?
A lateral move is, essentially by definition, distinct from a promotion. A promotion is a step up, while a lateral move is a step to the side. It’s about changing directions to get on the right career path more than it’s about taking a concrete step forward. Here are a couple of different forms it can take.
Switching roles within your team
Say you’re in demand gen on your company’s marketing team. You’re rocking it, finding creative ways to unearth new leads for the sales team. But your heart’s not quite in it. You love marketing, but want to be more involved with developing value props than running lead gen campaigns. So you pursue a lateral move away from demand gen and over to product marketing. You might not necessarily get a raise when making this switch, but the product marketing role is something you’d actually enjoy more.
Most importantly, it’s pointing you in the right direction for where you want your career to take you. If your ultimate goal is to direct sales training programs, for example, you’ll get there faster through product marketing than you would through demand gen.
Switching teams within your company
When you make a lateral move, you don’t have to stay on the same team. Maybe you’re a CSM who has spent months, or even years, helping customers make the most of your company’s product. In that time, you’ve learned what your customers want the most, and where your product falls short of meeting that demand. You decide that your calling is now to make the changes necessary to close that gap, and that you’ll be more more successful at achieving that if you move from Customer Success over to the Product team.
Keeping your role, but leaving your company
Sometimes you just have to face the fact that your company can’t offer you what you want, and let your career path lead you away and into new territory. Maybe you’re in sales, but aren’t thriving in your industry and want to sell a different kind of product. Maybe the industry is fine, but you can’t quite get behind your particular company’s mission or strategy. It’s normal, in this situation, to seek out the same role at a different company – even a current competitor.
How to bring up lateral moves to your boss
Lateral moves can be a sensitive subject, and bringing it up to your boss can be hard. But it doesn’t have to be. A good boss will feel invested not just in making you valuable to the company, but in helping you achieve your career goals. And he or she should also understand that if you feel you’d bring more passion, skill, and productivity to a different role or a different team, it’s in the company’s best interest to make that happen. If you trust your boss, don’t be afraid to talk to them about your desire for a lateral move.
“A good boss should also understand that if you feel you’d bring more passion, skill, and productivity to a different role or a different team, it’s in the company’s best interest to make that happen. If you trust your boss, don’t be afraid to talk to them about your desire for a lateral move.”
But don’t be reckless or indelicate, either. Focus more on why the role you want to move to is aligned with your career path, and less on why your current role is unsatisfying. And avoid criticizing your boss’s leadership – in most cases, lateral moves are driven more by individual goals than by problems with management, anyway.
Of course, if you’re trying to make a lateral move away from your company, then there’s only one way to bring it up with your boss: Giving two weeks’ notice after getting hired somewhere else. If that’s the case, the only thing we’ll say is: Congrats on the new role!