Is a Lateral Move Bad for Your Career?

Many people face the difficult decision of whether or not to make a lateral move. If you are leaving your company to go to one that is much larger, that’s easier to justify. It’s the other scenario that can be troubling. 

An opportunity comes along, you like the people and it feels like a great fit, but it’s at a smaller company and they can’t bring you in at a higher level.  You’re not sure you would feel good about that.  There are some people who wouldn’t even consider it. 

So, are there times when it does make sense to make a lateral move? Even though it may seem counter intuitive, there are times when you should consider it.

Here’s our Take Five:

  1. Greater Access to Senior Management:  If the company is smaller there will be fewer people between you and senior management.  That means two things: learning from the very best at the company and positioning yourself for promotion.  You’ll learn a lot more, faster by having frequent access to top management.  Having more access also means greater visibility and that can help, no matter what your level.  If you are already a VP, then fewer people at the top means your odds are better at getting the top job.
  2. Broader Scope:  The same title at a smaller company can mean greater responsibility.  By virtue of there being fewer people, it dictates that each person would have a relatively bigger job.  A broader scope usually means making a greater impact.  The greater the impact the greater your overall job satisfaction will be.
  3. Different Category:  If you have been wanting to break into a new category, then taking a lateral move can work to your advantage.  While you may be forgoing an immediate promotion, you are learning something new and exciting.  Importantly, this new industry experience can round out your resume and be leveraged into a significant promotion in the future. 
  4. Smarter People:  Certain companies (and you know who they are) have reputations for having the “best of the best” when it comes to smart employees. They are more innovative and always seem to be setting the standard of excellence in their category. Working with people like these can inspire you, raise your game and significantly enhance your career.  As an added benefit, being surrounded by smart people can make work more fun. 
  5. Quicker Decision Making:  Nothing’s more frustrating than working on a project and having it stalled in bureaucratic layers. If your current company moves painfully slow, taking a lateral move at a smaller company can be energizing.  Smaller companies are usually more nimble.  Better to be in an environment in which things are done quicker, which frees up more of your time to take on the next big project.

The next time you are presented with the opportunity to take a lateral move, be sure to weigh all the pros and cons before making your decision. What might appear on the surface to be an automatic “no”, could in reality be an excellent opportunity to advance your career.

Whelan Stone


About whelanstone

I'm originally from New York - lost my accent when I moved down to Florida - and made San Francisco my home in 1985. I've been recruiting & coaching for 12 years, with the best partner (Fred) you could ask for, and love what I do. When I'm not busy working I write screenplays (haven't sold one yet) and travel - Morocco this past summer was fantastic. Fred and I started this blog because we wanted to share what we've learned along the way. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we do writing it.
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