Years ago, most employees stepped into a workplace at the entry- or mid-career level with their aspirations focused upward. For example, a fresh graduate with a degree in business marketing would begin her career as an assistant or lower-level associate, and then set her sights on a series of promotions, each one leading to greater levels of experience, exposure, and responsibility within the company's marketing department.
But as companies look for ways to get more out of their workers, a new trend is taking hold in some workplaces, and employers are encouraging experienced employees to move in a lateral–rather than upward—direction when they're ready to reach for change and growth. So, for example, a marketing associate with a degree and five years of experience in the marketing department might be encouraged to forgo a promotion to management and instead accept an entry- or mid-level position in sales, operations, product development, or finance.
Presumably, lateral moves help employees expand the breadth of their knowledge and experience, thus becoming more valuable to the company and also more employable beyond the walls of the organization if they choose to leave. And these moves benefit employers as well, since they gain an increasingly knowledgeable and experienced employee at basically the same cost, year after year and promotion after "promotion."
If you're asked or encouraged to accept a lateral rather than an upward career trajectory, keep these considerations in mind before you say yes.
1. Don't allow yourself to be exploited or underpaid.
If you've worked your way up to a level two position in sales and are now being encouraged to accept a level two position in operations, you may be offered a level two salary on the grounds that you have little experience in this new field and little to contribute to the organization. But don't accept this logic. Experience is valuable at any level, and every year that you spend with your employer, you accumulate institutional knowledge, technical skills, and life experience, all of which should be compensated at a progressively increasing rate.
2. Don't accept hollow promises in lieu of real gains.
Your employers may be right, and you may actually hold more leverage in the job market with a diverse background in both operations and sales (or both sales and IT, or both IT and finance). But the future holds no guarantees. Don't be lured away from your chosen path by assumptions and promises alone.
3. If you're ready for management, you're ready.
You may be a brilliant sales person, technician, or finance pro. But that doesn't necessarily mean you're ready to lead a team of other people. Management skills and technical skills are not the same, and your employers may use this fact to deter you from taking a step up the ladder on the grounds that you lack management-specific training and experience. But if you really want to take this step, don't be deterred. Get the training you need, stand your ground, and be ready to list the reasons why you are, in fact, ready to lead, coach, and manage others.
Get Ready to Look Beyond These Walls
If your employers aren't convinced by your argument and simply aren't ready or willing to help you advance within your current department or skill area, start working on your resume and getting ready for a lateral shift…to another company. Visit MyPerfectResume for the tools and guidance you need to take your career in the direction you choose, with or without the support of your current employer.