By Elizabeth Harrin (London)
You are offered a sideways move, either in your organisation or to transfer to another company. Should you take it? While it might be tempting to hold out for a promotion, don’t disregard the possibilities presented by taking a lateral move. We asked five experts for their advice on taking a step sideways.
- Plan for the long term
“A lateral move that is made capriciously may be a career limiting move; however, a lateral move that is part of an intentional plan can propel a career forward over the long term,” says Diane Youden, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers specialising in HR effectiveness.
Youden advises taking stock of your career path. Where are you now and where do you want to be? A sideways step might be the best thing to do to put you on course for your end goal and further career opportunities down the line.
As well as considering the job prospects and how these fit with your overall career trajectory, think about who you work with now and who you could be working with if you said yes to taking that lateral move. “If your current supervisor is not a strong sponsor or champion for you, moving laterally can remove this obstacle and reset your career path,” says Youden. “A lateral move can be a strategic move when it broadens your network with key company decision makers, gives you more visibility, gains global exposure, or enhances management responsibilities. All of these attributes contribute to making an individual a more well-round and broader business focused resource – a desirable attribute in your career planning.”
- Broaden your experience
“It is obvious that in this economic environment it would be a bad decision to not accept an offer for a lateral career move,” says Nancy Mellard, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services. “However, with that said, it is always a smart move, no matter the economy, for a woman to make a lateral move in order to gain new skill sets and talent or expose herself to areas of the company that she did not have knowledge in before.”
Mellard believes that taking a step sideways can broaden your experience. “I recently started a mentoring relationship with a young woman at CBIZ,” she says. “When looking at her career moves, she worked in sales for a medical software company before coming to CBIZ. During her time in this position, she had the opportunity to be an integral part of creating an innovative, cutting-edge benefit plan. While this was not a promotion, it was a lateral move as she was able to take that experience with the benefit plan, which was outside of her sales role, and can translate those skills now at CBIZ.”
Lateral career moves are especially important in your early years with a company, Mellard says, because they can give you lots of experience and knowledge about the company. Travelling too high too quickly may not give you the breadth of knowledge required about the company to perform the most senior roles to your full capacity.
- Look beyond the salary
A promotion might give you more cash at the end of each month, but a lateral move could give you a better work/life balance and a broader range of other opportunities. “Look beyond the pay and title and consider the learning opportunities, geographic location, cost-of-living, promotion potential, freedom or latitude, exposure to higher-ups, decision-making ability, and anything else that may be important to you,” says Debra Benton, President of Benton Management Resources, Inc.
However, Benton cautions against jumping in and accepting any position without thinking it through. “If you make the decision out of laziness or lack of confidence, then, yes, it will affect your career because laziness and lack of confidence affect everything now, and in the future,” she warns.
- Tick the boxes
“When recruiters go to market for talent on behalf of client companies, they are seeking a matrix of specific requirements,” says Nancy Keene, director of the Dallas office of global executive search firm Stanton Chase International. “When a company’s Board discusses succession planning, particularly in the office of the CFO, they are looking for specific ‘boxes’ to be checked regarding what the company needs for the current market environment as well as future challenges and opportunities. If you are lacking any of the important criteria, you will not be considered for the position. If no one in the company meets the specifications for the position, it is likely that the company will go outside for talent.”
If you want to be CFO of your current company, think about what it would take to get there. Keene suggests rotating round different divisions to get SEC reporting experience or spending time as an assistant corporate controller. Get some experience in corporate development, and sign up for the task force looking at post-merger integration.
“I would even go so far as a stint in investor relations – even if it is in a supporting role,” she adds. “Then, look at revenue experience – typically a key criteria for a CFO role – and jump back into opportunities at the largest operating units. Add an international posting in a critical growth market. Voila! You have the breadth and been there/done that experience to be considered as a ‘fly-up’ to the CFO position.”
- Identify the value
“What’s really important is that you must have identified the value in the lateral move,” says Martha I. Finney, workplace consultant and co-author along with Duncan Mathison of Unlock the Hidden Job Market (FT Press). “Even a demotion has value, if it gives you valuable experience and exposure that will later make you more valuable.” Finney advises thinking about the choice you are about to make in business terms. Work out a mini-business case for taking a sideways step, listing the advantages and disadvantages and weighing up the choice like any other piece of workplace analysis. “This way you can remember yourself why you’re doing it,” Finney says. “But you can also articulate the decisions behind this move in an impressive way to future employers.”
There are plenty of things you can put in your lateral move business case. Finney has a list: “The chance to try something new in a different department or division,” she says, “the chance to build your value to this company and other potential employers, the chance to get the heck away from your boss, the chance to build your network within the company.” All good reasons to step up and step sideways.
Promotions, in the right context, are good career moves. But a lateral job move can be just as good, and just as useful to your long term career goals. Don’t rule out a sideways step before thinking through what it will help you attain in the future!