Changing Jobs

Could a lateral career move be right for you?

A person contemplating a lateral career move
Written by Kate Lopaze

When we think of switching jobs, we often think that it involves a big shift, whether it’s a jump in seniority or job title or a big raise in pay. “Climbing up the corporate ladder” is how we tend to see our careers. But what if a smaller change is better for you in the meantime? One where you take a similar role, at a similar pay grade to what you have now? Is a lateral career move still worth pursuing if it doesn’t move you further up that mythical ladder? It really can be the right investment to make in your career—and here’s why.

A lateral move can help you change your career trajectory

A lateral change means you’re leaving one position for a job that may have a similar structure or salary to your current one. It can be for your present company or a new one. But even though it may seem like a counterintuitive change (why would you exchange your status quo for…a similar status quo?), it might have bigger impacts on your professional future.

For example, say you’re a marketing manager at Company A. You’re comfortable at your job, but there may not be much room for you to grow beyond your existing role. You hear of a job as a marketing manager at Company B, for the same salary you have now, and basically the same responsibilities—but Company B is growing, and has more opportunities for you to become a marketing director down the road.

Or say you’re at Company A, and you like Company A. But you find out that a role fairly similar to yours is opening up in the IT department—a field you’ve always wanted to get into, eventually. So even though the biggest change in the short term might be moving your desk, you’re making a choice that puts you on a different (and potentially more fulfilling) path through Company A.

A lateral move can save you from a toxic work environment

Once you have a job where you like what you’re doing, it can be hard to rationalize letting go of it—even if you find yourself working with incompatible colleagues, a lousy boss, or an environment that just doesn’t work for you. Finding a comparable role somewhere else lets you keep doing the work you like while finding a better fit for yourself. There may not be a huge financial or job title incentive to jump ship, but a toxic work environment can really drag down your productivity and professional wellbeing. Even a small adjustment can help you thrive so much better.

Pay and job titles are not the only considerations for a job

Direct compensation and your job responsibilities are only part of the overall package when it comes to your job. Sometimes we forget to look at it holistically and understand that benefits are a major part of our professional lives. Moving to an analogous job/level at a company that offers more (or different) benefits is a legitimate reason. For example, if you have kids (or are thinking about starting a family), having a job that provides company-subsidized childcare can make a huge difference in your life, even if the job you’re doing is the same as the one you’d be doing where you are now.

Big changes and meaningful changes aren’t necessarily the same thing when it comes to our professional lives. Something that seems like a small shift now can really open up your future, or help you find a better and more fulfilling path for yourself. Even if there’s no fat raise or a fancy upgrade, think about whether a lateral move now can set you up for a better set of options later.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.