Unpopular opinion: a career move doesn't always need to be a promotion

Not every single move you make needs to be a promotion. There is a lot of value in making lateral moves that allow you to dig deep and build the confidence to call yourself an expert.

I have seen a lot of early to professionals get caught up on trying to get out of entry level jobs and become an expert in the shortest time possible. There is an obsession with levels and climbing up the ladder as quickly as possible. The challenge with scaling the ladder too quickly is that moving rapidly up may actually hinder your progress especially if your competencies and confidence don't catch up to where you find yourself.

Let me clarify by saying that by all means you should be paid for what you are worth. I definitely don't subscribe to the school of thought that you must suffer and do your time just like the others (read boomers) did. ALSO I am all for young and even mid-career talent moving on up - at the right time and in the right context. Google, YouTube and Wikipedia University have folks thinking they are experts out in these streets: just because you can google it doesn't make you an expert in it. Building your professional reputation requires a number of ingredients and experience is a key one.

So what is a lateral move?

This is a move from one position to another that is at the same or similar level mostly pay-wise but also experience-wise. Lateral moves, when leveraged right can propel your career in the direction that you would like it to go.

So before you get caught up on moving up, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you ready to take on more OR is it actually the organization culture that isn't working for you?

Just because you don't like your job doesn't mean that you are necessarily ready for a promotion. It could be that you are working in a toxic culture and you simply need to change teams or organizations rather than climb up the ladder. Your direct manager's leadership style may not gel well with your working style and perhaps what you are looking for is a more supportive and/or aligned manager rather than a promotion per se. Before assessing that you're ready to move on up, explore work in a different team - a change in teams may be what you really are seeking rather than a promotion.

2. Are you growing in your current position or has has your growth plateaued?

If you are still growing and still challenged then you might need to be strategic about your next move while still learning new things in your current position. If you are no longer growing but still have more to learn at the same level then a lateral move could help you develop new skills and competencies even if those don't come with a salary increase. Check our growth meter to see whether you have completely maxed out and have been stretched out in terms of learning and experience at your current level.

3. Does your current personal/family situation line up with a promotion?

Just because you are ready for a change doesn't mean that you can handle a promotion. If you are in a season where you have small children or you just returned to work from maternity/paternity leave or you are dealing with family/needs or health issues, you may be better placed to go for a lateral move into a new role that resembles your current position so that you don't have to deal with too many changes while still gaining new experience. A promotion comes with new and increased expectations and you want to be sure that you can deliver on the higher expectations while juggling your personal situation. Even if you're ready for a change, the timing may not be right for additional responsibilities - remember your non-work related responsibilities before jumping into something that may be potentially overwhelming.

4. Are you seeking a promotion only because a friend/acquaintance got a promotion?

It is very tempting to say person X has similar experience to me and they got a promotion therefore I deserve a promotion. It is also very dangerous because no two career paths are identical. In fact, there are so many factors that play into career moves including the individual's personality, competencies, the unique set of circumstances that landed them in their previous and current positions. By all means, it is great to challenge yourself and leverage positive peer pressure. It is also important to know that the only person you are competing against is your older self. Resist the urge to replicate what you think is success in one persons career and get clear on what success means to you and then pursue it at YOUR PACE.

5. How comfortable are you with your current responsibilities? Are you ready and do you have the competencies to level-up?

Hint - if you still have a lot of room to grow in your current role, then a promotion is probably not what you should be looking for but instead an opportunities to deepen your experience. I will share more about imposter syndrome but the bottom line is that if you're not building your experience and competencies, then it's not a syndrome and you actually are an imposter. It is important to build confidence internally but to also match that with the ability to deliver on the promises that you make in your resume. If you're not fully there yet then a lateral position can help you fill the gaps in your resume AND allow you to build confidence in the areas you already have mastered so that you are only dealing with a syndrome and not the other way around.

You can strategically advance your career by positioning yourself to fill gaps in your experience so that you are well placed to handle a promotion when the right opportunity comes and at the right time. All this to say that a change in jobs doesn't always have to include an increase in salary. When done right and with the long-game in mind, a lateral move can help propel your career to the next level.

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Have you recently done a lateral move? How did that help advance your career? Reply in the comments or on social media.