Are Lateral Job Moves a Good Idea?

by Nancy Ordman

Making a lateral career move can be a smart decision for both employees and employers. This statement counters the common assumption that moving across, rather than up, the organization chart marks an employee as not promotable. In contrast, 89 percent of respondents to a 2016 Cornerstone OnDemand survey indicated their willingness to make a lateral move; a plurality would prefer to stay with their current employers. The stigma formerly associated with lateral moves is apparently no longer an issue. 

Sideways Moves: Good for Employers and Employees

One reason lateral moves make sense: Companies have fewer higher-level slots available to fill. Start-ups are small, and flatter organizations are popular. Businesses also need to adapt to their environments quickly, which can mean relying on existing personnel rather than going through the labor-intensive recruitment process. Both of these reasons provide an impetus for current employees to move across the chart:

  • Lateral moves provide opportunities to broaden skill sets, learn about a different aspect of the business, and provide some insurance against layoffs.
  • Transferring gives employees a chance to work with a different manager — someone who might be an excellent mentor or model of how to manage in a novel environment.
  • A corollary of the previous point: an internal transfer could stop an unfavorable manager-managee or peer relationship.
  • Moving around within the company introduces employees to a new set of colleagues, expanding personal networks for everyone involved and increasing the transfer’s visibility within the company.
  • For employees dealing with burnout, new challenges and perspectives can increase engagement and make work interesting again. 

Retaining existing employees saves employers the costs involved in hiring and training new staff. Allowing a valued employee to transfer to another location in order to follow a relocating spouse or partner makes sense to both parties involved. 

Personal Plusses for Switching

Whether an employee decides to shift jobs within the same company or jump to a new one, other considerations can affect the decision to make a move.

  • Promotions come with additional responsibilities and often more hours in the office. For an employee who seeks new challenges but who is not ready to take on a larger commitment, a lateral move makes sense.
  • A different company might have more future promotion opportunities than one’s current employer or offer a better benefits package.
  • A new company might align more closely with a job-changer’s value system. 
  • The new company might really want an employee to make the move; they could have a much-coveted skill set, for example. 

Before Making a Move 

Whether an employee is considering an in-company move or a shift to a new employer, they need to ask themselves a few questions.

  • Will the new position enable me to keep moving forward on my desired career path?
  • Am I willing to stick with the new job for a year and a half or two years?
  • Is this a second (or third) lateral move? If so, how will I explain that to a future employer?

Sometimes an employer independently suggests a transfer. How should an employee respond? This is a tricky situation. If the employee’s manager suggests that the move would be a good one but the employee believes it is antithetical to their career plan, what are the repercussions of saying no? Advice from Bizfluent suggests presenting solid, rational reasons why this opportunity is not the right one. Have a respectful conversation declining the job. The employee should continue to perform well in their current position and to be prepared for a change in their relationship with superiors, even if the change is not warranted. 


The Motley Fool—4 Ways a Lateral Move Can Help Your Career

The Muse—4 Surprising Ways a Lateral Move Can Benefit Your Career

The Pantagraph—When Is It OK to Make a Lateral Career Move?