Lateral Transfers : Sidestep to Career Success


Does the grass look greener on the other side of the office? Maybe it’s time to consider a lateral move.

Lateral moves or transfers involve a change in jobs or location while keeping the same level of pay, status or responsibility. Although not a promotion, they can have a positive long-term effect on your career.

Cecile Peterkin, a career coach at Toronto’s Cosmic Coaching Centre, says: “Employees who choose lateral transfers gain new experiences and skills. It can be a very effective way of learning more about how the organization functions and, as a result, becoming more valuable to your employer.”

Halifax-based Dana Marcon, who has thirteen years of experience as a life coach, remembers her first job as a management trainee with a popular pizza chain. Her first night on the job was spent mopping floors. For the next few months, she was moved around each job in the restaurant. The company believed you could not be an effective manager without understanding firsthand the challenges and expectations of each position. Through her subsequent career, Marcon has discovered that most large corporations have the view that employees with a wide knowledge and experience of the organization have more career growth potential.

More directions than up

Future advancement is only one of the reasons people look to lateral moves. Some people may hope to leave a stressful or dead-end work environment while others might be seeking a better fit for their skills or education. In these cases, a lateral move can be a way of improving your life at work and your overall career potential.

Another motivator can be obtaining better job security or creating better work/life balance. Grace Morgan, an employee with Service Canada, asked for a lateral transfer to an office closer to her aging father when he moved into a seniors’ complex. “I was fortunate my department had a branch office in his community. Moving closer to my dad let me be there for him when he needed me, instead of trying to help by long distance calls or repeated emergency visits. In the end, it helped reduce a lot of my stress.”

Potential risks

A lateral move, like any career change, presents some risks. Former co-workers may feel you deserted them and struggle with the extra workload. Your new co-workers may be jealous that you landed their dream job.
Meanwhile, if you regret the move, you may find that you cannot get your old job back. In addition, new challenges can put you back at the bottom of the learning curve. Building your credibility again will take time. Research moves as much as possible beforehand, and carefully consider whether it is worth the risk.

“If you don’t first consider where you want your career to go, a lateral move may actually be the worst thing you could do,” warns Randall Craig, career planning expert and author of the bestselling book Personal Balance Sheet. “Before accepting any lateral move, the most important question to answer is quite simple: what do I gain by this move? If you know which doors may be open to you and which doors will close with the move, then the risk is less.”