You do not have to leave your company in order to change jobs, advance your career or make a career pivot. With a lateral move, you change roles, departments or geographies within the same company. This allows you to experience a new day-to-day work environment, but you still maintain your tenure, credibility and network that you have built up in the company.
A lateral move should be one option you consider if you plan to leave your job, and it may be the ideal solution if you otherwise like your company but want to make a change. In addition, a lateral move helps you learn about a different part of the company and enables other people in the company to get to know you. This enhances your career prospects within the company. Finally, if you want to change careers and try a different functional area, a lateral move is an easier pivot to make as you already have some credibility within the company from your previous role.
If you would like to make a lateral move, here are eight steps to take:
Review your company structure
You need to know where you might move, and depending on how isolated your current role is, you may not know everything your company has to offer. Review the company directory to familiarize yourself with all the departments. Don’t forget to look at different locations where your company has offices, if relocation is a possibility for you. Look at the Career page of your company website (your company may even have an internal Career page if it encourages lateral moves).
Catch up on the office newsletters, press releases and other announcements
Now that you have a better sense of how your company is organized, review the latest strategy, priorities and initiatives. Many companies issue internal newsletters to keep staff in the loop. If internal communication is lacking, read press releases and company announcements. If you have friendly colleagues in the investor relations and PR departments, ask them where you can find the latest news about what the company is working on. Ideally, your next move coincides with an area the company is investing in.
Tap employee resource groups and other cross-functional networks
In addition to investor relations and PR, employee resource groups (e.g., Young Leaders, Working Parents, Black Employees) are a great source for information because members work in different areas of the company. Many ERGs host social mixers or professional development panels, where you can meet with people in different departments or offices. In addition to ERGs, look for company volunteer events or sports teams for a way to meet people outside your current area.
Confirm the internal recruiting process
Some companies have a specific recruiting process for lateral moves. One company I worked with did not require employees to tell their manager about exploring outside opportunities. So you could happily network across departments without fear of reprisal from your current manager. However, if another department expressed interest in you, then that potential hiring manager was supposed to reach out to your manager to let them know. Ideally, you would give a heads-up to your manager at that point. Before expressing your interest in a specific role, check with your company if it has any specific process regarding lateral moves.
Plan for your boss’ help (or not)
Whether or not your company requires you to talk to your boss about your plans, you do have to factor in your boss’ reaction. If your boss is supportive, it would be great to have his or her help in making introductions for you and sharing insights into other areas and roles. If your boss isn’t supportive, you need to plan your research and networking so that s/he doesn’t get wind you’re looking around. Either way, you need to account for whether your boss will help or not.
Get job-search ready
After you have researched your company and identified possible next moves, you want to make yourself an attractive candidate. One of the benefits of a lateral move is that it’s not a full-blown job search. You probably won’t need a resume since you’re already in the company. You may not need as many interviews because enough people might already know you. However, you may need a resume and a series of interviews, especially if the move you’re hoping to make it to a different location or to a very different group. In addition, your manager’s recommendation or other reviews of your performance may come into play. Similar to an external job search, you want to get all of your material together and be prepared to interview. You still need to be job-search ready for a lateral move.
Launch your search
Once you’re job-search ready – i.e., you are prepared to meet with other departments or locations, and you have an updated resume and performance review to share – then get in front of the manager for the role you are targeting. If your company has an internal recruiting process, follow these steps too, but this doesn’t replace reaching out directly to the hiring manager. If your boss is supportive and knows the manager, a direct recommendation is very powerful. In addition to your boss, having a colleague or mentor refer you is also helpful.
Transfer to your new role
If you get an offer for a lateral move, you’ll likely work with HR to transfer your paperwork and any accrued benefits to the new area. Many companies do not issue a new offer letter because you’re not leaving and coming back – the changes happen behind-the-scenes in the payroll system. However, ask your HR contact to confirm if you should expect a new offer letter or need any additional paperwork.
You also want to make sure you work with your former boss to transition smoothly. Coordinate with your former and your new bosses on the timeline. Ensure you have enough time to delegate your old work and train your replacement. Confirm with your new boss what constraints and upcoming deadlines s/he has so you make the move in a timely fashion. After you have eased into your new role, don’t forget that a lateral move is an ongoing option. Don’t get so complacent in your new job that you forget to continue to manage your career going forward – including any future lateral moves.
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