How to Prepare for a Lateral Career Move

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When most people begin a career, they do so with the goal of working their way up in an industry and reaching its pinnacle. As anyone who’s ever made it to the top can tell you, however, your career progression isn’t likely to proceed in a straight line. The process of building expertise and experience often collides headlong into the realities of organizational structure, leaving no obvious paths to promotion up the business ladder. When that happens, many people believe their only option is to move to a new company that offers a way forward.

The problem with that, of course, is that starting over with a new company can reset the seniority clock and even delay your upward march. The good news is that there’s sometimes another path to the top that’s less obvious – making a lateral career move within your existing company. It’s a concept that professional services firm Deloitte refers to as building a career lattice, and it’s the new paradigm of corporate career growth.

Making a lateral career move can help you to build high-level organization-specific skills that make you too valuable to lose, which can help to break the promotion logjam and help you move up. To make the most out of a lateral career move, though, you must prepare yourself to thrive in your new position and become a multi-disciplined expert in your field. Here’s how to do it.

Start by Asking the Right Questions

The first thing to do to prepare for a lateral career move is to figure out how your new role relates to your goals and what you’re going to need to do to thrive in it. To do that, it’s essential to ask the right questions before you make the move. Seek out others within the company with experience in your new department, and ask them to help you learn the lay of the land. Ideally, try to get answers to the following questions:

  • How does your new position connect to your old one?
  • Are there overlapping functions that can smooth your transition?
  • What new skills will you need to develop to thrive in your new role?
  • Is there a support structure in place that can help you to get up to speed quickly?

Once you have an idea of the day-to-day specifics that your new position will entail, it’s possible to set priorities as to how you’re going to hit the ground running without skipping a beat.

Make a Learning Plan

Even under the best of circumstances, any new position will include a learning curve that you’ll have to overcome at the outset. Once you’ve identified what skills you’re going to need, you have to make a plan to build those skills in short order. Start by talking to your company’s HR department about what training options they offer, either in-house or through company-sponsored coursework. If they don’t offer what you need, there’s no shortage of online courses in the UK that should do the job. If you have sufficient lead-time before beginning in your new post, plan to start the necessary courses in advance so they won’t interfere with your daily schedule. Neglecting to plan adequate time to learn can lead to workplace burnout – and that will render your lateral career move moot.

Build a Professional Network

Entering a new career role can be difficult if you take a go-it-alone approach. To make your transition a success, it’s important to connect with other professionals in your new field to learn from their experience. A great way to accomplish this is to join relevant professional organizations and networking groups where other people in your new line of work get together to discuss industry developments and offer support and advice. You’ll find that the network you develop will become your greatest asset, particularly when you lack experience in your new role. It’s akin to having a help desk staffed with experts that can help you overcome unexpected challenges, or introduce new ways of thinking about existing problems in your organization. Then you can better prove your value to the business – which is the primary goal of a lateral career move in the first place.

Strive to be T-Shaped

With the preparation done, all that’s left to make your lateral career move a success is to put your new skills to work and blend them with your existing experience in your former role. Doing so will allow you to develop into what’s now known as a T-shaped professional. It’s a moniker that reflects your deep understanding of your original line of expertise and the breadth of your ability to bring that knowledge to bear on new tasks and responsibilities. It’s the business equivalent of being a true jack-of-all-trades, and it’s the kind of skill set that today’s businesses value in their executive management teams. It can imbue the kind of cross-functional thinking skills that will make you ready for entry into the modern c-suite, which should be your ultimate goal. Along the way, make sure to replicate the above pattern and bring it into every step you take on the business ladder (or lattice, in this case). Then there’s no limit on how far you’ll climb.

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