To put it simply, career progression is to “move forward in your career”. Whilst you may expect this to happen naturally by starting a job at an entry level position and getting promoted as you garner more experience, progression doesn’t just encompass getting more money or getting a new position. It can also include people in your workforce placing more trust in you and accordingly awarding you more responsibility, or having you try new business departments or sectors, or helping you grow by investing in your professional development by providing training opportunities.
Advancing our careers is a goal that almost everyone with a job has. We’ve all heard the traditional methods to advance our careers like creating a professional development plan with a mentor, asking for regular curated feedback sessions from a mentor or those who give you work, but has the paradigm shifted on how to truly progress in your career?
The traditional thinking about career development has been that our careers need to vertically grow. Vertical growth is about ascending traditional career ladders. As a lawyer, I would start as a law clerk, become a junior solicitor, move to a senior solicitor, an associate, a senior associate and then finally a partner at a law firm. However, in recent times, it has been questioned whether such growth really develops peoples broader knowledge bases. You have the scope to be pigeon-holed in as to a particular subject matter expertise in such cases. Whilst horizontal growth (moving to different departments within a firm) can help one really become a jack of all trades, the question is whether lateral career moves (moving to another workplace at a same or similar job description, level and higher pay in a different sector) are more beneficial?
One of my friends from University has changed 4 jobs in 4 years and is extremely satisfied with both his salary and his position. There’s obviously a stigma that’s associated with hopping around jobs every so often, particularly as the older generations were of the mentality that career success was attributable to staying loyal to a company and progressing that way. However research has shown that most businesses model for a significant level of attrition, particularly in high stress corporate jobs. So here’s why I think lateral moves at a reasonable frequency can actually be more beneficial for your career.
It helps stagnancy. There comes a point where your learning trajectory in a role will plateau because tasks are no longer novel and take significant thought or problem solving but are routine. Getting to such a state can feel mundane which unfortunately makes us feel stagnant (and stagnancy leads to restlessness and overall dissatisfaction). Studies have shown that Millennials and Generation Z have the lowest employer satisfaction out of every generation to work, which means that changing jobs and feeling like you’re in a new position learning new things can help with feeling stagnant and motivate you to feel engaged.
It broadens the base of your skillset. While doing one thing for 20 years may make you a maestro in that industry, it feels far more alluring to gain the knowledge and experience of different industries in the same role. For example, if you work as an accountant, you may start your career at an accounting firm like Deloitte or PWC and gain the base level experience. You may then want to move to an industry position and work as an in-house accountant for Coca Cola or Air New Zealand, which in addition will allow you to learn things specific to that industry and make you learn more from a practical standpoint.
Lateral movers show high “learning agility.” A term coined by HR professionals, people who are agile learners are highly valuable due to the potential they show. The research behind this is that the ability to change jobs and excel shows that you can be put into a new role and be successful due to your ability to learn and apply new concepts. This, in turn, will make you more sought after and employable which makes complete sense; the more skills and roles you have under your belt, the more of a stand out star you are as it’s direct evidence of your ability to execute work in different capacities. In my own experience, just after changing jobs is when I’ll get many messages from recruiters and potential employers saying “I know you haven’t been at position “x” very long, but would you be interested in this new role?”
It’ll allow you to negotiate better compensation. When you move laterally, employers tend to see you as an extremely valuable candidate on the basis that you come with expertise and a different perspective. This is easier to use to negotiate a higher compensation package compared to if you were negotiating with your current employer. In particular, you can benchmark it against wanting a certain amount above your current pay and also benchmark it against any market rates or salary guides.
It exposes you to a wider ambit of leadership styles. By moving laterally, you have more visibility to different types of bosses and people you can work with. This can help you make a name for yourself in the respective industry you work in, which means that there is now an additional net of upper management who can later advocate for your career in different phases of it. In addition, this can also help you develop your own delegation and management style. By working with different leaders and managers you’re exposed to different types of people management and you can quickly learn which styles you don’t resonate with and which styles you want to effectively incorporate into your delegation of your subordinates.
So while there may be a negative stigma associated with frequent lateral moves and people might say “but that’ll look so bad on your resume!”; I’m of the view that lateral career moves have so much to offer you. They exemplify your ability to apply your skills gained in different industries and environments, and you may enjoy the work culture and values more and even be entitled to better workplace benefits. Next time you’re thinking about how to move up, don’t write off moving sideways.