When does a lateral career move make sense?
October 27, 2021 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I may have an opportunity to make what would essentially be the same job I am doing now but at a different company. I'm a bit dissatisfied with my current role, but I am not sure if a lateral move makes sense. How do I make this decision? Long-ish details inside.

I am in middle management at a large company. A former colleague of mine (whom I worked well with and respected as my peer at the time) moved to another, smaller company in the same industry but in a more senior role. They are now hiring to fill the same position I currently hold at my current company.

When I saw the posting, I reached out and had a conversation about the job. They said that the job description had been written based on my role and, more specifically, what they identified as the strengths I brought to that role. But, this would be about a lateral move as you can get: same title, same responsibilities, et cetera.

I have been feeling a certain amount of frustration in my current role. I love, love, love my co-workers and my boss. My work-life balance is good. The organization has treated us all very well through the pandemic. But some things have been extremely frustrating and I don't feel like they are getting better. When I've tried to identify areas I think we can improve, I've been told "That's just the culture" or "Change doesn't happen overnight!" I've been here five years now. I know my co-worker was frustrated with a lot of the same things before they left, and it seems they are in a stronger position to make change happen at the smaller company.

I feel extremely conflicted about this. It is a completely lateral move, so I'd be taking on the additional risk of joining an unfamiliar organization for probably the same pay. If I do decided to change jobs, waiting might lead to an opportunity that is a bigger change or a step up.

But, the flip side of that is that this might be enough change might get me out of my current rut, without being something so completely different that it adds a lot of stress to my life. And, to be honest, maybe it's kind of okay to be coasting these days, with everything going on right now?

I'm planning to talk to my boss about some of the things that are bothering me in my current role, but what else should I be thinking about here? Is this just a flat out terrible idea, a great idea, neither? How should I make this decision?

(No, I don't have an offer in hand yet; I'm probably going to apply just to not close the door, but at the same time, I don't necessarily want to waste my former colleague's time if I can come to a firm conclusion about what I want to do.)
posted by synecdoche to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Often this kind of lateral move is how people get raises, so that might be a good deciding factor.
posted by foxtongue at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

How long have you been in your current role? A lateral move can make sense if you've been doing your current job for so long that you're no longer considered for promotion (4ish years or so). If there's more upward mobility in the new role that could be a deciding factor. As mentioned above a raise can be something else to consider. If your current company hands out a semi-reliable 3-5% a year or less you may be able to negotiate a higher salary with the new company, or other perks like extra PTO if yours is tracked.

Potentially moving to another company also gives your current company the opportunity to do a diving save with more money or a promotion. It's not the most fair to the new company, but business is business.
posted by mikesch at 2:23 PM on October 27, 2021

Are you able to talk with your former co-worker about the culture at the new company and see if they think it's an improvement over where you are currently, or if they are dealing with similar issues there?
posted by Malleable at 2:25 PM on October 27, 2021

Response by poster: (I won't thread-sit but two data points: I have been in my current role for about a year and with the company for 5. It was my third promotion with this company, so I've been very fortunate in terms of career ladder mobility. I feel that I am fairly compensated at the moment, though of course more money wouldn't be a bad thing.)
posted by synecdoche at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2021

Generally speaking you're looking for future growth potential and/or benefits and quality of work/life improvements.

If you are stuck in your current position (too important to promote) it's probably time to go. Or if the company's too small and your supervisor is there to the end (either he dies or retires) so you won't be promoted EVER, and you're not getting a promotion to Level II or Level III senior positions.
posted by kschang at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2021

I mean, you say “probably the same pay” which implies you don’t actually know what this new job pays. Why not just interview and ask for more than you’re making?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:57 PM on October 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

I made a lateral move -- same title and job description on paper -- but I ended up with better pay and different responsibilities after the hiring panel got to know me during my interview. Responsibilities that eventually pivoted me into an entirely different role. Unfortunately, my dissatisfaction with the organization is actually worse at this new(er) place and more money hasn't helped that at all, but I think I'm in a better position (skills-wise, experience-wise) find and get a role somewhere that I feel more alignment than I would be if I had stayed in my original role.

So my vote is: no, not a terrible idea.
posted by sm1tten at 3:01 PM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I made a lateral move once, and it was more responsibility with less pay. Push back and say you can't possibly consider a move without a significant increase in salary and benefits, and see what they come back with. It can't hurt, certainly not in these times, and you'd be no worse off than you are now.

I was temping years ago and they offered me $10 an hour to drive about 30 minutes away. I said that was too far and they immediately upped it to $11 an hour, no questions asked. Well, it was away from commuter traffic, the people were chill and relaxed, and, more importantly, they had an awesome frozen yogurt bar.

I'd made other lateral moves that were more responsibility, and less awesome perks, sadly. I guess you have to gauge what is your live/work balance, the atmosphere, etc, before making any decision.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2021

Moving is good, it lets you double your network and start fresh at a higher level which can facilitate faster growth. But it's also stressful and more risky because your new workplace might suck in new ways. So yeah, as you've said, a lateral move doesn't really make sense... but can you make it an upward move instead?

Can you negotiate a better title, add a responsibility you're interested in, minimize something you don't like, work from home a few days a month, etc - and, of course, definitely make sure to get a pay raise and better benefits. I would not bother with the hassle of moving unless the perks increased enough to outweigh the risk and the hassle.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:30 PM on October 27, 2021

Considering your contact says the role was created around your strengths at your current position, you are in the cat bird seat.

But don't treat it like any old interview. Make sure to spend the time interviewing them, and not the other way around. Be clear that you perceive this as a lateral move so that they need to entice you, not vice versa. Have a list of 10 specific questions about the role, expectations, culture, compensation, etc., so that when you leave the interview you know as much as possible about what you'd be stepping into. The only possible downside is they don't like how direct you are - which is a red flag, anyway, and you can stay in your current, somewhat frustrating position with coworkers you like.
posted by RajahKing at 7:55 AM on October 28, 2021

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