For many years, careers were considered to be a series of upward movements, with each step seen as a rung on a never-ending ladder. The idea was to seek more responsibility, more money and a grander sounding title. While there is nothing wrong with this vision of a career, for many of us, this isn’t the path we want to take.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Instead of moving steadily upward, how about taking a sharp left or right turn, and considering a lateral career move? Lateral implies that we’re not necessarily going to make more money or immediately see an increase in our influence or responsibilities, but it may give us a chance to do something different from what we’re doing today.

If this sounds interesting to you, here are some suggestions:

First: Run to something, not just away from something. Ask yourself what is driving you to make a change? Do you want a change just because you are restless or bored, or do you have a more clearly defined career goal or strategy? Do you know what you’re looking for with a potential change? Spending some time analyzing your career goals will make finding the right new opportunity much easier.

Next, are you willing to get uncomfortable? Having interviewed people about their career changes, I have noted that most folks indicate that the change made them very uncomfortable. They had to learn new skills, work with different people, and deal with a new set of expectations and uncertainty. Risk of failure in the new role is always a possibility. Are you willing to take a chance?

Third, consider and build on your current skill set. What are your “transferrable” skills? What knowledge, experience, skills and training can you leverage that will help you in the new role? Most likely, your transferrable skills will be the so-called “soft skills” related to your ability to work effectively with others, but your technical expertise may also be applicable in a completely different way. Don’t forget that you bring a lot to the party, too, and may be able to teach your new colleagues a few things from your background and experience.

Finally, have patience. Recognize that getting up to speed in a new environment will take time. Not only will there be new skills to learn, but it will take time to build (or rebuild) your reputation with a new team. You’ll have to learn how to influence in a different way. Are you willing to humble yourself, put the training wheels on and let others guide and teach you for a period of time?

If you can do the above, you may find that a sharp left or right career turn may take you in a direction you never thought possible and open up opportunities that you couldn’t imagine. I’ve made two major transitions in my career, and I don’t think I realized how much I’d gained from those transitions until a colleague made the comment, “you keep reinventing yourself”. As I thought about his statement, I recognized that my lateral moves have given me some amazing opportunities with clients and associates around the world that I would have missed had I stayed on one career path direction only.

What could a lateral change do you for you?

For related thoughts on this topic, see my post on “Building Your Career from the Outside In”.