When Lateral Moves are not Lateral

As a recruiter in the Pharmaceutical Industry, one of the most frequent phrases I hear is, “I’m not interested in making a lateral move.” Sometimes I hear that someone would only make a job change for a certain level position or a certain title. I understand the spirit behind these comments because we all want to show progression in our careers, but let me invite you to consider expanding your view about how seemingly lateral moves are sometimes not lateral moves at all.

In my time as a recruiter, I’ve helped more than 600 people make job changes, and I would guess that about 90% of them were “lateral moves” based on title. I would guess that the majority of those candidates were not in-between jobs but employed with another company performing the exact same function. So, why would so many employed people take jobs at other companies for seemingly lateral moves?

Why would so many employed people take jobs at other companies for seemingly lateral moves?

Let me explain this way. In the 2018 Major League Baseball Season, the Red Sox ended the year with 108 wins and won 2/3 of their games, truly amazing, the best team in baseball during the regular season. In their same division, the Baltimore Orioles had the worst record in baseball, only winning 29% of the time. Let me ask you this, if the shortstop of the Orioles got to move over to play shortstop for the Red Sox, would that be a lateral move? It’s the same title…Short Stop, not senior shortstop or executive short stop.

I would argue that this is not a lateral move at all. He is going from the worst team in baseball to the best, likely getting some financial incentive to do so. Even though the title is the same, he has greatly improved this situation, advanced his career, and improved his resume. Let’s flip this baseball analogy on its head, would the shortstop at the Red Sox, leave to go play shortstop for the Orioles (So, the same functional job) simply because they were willing to give him a bigger title, like executive shortstop…or Tall Stop!

Here are three factors that would make a move to another company, even at the same title, not a lateral move:

Company Positioning

If I look at the resume of two people doing the same job at two different companies, I evaluate them differently based on where they work. Right or wrong, I view the person at the well-known company as better than the person at the no-name company. Clearly that is not always the case, but if I’m being honest, that is what I do. So, if you can go from no-name company to well-known company, even in the same role, that is not a lateral move.

Scope and Experience

If we think about the shortstop analogy, the Red Sox’ shortstop is going to have different opportunities than the Orioles’ shortstop. For instance, the Red Sox’ shortstop may gain valuable play-off experience and learn to handle a heightened amount of pressure while playing on a bigger stage. In the same way, sometimes, even a role that is lateral will expose you to a bigger scope or responsibility and perhaps afford you to new learning opportunities. If you gain these valuable assets while performing the same job at a different company, it is not a lateral move.

On-Strategy

I’ve seen candidates make moves that were lateral in title and lateral or downward in compensation to gain an experience that was part of their career strategy. As an example, I’ve seen people move laterally to gain Immuno-Oncology experience, or managed care experience, or some other experience. But they key is that they weren’t actually lateral moves because they were on-strategy. These moves were progressive even though their title or compensation didn’t change. Also, I've seen people take a lateral move or even a downward move when they've made the personal decision to relocate to a new area. So, if you make a purposefully move that is on-strategy to the career you want to build, it is not a lateral move.

When we consider just these three things, and there are more, we can see that there are scenarios that on the surface may seem lateral but they’re not. So, the next time we talk, let’s talk about what would be a career enhancing, progressive, on-strategy move for you. I look forward to that, thanks!

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