A week or two ago, during review time, the boss said to me, “If you want to move up in the company, you’re going to have to do _____.” I think I shocked him when I said, “Oh, I don’t want to move up. I like moving sideways.”
Jobs used to be about seeing how far one could climb the ladder. You’d put in your time, pay your dues, and if you were lucky, you’d move forward up into the next slot, shortly after your boss retired, died, or otherwise moved out of your runway. For lots of places, this is still pretty much the norm. But it doesn’t have to be the norm for you
Are you an engineer in a software company? How does project management sound? Are you a project manager? Try product management or program management. Maybe you’re ready to make a huge shift sideways. You could go from your role in your current vertical to the same role in a completely different industry. What would a move from technology into public service do for you?
Curriculum Vitae/Resume Difference
One difference in this lateral move business is that your resume might end up feeling scattered. It becomes important to select your moves in such a way that it appears you have a plan in mind. What does a move from project manager to QA manager tell your next employer? It might look at first blush as a retreat or a retrenching. It’s important to craft your resume to match the story of your moves.
Open New Markets
With everyone else considering an upward move — from contributor to manager, for instance– you have an opportunity to compete differently. You can position yourself for roles that might seem lateral or otherwise off-track for your colleagues, thus leaving it more open for you. Turning yourself into a lateral thinker gives you opportunities to shop your credentials around into markets that others aren’t necessarily eying.
You are NOT Your Title
Really a post in itself, it’s important to consider the fact that you are not simply your title. Sure, if you are a Certified Public Accountant, that gears you towards a specific profession. But for the lion’s share of technology workers, don’t let your current and past titles get in the way. Look from the perspective of what you can do as related to your skills, not for a match to a job title.
Power Up Your Skillsets
Because you are already a lifelong learner (you are, right?), taking new courses and programs to enhance your lateral move skills is a great plan, too. Are you a database administrator? Take a small business course and a finance course to try and round out your business understanding. Do you work in education? See what opportunities to expand your super powers exist when you enhance your technological understanding. Start a podcast to accompany your courses, for instance.
This time feels somewhat unique in the way employees use corporations and the way corporations consume employees. The old way of doing things might work in some of the more Byzantine burocracies that still exist (say, certain government offices), but even there, I bet that someone moving laterally through the ranks will take the structure by surprise, and might just enable interesting future changes for you.
What are your lateral hacks?
–Chris Brogan is now on staff at Lifehack.org. He writes about self-improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com], and he is starting a content network at GrasshopperFactory.com.