Careers: Moving Sideways to Move Your Career Ahead

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Do you think you are in a dead end job? Are your skills and education not being used in your current job? Instead trying to move up in the company, maybe you need to look sideways. In business, it is called a lateral move. The pay and the job status are the same but the work is often quite different and the doors open to new opportunities.

Lateral moves often lead to promotion

Dana Marcom remembers her first day on the job as a manager trainee with a major Pizza restaurant. She had a business degree but her first night was spent mopping the floor. Over the next few months, she did every job in the restaurant. It was the restaurant’s policy that in order to be a good supervisor, you must have worked in the job of everyone on your staff.

Many employers look for workers who have a broad knowledge of their business when they are looking for people to promote.

The advantages of a lateral move

Sue Cameron is a counsellor with Career and Transition Services at Nova Scotia Community College. She compares lateral moves in the workforce to frogs hopping around the lily pads in the pond, instead of climbing ladders up to the tree tops. There are often far more lily pads then there are ladders. So if you want a change, it might be better to hop across, rather than wait for the chance to climb up. Sue says there is a lot to be gained by a hop.

  • Each hop will bring you new learning and new skills
  • You get to see the pond from different viewpoints.
  • You meet and have a chance to impress more frogs.
  • You just may jump on a lily pad that’s next to a ladder.
  • It will be far more interesting than staying in the same lily pad for years.

Will my boss be angry?

Often newcomers are afraid their boss may be angry if they say they want to transfer to another position in their workplace. However, in many Canadian businesses managers are expected to be on the look˗out for talented workers who may become the leaders of the future. Unless you talk to your manager about your career goals, they have no way of knowing that you want to move ahead.

Planning your move

Take the time to plan your move. Know what kind of work you want to do. Know what skills you have that are needed in that job. Check to see if there are opportunities to move up in the company from that job.

Randall Craig, a Toronto career consultant, (, advises

  • Get to know people in the work unit you want to join. Ask them to explain their work and what kind of skills they need to do their work well. Ask them to let you know if jobs come up in their unit.
  • If you don’t have these skills, try and take a few courses to get them. Read books or newspapers or the internet to find out more about this type of work.
  • Talk to your current boss about the fact that while you like your current job, you would like the chance to work in this other unit and why. Ask for advice and help in getting even a short work term in that unit.
  • Once you have spoken to your manager, you may want to tell the manager in the other unit that you are interested in any jobs that might come up there. Give him, or her, a copy of your résumé to show what your skills are.

Your current boss may not let you go right away because of staff shortages or heavy workloads, or because there are no openings in the other unit. Continue to do your own job well and keep letting them know of your interest to move when the time is right.

You may have to compete for the job, so use the waiting time prepare.

Adjusting to the new job

When you get the new job you are starting over again as a stranger. If you come from a country with a very different culture, the new workers may not know how to talk to you at first. Be friendly and open. Put up pictures of your family or homeland. Bring in some plants, crafts or ornaments to make your office look inviting. Laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Get feedback from your co-workers on the work you are doing and ask for their advice on how to do it better. Offer to help others and be seen as part of the team.

Try to keep the friendship of your former co˗workers while you start to build friendships in the new unit. It usually takes six months to settle in but it is all part of building your future.

Veronica Leonard is an Employment Advisor and freelance writer living in Nova Scotia.

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