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The benefits of lateral career moves

Lateral moves in which you change jobs but don’t necessarily change pay, status or level of responsibility can be a great way of developing breadth of experience as well as your employability in engineering. 

“Broadening your experience will give you a more diverse skill base, which is something employers are seeking across the engineering industry,” says Mark Wilkie, operations director of engineering specialist recruitment firm Machtech.

“With more experience, not only will you be satisfying the needs of employers now but you’ll also giving yourself a better chance of making your next upward move in the future.”

Making a sideways move can come after careful planning and thought. For instance, you may decide that in order to move up the career ladder you need experience of a particular area of the organisation. Equally, though, such a move can arise from an unexpected opportunity like a specific project you are asked to work on. Irrespective of how the opportunity presents itself, it is important to evaluate what it will mean to your career plan and your medium- and long-term professional objectives.

A leg up?

As the pace of business change continues to rise, Wilkie points out that lateral career moves are increasingly common as companies need employees to be more versatile and take on different responsibilities. Augmenting your skills and gaining concrete experience in another division should help position you for your next promotion.

“Making the right lateral move could make you a much more attractive candidate for a promotion when a position opens in the future,” he says.

It can also expose you to new people within the organisation who may prove influential in your career further down the line and introduce you to a new manager.

“You might get on famously with your current boss but a new boss will bring the opportunity to learn from a new source. Just make sure your new boss sees the potential in you,” says Wilkie.

One of the other chief benefits is the environment for development opportunities that it provides.

“It should, in theory, give you time to learn without the pressure and extra responsibilities that a promotion would bring,” Wilkie notes.

Identify suitable openings

There are a number of ways you can make a sideways move in engineering which will benefit your career. For example, switching from working within a design team to working in a project engineering team.

“This move would give a young engineer experience of dealing with suppliers and having ownership of a project through the whole project lifecycle as well as greater exposure to clients,” explains Wilkie. “You could also gain knowledge of the budgetary responsibility related to running a project. This type of move could make you more commercially aware and a far more valuable asset to your employer.”

He cautions though that there are good and bad lateral moves: a good lateral move is one that takes you closer to your goals and matches your career passions but a bad one can “drive you away from your passions”. He advises investigating who you will be working with, who will be your boss and whether they will facilitate your career development.

“Making an internal lateral move you will have more insight into these factors than the outside world, so use this to your advantage and do some research.”

Cards on the table

Be straight with your manager about why you want to make such a move and how you feel it fits with your career plan. Avoid sounding too mercenary and also put it in context of your career path within the organisation. Wilkie points out that talking to your boss first also gives them the opportunity to tell you about an imminent promotion that might change your mind about a lateral move. If you don’t feel you can talk to your manager, try and find a mentor with whom you can discuss the matter.

“A good mentor within your organisation should be able to support you in reaching your goals; they may even be a good reference for another, better, internal vacancy.”

Building your career

If you’ve researched the move properly and evaluated how it fits in with your career plan, it should only benefit your future promotion and job prospects. Wilkie warns, though, that making too many lateral moves could result in negative perceptions.

“In some organisations, frequent lateral movers could be seen as job-hoppers,” he says. “Employers might think that someone who has changed jobs a lot lacks the skills to get promoted. Before you make your next move, think about whether the move will take you closer to your goals or just fill some time until you find the role for you.”

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