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7 Ways to Move Up by Moving Over

Are you looking for that next career challenge but unsure how to get there? Climbing the corporate ladder might not be the only way. Today more than ever, a career detour just might lead to your career destiny. At every level — including the top — professionals, managers, and executives-in-waiting commonly zigzag through several lateral lurches before stepping up to their destination position.

Why has lateral become the new way to the top? The recession is partly to blame — the hierarchy in many companies flattened and compressed during the recession, effectively eliminating rungs that were previously part of the expected climb.

Because of this reality, it has become more important to “think sideways.” If you don’t plan ahead by considering lateral rotations as part of your career development plan, you may end up stuck on your current ladder rung indefinitely, unless you find a way to take a larger-than-usual step up. Yet paradoxically, exceptional advancement is less likely if you haven’t taken the time to boost your experience and confidence with lateral moves.

Cheryl Palmer, career coach and founder of Call to Career, suggested a helpful analogy: “If you’re stuck in a traffic jam and it may be hours before you’re able to move forward, it makes sense to change lanes and exit on a side road where you can more quickly navigate around it. Sitting in the traffic jam and fuming doesn’t get you anywhere.”

For advice on how to effectively turn a side step into a step up, TheLadders asked several career-development experts to weigh in:

1. Make It Make Sense. Without a strategic career path, lateral moves can become merely a merry-go-round. Joanne Cleaver, author of the new book The Career Lattice: Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture, and Attract Top Talent, suggested you must proactively plot your own career plan to make sense of diagonal and lateral moves. “Your employer won’t do it for you, so the first thing to know is that it’s up to you to pursue and land opportunities that advance your career agenda,” said Cleaver.

A great place to start is to envision your next “up” move, and then reverse-engineer the qualifications you need to make a serious run for that position. Cleaver recommended assessing your current experience and skill set to determine what you might need to get where you want to go.

“Ask yourself: Am I lacking hands-on operational experience? Proven expertise in a business skill, such as client retention? A working knowledge of a relevant slice of technology? What skill set would tee up my success in that position?” suggested Cleaver. By comparing the skills required by your next-step job to the skills you currently have, you’ll quickly see the gaps that a lateral move can fill.

2. Do What Needs to Be Done. Your informal self-assessment will likely uncover areas where your skills could be stronger to get you to the next level. Determine specific strategic actions that will help you reach your career goals faster.

“If you are a project manager who wants to become a department manager, you might need two things: a stronger network outside your department so that your reputation is already established with your potential new peers, and broader exposure to customers and clients so you can show that you can drive growth as well as get work accomplished,” said Cleaver.

In this case, she suggested considering a short-term rotation to cultivate relationships with other departments and functions, or working on an assignment that puts you and your team on a customer-facing project.

3. Volunteer Strategically. It can be difficult to find time for volunteer projects in the midst of your primary career responsibilities. But strategic volunteering can be a powerful way to rapidly expand your network of influencers and to backfill business skills, according to Cleaver.

To spin community service into an opportunity for lateral rotation, Cleaver suggested joining an organizational committee whose volunteers complement—yet don’t duplicate—your existing network. Look to your current skills for a logical toehold (for example, if you work in marketing, join the marketing committee).

“Your end game is to transition to an assignment that builds your business skills, once your credibility is established,” explained Cleaver. “So a marketing exec, needing operational and financial management experience, might volunteer to co-chair an annual appeal.” Such assignments tee up results-driven case studies for employees to bring back to their day job, illustrating business skills that prove their qualification for general management.

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posted in: Career, Interviewing, National, news, Employer News
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