How to Step Up Your Career with a Lateral Move

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The phrase “career ladder” implies you can move only in one of two directions at work: up or down. Perhaps that’s why some professionals feel a little reluctant to take a new job that doesn’t come with a higher salary or bigger title. However, in practice, a lateral career move can be just what you need to give you a boost.

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This is especially true in the design world, where many individuals would rather manage projects versus people. In a survey by The Creative Group, 26 percent of advertising and marketing executives said the most rewarding aspect of their job is doing hands-on creative work; another 27 percent prefer to solve business problems. Only 17 percent said training and developing others provides the greatest satisfaction.

If you want to shake up your career but don’t care for managerial roles (or if opportunities are scarce), then a lateral move may be right for you. Here are some factors to consider and steps to take before making the leap.

Look at your overall career plan. Do you want to own your own agency one day, or are you driven purely by the desire to push creative boundaries? Spend some time creating a career development plan. By defining your professional goals, you’ll have a better idea of how to focus your job search.

Get the experience and training you need. Let’s say you want to transition from web designer to front-end web developer, one of the top jobs of 2016, according to The Creative Group Salary Guide. Before you attempt this lateral move, you may need to gain more experience in HTML or jQuery. Do a skills audit to identify your strengths and areas for improvement.

Consider in-house opportunities first. Before hitting the job boards, speak to your boss about your professional aspirations. Ask about taking on new projects or additional responsibilities that align more closely with your current interests. If your company has several locations, see if your manager can help you move within the organization, if that’s what you want to do.

Explore new avenues. People often pursue opportunities outside their current employer because they’re bored or feel they’ve hit a dead-end. So, as you launch your job search, look for roles that will provide different challenges and allow you to stretch your skills. For example, if you work in the marketing department of a large health insurance company, don’t focus your search in the medical field. A position in an advertising agency or a tech startup tech, for example, may offer a welcome change of pace.

Get guidance. When you’re making major career decisions, it helps to get the advice of someone who’s been in your shoes. If there’s a more experienced creative professional that you admire, ask that person to mentor you – both during the process and afterwards. He or she can give you valuable feedback when you’re at a career crossroads.

Work with a recruiter. Staffing agencies do more than find temporary workers for their clients; they also help professionals land full-time roles. When you sign up with a specialized agency, recruiters review your skills and job requirements, and strive to uncover opportunities that will be a good fit for you. In addition, they can help you create a knockout online portfolio and provide you with free online training to boost your overall marketability.

A lateral career move can be a smart step for design professionals, particularly those who are uninterested in leadership roles. And, if you are smart when negotiating the starting salary, you may even wind up with a raise!


Looking to amp up your career game? The HOW Design University course Designing Your Personal Brand is a great place to start. Under the guidance of design journalist and New York City-based design firm principal Ellen Shapiro, you’ll create your visual identity, design the necessary applications as a cohesive branded package and get your message out in the world.  See an excerpt from this course here.

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