Making Horizontal Career Moves Can Help You Grow Faster

Don’t just climb straight up the agency ladder

Illustration of winding paths and people in business attire walking up them.
Sometimes making a lateral move comes in the form of taking an adjacent position. Getty Images
Headshot of Jennifer Marszalek

How do you get from where you are today in your career to where you ultimately want to be? While there are many options, there are two common paths to advancement: climb the proverbial ladder in a traditional sense or lattice your way to your desired job.

As you think and plan for your next career move, consider taking the lattice route and being open to lateral opportunities that come your way. Moving across the organization and not just up within a department or discipline presents opportunities to meet and work with diverse groups of people. By taking on a new role, you will broaden your perspective of the overall business and challenge yourself to learn more faster.

A great example is an employee who began their career in account management, became a strategist and is now a talent program manager. Their willingness to work on projects outside their discipline helped them realize they’d make a strong strategist, and then they secured a promotion. Their involvement in diversity and inclusion initiatives for the organization unlocked a passion, and now they’re in a full-time talent programming role. These horizontal moves shaped a career that they would not have imagined or achieved if they had not seized the opportunity.

The possibilities are endless if you are just present and open to them. Knowing how to see and seize the right opportunities builds career momentum and can even unlock passions and side hustles. Here are a few ways to help advance your career faster than moving up one ladder rung at a time in your current discipline.

Start with what interests you

Look for opportunities that closely align with your personal interests or hobbies. Do you like to travel? Raise your hand to go on a business trip that perhaps nobody else wants to attend. Are you talented at graphic design? Volunteer to develop a presentation for a new business pitch.

Knowing how to see and seize the right opportunities builds career momentum and can even unlock passions and side hustles.

Seeking opportunities certainly takes time management, but if you’re able to balance your personal life and work, you can easily block off time to help out or try something new. A former marketing employee used to block off an hour a day to read trade publications, conduct research and learn from the success of other brands. He harnessed this knowledge in his work and shared it with others, which helped him grow quickly within the organization. It’s an investment to take on more at work, but there’s a pay off for time spent lending your expertise and dedication.

Be entrepreneurial

Leaders notice employees who go above and beyond their role to better the organization, whether it be through innovation or value creation. Having an entrepreneurial mindset can help you to stand out and open up growth opportunities.

Immerse yourself in new business, internal projects or charity work. Jump on any chance to become a part of a cross-functional team that would help you meet people from around your organization or that would help you meet people from other businesses. Engaging with colleagues who do things differently than you and work in a different organization gives you a fresh point of view and outlook on your work because you will understand it in a broader context.

You don’t have to be a freelancer to be an entrepreneur. It’s all about having a can-do attitude, a vision for your future and keeping your body in motion to keep doing things beyond your daily routine. Most C-suite executives today have held roles across various disciplines. They started their careers by gaining as much experience as possible before becoming an executive. The more you do, the more things happen.

It’s OK to slow down to grow faster

Some lateral career moves can slow your growth trajectory, but you shouldn’t perceive this as negative because they present an opportunity to gain different experience. They also put you in front of new individuals that may champion your growth. Whether you move from a group director to a director in a different discipline, start an internship at a different kind of agency or shift from a big holding company agency to a boutique agency, you will meet new people who will be open to giving you a chance in a different area of the business.

Every year, you should seek to learn and build upon what you have already achieved. Create a career plan that lines up with what is happening in your life as well as what is happening around you. No matter what you do, be vigilant about keeping your goals alive and fresh, and make room for the possibility that plans can and should change.

Jennifer Marszalek is chief talent officer at Havas Chicago.