The idea subverts the old notion of a steady climb up the corporate ladder: Sometimes you have to go backward in order to get ahead. It’s how many careers play out these days.
New rules: Personal obligations and goals are claiming more of people’s time.
Most careers no longer follow a classic vertical progression, says Cathy Benko, vice-chairwoman and chief talent officer at Deloitte Llp, who has done research in this area. Instead, people often move up, down, out, back and sideways in the course of their working lives, she says. The corporate world in America is much less hierarchical than it was 25 years ago; that flatter structure means fewer upward moves are possible, Benko says. And personal obligations and goals are claiming more of people’s time, making them less likely to focus mainly on their careers at all points in their working lives.
The problem, Benko says, is that perception has not caught up with reality. Too many workers are concerned that moving down or off the ladder will be perceived negatively when, in fact, these moves can be healthy for a career. She says the idea of a lattice describes modern career growth more aptly.
A lateral career move can be relatively easy to make. But when should you consider taking a pay cut, or applying for a job that is lower on the organizational chart? It all depends on your long-term goals. Here are some possible considerations:
• If you want to move to a bigger, higher-profile company, you may need to take a position that’s lower in the hierarchy than the one you hold at your current company.
• Conversely, if you want to move quickly to a higher-level position with more responsibility, you may opt to transfer to a smaller company, which could mean a pay cut.
• If you want to acquire more marketable skills—ones that look to the future rather than the past—you may choose to move temporarily to a lower position, Benko says. For example, a computer programmer who is working on a huge older system may want to switch to the more forward-looking area of cloud computing, she says.
• Or, suppose you have an eye on a corner office. Most companies want their top executives to have experience in all major facets of the business, says Donald Asher, a career expert based in Nevada, US, and author of Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why. A hotel general manager, for example, should have experience in the food and beverage, reservations and housekeeping departments. If you want to be a general manager and haven’t had a stint in one of those areas, you may need to take a downward detour for a time, Asher says.
©2010 / THE NEW YORK TIMES
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