Do you remember that fabled "career ladder" that your parents and grandparents once talked about? The concept was that you started on the lowest rung, and if you worked hard and did a good job, responsibility and pay increased as you were promoted towards manager and, eventually — fingers crossed — head honcho.
Well, you can pretty much forget that model. In today's workplace, over is the new up. That's according to Joanne Cleaver, author of "The Career Lattice," which explores how lateral moves in business position men and women for advances in their careers. Whether you want to stay within the same company or are wondering how to change careers, exploring lateral moves can be a great way to position yourself for success.
"It used to be a very obvious, traditional, no-risk career path to expect to simply move up and take your boss's job," Cleaver says. Today, however, there are fewer rungs to the ladder, business conditions are changing rapidly because of advances in technology, and many companies embrace a teamwork-style structure — instead of establishing a set vertical path to more money and responsibility.
"You're not going to grow your salary or your opportunities by doing what you're currently doing. You have to move over, and that's going to push you up."
- Joanne Cleaver
"When you lattice by going sideways, it positions you for an eventual move up, and it also shows employers — current and future — that you're really driving your own career."
The concept of working hard at the same job and expecting recognition and a promotion may lead to disappointment, she cautions. Today, businesses are looking for staff that are great at their job, have an understanding of the business and the industry and are willing to learn new skills, accept new responsibilities and grow with the company. That, she says, will pay off down the line.
"You're not going to grow your salary or your opportunities by doing what you're currently doing," says Cleaver. "You have to move over, and that's going to push you up."
Here are her tips on how to make lateral moves and grow your career.
1. Study emerging trends.
New types of jobs, positions and even job categories seem to emerge every few months. Novel digital functions continually arise, and businesses are constantly evolving their business platform to respond to current growth patterns. Read up on those trends. Study the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections. Consider whether it's the right time for you to go back to school for a higher degree or to take some additional classes. Get a grasp on what skills will be in demand by your current and future employers, and make yourself marketable today for tomorrow's jobs.
"What you want to do to advance in your career is to anticipate trends and have the right skills at the right time so that when a new type of job emerges, you're qualified," Cleaver says.
2. Find experiences that will give you an "in" with those trends.
One of the profiles in Cleaver's book tells the story of a woman who's earned her MBA and has a traditional background in marketing. Through her work with a trade association, she found that she had a talent for developing audiences using digital tools. So she offered to work on an e-commerce project with that association, selling books and training materials, and gained experience as a product manager. That experience, combined with her traditional education, ultimately gave her the expertise needed to transition to a sales position selling the services of a digital company.
"You have to have a combination of on-the-job skills and experience," explains Cleaver. "You need to be able to angle the experience that you're getting and pull from your established credentials to remix what you can offer."
3. Consider earning certification.
Certification is a way to demonstrate mastery over a certain area and to backfill skills. Because you can earn certification quickly, relative to going back to school for a full degree, it's possible you can stay ahead of the trend and avoid trailing it.
"If you don't think you're going to be able to get that experience directly at your workplace, certification can fill a gap," says Cleaver. "I can see this being valuable, especially, at smaller workplaces, nonprofits or very fast-growing workplaces where there may not be a team that would give you the direct experience you would want for the kind of position you're gunning for."
4. Don't let money drive your decisions.
In the past, a move up the ladder would, almost by definition, be accompanied with a raise. Lateral moves aren't as literal or proscribed. Instead, you have to think in terms of the bigger picture and making moves that will pay off down the line. "You're not going to get that much of a raise by doing a good job today," Cleaver cautions. "You're going to have to find a job that justifies a bigger salary because you're leading growth."
5. Manage your network over as well as up.
When the career ladder existed, it was important to network with people in higher positions — such as managers and bosses. Today, you should be looking for team opportunities and growth opportunities, and those are actually more likely to come from people who are working at your level, and people within your peer network. "Make sure you're having meaningful connections and making referrals in both directions — giving and getting referrals with peers who can open the door and pull you into team projects," Cleaver says.
Joanne Cleaver, Author of The Career Lattice, McGraw-Hill, 2012, Interviewed by the author on Nov. 18, 2014