10 Questions to Ask Before Making a Lateral Move

Today, lateral moves are no longer universally viewed as a hiccup in career progress, especially in places like the federal government where skill development and challenging assignments are valued. There are a number of reasons why you might want turn your career ladder into career lattice. Maybe your work style or personality clashes with your boss, perhaps you want a bigger challenge, or maybe (like many feds) you’re hampered by the fact that hiring is stagnant and possible retirees are staying put.

The most important thing when considering a lateral move is to be sure that you have a deliberate career plan, and that the shift fits into it. Sit down and write out where you want to be, when you want to be there, and what you have to do/learn/etc. to get there. If the lateral move can give you something that might keep you from reaching your career goal and gives you a sense of progression, go for it.

If you’ve decided that a lateral move might be right for you, here are 10 questions to ask your potential new supervisor:

  1. What does this job entail day-to-day? (Use this answer to determine whether this position is an exact replica of your current job, or whether you’ll be gaining new experience.
  2. What skills do I currently have that will be of value to me in this position?
  3. What might I be lacking and need to quickly learn if I’m hired?
  4. What training opportunities are offered to help me fill this skills gap, or to help me get ahead?
  5. What leadership opportunities does the job offer?
  6. Does this position offer benefits different from my current job (i.e.: telework, flex time, free parking, closer to home, etc.)?
  7. What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position might face? (Try to make sure that you aren’t getting into a position that has unattainable expectations.)
  8. What is the office culture like? (If there are specific problems you have in your current job, don’t throw your colleagues under the bus or air the agency’s dirty laundry. Instead, ask constructive, direct questions about those particular issues.)
  9. How long have some of your employees been in their current positions? (This will give you an idea of how long it might take you to break the ice with your new co-workers. Longer-term employees might take a bit to warm up to you. It will also give you some insight into whether it’s a good place to work—when people are happy, they tend to stay put.)
  10. What are the agency/department/team goals, and how can I help work toward them? (This should help you figure out some of your responsibilities, but will also help you know how to best leverage your talents in the new position.)

When speaking with your potential supervisor, it’s a good idea to discuss your career plan and goals. This person might have some insight as to how the new position could help you achieve your goals, or how it might alter your career path. It is also wise to let your current supervisor know that you’re looking at a lateral move.

Especially if this is intra-agency, it’s better for your supervisor to hear it from you than from someone else. If you have a good working relationship with your supervisor, let him or her know the position you’re considering and how it will help your career growth. In the current hiring landscape, many supervisors are reluctant to let their employees leave.

By discussing your plans of looking for a new position, your supervisor might be able to tailor your current job to something more fitting. Or, worst case, he or she might be able to offer you a glowing recommendation that will make you a shoo-in for the new job.

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Heather – this is a great post. Lots of useful information and suggestions. I’ve made a number of lateral moves over the years. To suit my plan, to fit my family life, etc. I wish I’d had this article then! Better late than never. I’m sure many will benefit from your wisdom.

Carmen Batista

Love this list. One of my mentor’s shared a more general interview question “How will you know that I’m successful after 6 months?” I like that this question helps the interviewer and candidate identify what steps are necessary to make both parties successful. Similar to your goals question, but with a timeframe.

Mustafa Mohamedali

Great tips but I think there is something wrong with the argument in 2nd para: “If the lateral move can give you something that might keep you from reaching your career goal and gives you a sense of progression, go for it.”