You like your current company well enough and have reason to think you’ll earn a promotion and pay raise soon. Out of the blue, a recruiter calls you about an opening for a similar job elsewhere. The role sounds interesting but would be a lateral move with comparable pay. What should you do?

Decisions about a lateral career move are often complicated, especially when they’d take you off your current advancement track. You might be weighing how the move could affect your income, reputation, and career prospects. But considerations like these tend to cloud the issue, not clarify it, and can lead to a career decision you regret. More often than not, the best way to address a lateral move is to toss careerism to the back of your mind and go with whichever work option interests you more.

Forget and Find Success

Al Pacino once said, “Forget the career, do the work.” But that doesn’t mean the two things are mutually exclusive. When you “forget” (or disregard) something, you’re not always swearing it off or avoiding it intentionally. On the contrary, forgetting about money and success in the short term is often your best strategy for getting more of it in the long term.

One case in point is stock investing, where experts advise you to tune out today’s hot companies and market trends and instead focus on building a diversified portfolio based on your long-term goals. The same idea goes for career planning. When you have the option of a lateral career move, you can do yourself a favor by first forgetting about the salary, benefits, or other short-range career factors. Instead, focus on a more fundamental question: Will it lead you to work that interests you more?

Compare the prospective job to your current one, and determine which role aligns better with your work passions and interests. Explore your answers regarding:

— Daily tasks and priorities
— Key projects or initiatives
— The department’s work culture
— The company’s products, clients, or overall mission

This approach helps you view money (and by extension, advancement, and reputation) for what it is: an essential byproduct of your career, not the driving force of it.

The real driving force of your career should be your sense of engagement. By opting for the job that interests you more (regardless of salary), you can invest in your long-term engagement and passion for your work. And when you’re more consistently engaged, you’re naturally more prone to generate innovative, top-caliber work that produces high value, recognition, and compensation in the long run. Pacino again: “If you feel what you are doing is on line, and you’re going someplace and you have a vision, and you stay with it, eventually things will happen.”

A Few Caveats

— Maybe it goes without saying, but your long-term career interests should not come before any urgent financial issues. For instance, if advancing at your current company helps you build emergency savings or pay off hefty credit card debt, that will most likely be your better option for now.

— Changing jobs is always a work interruption where you spend time interviewing, negotiating a salary, leaving your current job, filling out HR paperwork, and learning a new company’s processes and systems. You’ll need to weigh whether your new role would really be more interesting than the deeper expertise and relationships you could build during that time if you were to continue in your current position.

— Recruiters have business incentives for attracting talent to jobs at their corporate clients. Before you pursue any lateral career move further, do some research to get a second (or third, or fourth) opinion on the job and employer. Here are four good options:

  • Look up employee reviews of the company on major job boards like
  • If you’re on LinkedIn, you can search the company name and click the “People” filter to see if anyone in your extended network has worked there and reach out to them for insights.
  • Check if your local library gives you access to online business resources like Value Line, which you can use to learn more about the company’s latest mergers, successes, or challenges.
  • Search the company on Google and view results under the “News” tab. You can then click “Tools” to specify a date range for news results.

The Bottom Line

To effectively decide on a lateral career move, focus on what really draws you to your profession and sustains your interest in it.

Through this lens you can tune out short-term questions of money and recognition that might otherwise lead you in the wrong work direction. Follow the example of another famous New Yorker, Jay-Z: “I’m not really concerned with noise because I’m playing the long game.” Keep your own long game firmly in mind when contemplating a lateral move, and you can turn this complex career question into a simple, confident Yes or No.

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