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Traditionally the way to the top has been illustrated as a simple vertical ladder, but this picture is shifting. In Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, for example, the idea of a jungle gym was introduced, showing how lateral movements can also push your career forward.

The recession has also caused a change to the usual corporate ladder. With the hierarchies of many companies flattening out, mid-level positions disappear into thin air, eliminating the rungs you thought you needed for your climb to the top.

Ultimately, if you don’t begin “thinking sideways” you may find yourself stuck on your current rung indefinitely. When looking to make lateral moves you’ll want to be sure it makes sense. Without careful planning side-moves can easily devolve into a hapless merry-go-round. You’ll want to plot your career plan to ensure that each move is truly moving you closer to your ultimate goal.

Try envisioning your next “up” move then reverse-engineering the qualifications you’d need to make that a reality. Are you lacking hands-on operational experience to get to that next step? Do you have all the working knowledge of a relevant piece of technology? As you look at the skills required for your next-step and compare them to what you currently have it will be far easier to see the gaps that a lateral move can fill.

In order to obtain some of the skills you’re looking for you may want to look at strategic volunteering. While it can be difficult to find the time for volunteer projects during your full-time career responsibilities, volunteering is a great way to rapidly expand your network of influencers and to pick up any business skills you need. Your final goal is to transition to an assignment that continues to build your business skills once your credibility has been established.

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