Horizontal vs. Vertical Career Transition - Clarity Mentors

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Horizontal-vs.-Vertical Career Transition

“Achieving clarity behind a job switch is the first step towards successful transition to the new job”

A job switch can have an adverse impact in an individual’s career, if not well thought out, planned and executed well. Motivations behind a job switch may differ for people depending on the stage in the career they are in and various other factors. For example, professionals at early to mid-career stages, motivations may be learning new skill and higher reward, while a senior level professional may be looking for position of significance.

Increasingly it has become common for professionals to make a radical job switch from one Function and/or Industry to another Function and/or Industry for want of a more satisfying and successful career. Sometime such a significant shift may not be part of original intention. If not, what caution one needs to take while moving from one Function and/ or Industry to another Function and/ or Industry, even in the role similar to their existing one?

This article briefly lays out how an early to mid-career professional planning for a job switch, can clearly identify their fundamental motivation behind the switch, distinguish among the various types of job switches and set clear objectives they plan to achieve with the change.  The success of job change is not just in landing a lucrative job but performing well and meeting objectives in the new job, which may require skill upgrades as part of effort to transition into the new job.

The motivations behind a job switch may be many, such as:

  • Inadequate rewards in the current job
  • Lack of opportunities for progression
  • Indifferent leadership
  • Difficult leadership
  • Skill mismatch
  • Interest mismatch
  • Misalignment between personality and work environment etc.

Above are some of the most common triggers behind a job change and therefore the motivation is to come out of them. If none of these fit, motivation behind job change may be more fundamental:

  • Individual is not contented with the “Role” they are playing in the current job
  • Individual does not find their current job “Function” interesting
  • Individual does not like the “Industry” they are part of

Regardless of the motivation behind the switch, writing down the motivations and a set of objectives for the change helps bring clarity in individuals mind and gives direction to their effort.

At times, early to mid-career professionals working in technology sector ignore the Functional and Industry specialization aspect of their job. They may want to ask themselves which Function and/ or Industry they want to specialize in, in addition to their technology specializations. Deep knowledge of a Function (or sub-function) along with the knowledge of an Industry, coupled with Technology skills can help Technology Professionals create a niche for themselves.

Likewise, professionals who are in a Functional role, tend to ignore technology skill that Function requires, while planning to move into a new job. We now know that use of technology is an integral part of running all the functional processes in the global organizations. Therefore, advance awareness on technology used by the prospective employer may not only help ease out the move, it can help create Functional Expert create a niche for themselves.


The extent of effort and planning required to make a switch in the Role, Function or the Industry vertical, or a combination of these, may vary including the extent of skill upgrade. Some of these may need to be planned in advance of the switch to ensure success

For self-analysis, following descriptors of each type of job switch may help:

A Lateral Switch is when a job change is from one Role to another Role within the same Function and the Industry.

  • This is the easiest of job switches to accomplish as it requires minimal or only incremental skill upgradation.
  • The skill upgrade required may involve learning the part of a business process executed by the sub-Function and associated technology used.

A Horizontal Switch is when a job change is from one Function to another Function within the same Industry. This is relatively more complicated job switch as compared to Lateral one as it requires individual to acquire skills of another function and may involve adding function specific skills/ qualifications in addition to the technology skills.

What people tend to ignore in a Functional job switch?

  • Individual’s working in Technology space ignore the necessity to acquire knowledge of the new Function they may be moving into. A short course on the working of the new functions and best practices can give them a head start over others in the new organization.
  • Individuals in the core Functional role tend to ignore technology aspect involved in the new Function. Transition to the new Function can be very smooth if an awareness of technology used in the new Function is improved through a short skill upgrade.

A Vertical Switch is the most complicated of all since it involves moving a job from one Industry to different Industry. A Vertical switch involves acquiring knowledge of another Industry, which could also include acquiring additional qualifications. A change in the Function or Role coupled with the Industry may be more challenging due to complexity of skill upgrade required.

What could help smoothen transition to the new Industry?

  • Whether you are a Functional or a Technology Professionals, it is highly recommended to acquire Industry specific knowledge to learn the new domain. Adequate knowledge of the Industry reduces not only transition effort; it may enable the candidate to explore wider opportunities in the new Industry vertical.

A Vertical or Functional switch of job is also referred to as Career Transition as it may affect significant changes in the work environment, job activities and knowledge of industry domain.

A Horizontal or Vertical switch also means that the individual making a shift will compete with peers who have advantage of being in the same Function or Vertical and already possess adequate expertise. A bit of fact finding about the prospective work environment and recognition may throw light on skill upgrade one should plan before hitting the ground in the new Function and/ or the Industry.

Whatever may be the trigger for the switch, it is of utmost importance to validate the motivation and reconfirm it, to clearly layout a few stated objectives that one plans to accomplish with it. Clearly laid out objectives must include skill upgrade required to land the desired role in the prospective Function and Industry.

People who initiate move with clarity mind and adequate preparation have smooth landing in their most desired jobs. For rest, a job switch, may only act as a temporary balm for their problems, which may recur later in some of other way.

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