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Horizontal Career: Pros and Cons

Job Market
Dec 19, 2021

Experts say the demand for tech professionals will increase by about 13% between 2020 to 2030. So much so, that more than 600,000 new jobs will be created in the tech industry alone (according to Google). This will mean that there will be a greater demand for specialists with certain skills and managers to oversee these teams. 

Unfortunately, even though there will be more jobs in the field, it does not mean that everyone entering into the tech industry will be able to have a vertical career. The reason for this is generally put down to the fact that the higher up the career ladder you climb, the less positions there are available, and this usually results in a lot of competition for the open positions.

So, what is the other option if vertical career growth is not possible? Some people will remain in their current jobs for years and they will be happy with this, while other individuals will choose to move across companies to change their working environments. 

While these individuals may not be moving up the ladder, earning bigger salaries and dealing with more responsibilities, per se, they will in fact be gaining a lot of experience as they move from one industry to another, or from one area in a company to another, doing the same kind of work and at a similar level. This is most commonly known as ‘Horizontal Career growth’. 

Let's take a look at a Horizontal Career in more detail, and let’s discuss some pros and cons of this approach to career growth.

What Is A Horizontal Career?

The concept of horizontal development emerged in many large companies in the middle to late 1990s. It was designed to help organizations that did not have many senior job vacancies for employees to work towards, so it was an alternative way of providing employees with a solid career growth plan.

In general, horizontal growth is when an employee moves between departments within their current organization, or when an employee moves to another organization to work in a similar role.  

Horizontal growth is appealing because it allows an employee to work in many sectors within their organization and to grow and specialize their skills. As a result, this type of individual is a valued member of most teams and organizations in general because of their rich knowledge.

In an article by Forbes, horizontal growth is described as ‘Horizontal growth is like opening up a bunch of new doors on the floor you’re already on.’ Rather than ‘...taking an elevator straight to the floor you want to get out on…’ which is more like vertical growth. 

Advantages Of A Horizontal Career

There are many positive reasons why a horizontal career is good, you can read about them below: 

• Opportunity for constant learning and acquiring of knowledge in a specific field (through training or self-education, for example)

• Opportunity to share skills within your specialty (you can teach others, for example)

• The ability to obtain a better salary (if you move employer your salary may increase, for example)

• Do not have to mange more responsibility than you already have (for example, taking on budget, team building, motivation, delegation and conflict resolution tasks may be avoided)

• Opportunities to develop without any restrictions (based on your goals)

• Expertise and comfort in knowing the field you are working in 

• Ability to move vertically in the future

Disadvantages Of A Horizontal Career

There are also some disadvantages to horizontal careers, these include:

  • Slow growth in wages
  • Horizontal growth can be quite common in creative fields like design and journalism
  • Less high-profile title 
  • If you stay within one organization you may deal with many different managers and you may not get along with them all 
  • Your manager may have less experience in the industry compared to you

These disadvantages are not necessarily going to happen to everyone because there are exceptions. Sometimes several horizontal steps within a single company is what prepares an individual to take that first vertical step in their career, for example. 

In some cases, horizontal growth is a mandatory path for an employee to take, because they need to understand the inner and intricate working processes of their organization at each level. If an individual becomes a leader, it's imperative that they have a deep understanding of how the business works, so that they can empathize with their colleagues. This will then usually result in more value and trust in the workplace.

Let’s look at an example:

A senior tech professional who has completed training, and has worked in the field for 5 years would like to get a new job. 

As you may know, an experienced specialist can stand out from other professionals, but if the individual in question is not interested in moving vertically, then they could consider moving to a job in a related area. This could be a move to a role in a new automated testing company or they could change to the development department in their current company. 

Additionally, if an individual works in a small organization, where career growth is limited by the organization’s structure, then a horizontal transition to another company may be a better decision. Individuals who are considering this need to choose a company where they can see many opportunities, and they must be ready to undergo additional training on their own.

Further to this, if the tech professional in question is very passionate about their profession, but has a desire to teach and to share their knowledge with others, they could look into work as a tutor, this is also another popular option.  Another option is consulting, but this path is most suitable for fairly experienced specialists who have a wealth of knowledge, and practice that can be used to help others.

Tip: It is important to know and to understand the requirements of a new role. Thus, if you wish to try out for a new job you should discuss this with your manager and HR department, so they can help you fill up some qualification gaps that you may have - extra training or teamwork exercises may help. 

How Do You Know If A Horizontal Career Is For You?

There is not a single answer to this question because what type of career you have depends on what personality you have, what you want to do in life, and what work you do.  

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to find out if a horizontal career is a good fit for you:

1 Do you like to improve your qualifications and engage in self-education?

2 Are you focused on a particular specialty and do you like sharing your knowledge with others?

3 Would you like to be a key decision maker and be responsible for the whole team?

4 Would you be interested in delegating tasks, being responsible for the project budget, team building and motivation?

5 Do you consider yourself an extrovert?

6 Are you comfortable and ready to work in a competitive environment?

If you would like to specialize in a particular field, work hard and learn more about a topic, but you do not want more responsibility than you already have, then perhaps a horizontal career is something to consider. But before settling on one idea, it’s better to thoroughly research all of your options. 


When building a career it is very important to look several steps ahead. You need to know what knowledge and skills you have and what you will need to obtain for the future. There are often many opportunities to grow in companies, whether that be vertically or horizontally. But whatever path you choose, it is important to speak with your manager and HR department when you are thinking about changing jobs, so that they can help you. 

Remember that you are the only one responsible for your career. If you do not feel the desire to become a leader, that is okay. It is not necessary for everyone to become a leader, and in many cases, having employees with a wealth of knowledge about a particular industry is incredibly valuable for an organization. 


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The Benefits Of Horizontal Vs. Vertical Career Growth

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