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Vertical Career: Pros and Cons

Job Market
Jan 16, 2022

Over the past decade attitudes towards careers have changed. People are pursuing traditional careers and others are testing out new and unfamiliar routes. But two schools of thought have remained the same when it comes to career growth: you have vertical career growth and horizontal career growth. Both types of career growth have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to an individual to pick which path they’d like to take.

In a recent article we discussed what horizontal growth is. It is when an individual changes jobs, for example, from one department to another, but they remain in a similar role, rather than moving to a role that is higher up the career ladder. Individuals who take this path often have a deep understanding of their work, are extremely valuable to teams and are usually highly skilled professionals in a specific field. 

In this article, we will discuss vertical careers.

What Is A Vertical Career?

A vertical career is when an individual moves from a lower position to a higher one over a period of time. This can happen within one company, or by an individual moving to a more senior position in another company. Vertical career growth is often associated with getting promotions. 

Vertical career growth typically involves a person getting a new title, their position within a business changes, their status within an organization is different, they earn more money and they have more responsibility. 

However, there are often fewer positions to be had at the top of the ladder, per se, so some people don’t favor this route because it’s very competitive and can be a stressful journey.

In the sections below I’ve listed the pros and cons of a vertical career from a person's perspective and from a business’ perspective. 

Advantages of a vertical career for an individual 

  1. Opportunity to grow oneself.
  2. With a new title you may have more opportunities to express your ideas and opinions. 
  3. Depending on the organization and your status, you may have more freedom to make decisions.
  4. Increase in wages, so you have an opportunity to improve your quality of life and to invest in the future.
  5. New level of personal development and you may be used as an example for others to follow.
  6. Depending on the organization, sometimes you can influence your own work schedule.

Advantages of a vertical career from a business’ perspective

  1. You have a person who’s responsible for an entire team’s efforts.
  2. You have an individual that can build their own team of professionals for the business.
  3. The individual can develop their analytical skills and this may impact how teams work and their motivation.
  4. The individual will be able to delegate tasks, but they need to be able to trust and rely on team members.
  5. Individuals can make decisions about the budget.
  6. These individuals often deal with top managers and shareholders, for example.
  7. Individuals at the top often mentor others.
  8. You can get a lot of recognition from working in higher roles, like speaking on the news on behalf of the company.
  9. An individual in a high role sometimes has the ability to build and change business processes to suit their way of working.

Disadvantages of a vertical career for an individual

  1. When you have a huge amount of responsibility, you often have to deal with a large number of unforeseen events. These events can affect the level of stress, sleep and fatigue an individual has. In some cases, it can result in professional burnout.
  2. Despite the status and the ability to manage your schedule, often individuals at the top work irregular hours, they need to be in touch with colleagues 24/7, even if they're on vacation sometimes! And occasionally an entire schedule has to be rescheduled to suit a business’ needs and this can impact the wishes of the individual’s family.
  3. Lack of work and life balance.
  4. The individual is responsible for all end results - both good and bad.

Disadvantages of a vertical career from a business’ perspective

  1. When working in a high position individuals often get mixed up in political and difficult situations, this can impact the business.
  2. The person at the top is responsible for the results of the whole team, and must manage the failure of projects - someone at the top could leave their role in the business if they feel strongly about a project. 
  3. Making difficult decisions is a part of the job - this can be anything from holding difficult conversations, to dismissing colleguess or removing a team member’s bonus for a particular reason.
  4. There are usually so many tasks to cover it can be confusing - the results of a project, people management, budget, as well as cross-functional interactions with other leaders and solving difficult situations. In some cases allocating these tasks is essential, but you have to make sure you allocate the work to the right person, but this isn’t always the case and this can impact the entire business.
  5. Sooner or later career growth opportunities within one company stop, because all of the top positions have been filled. In the end individuals at the top move to a new company. 

It is very important to understand what you want from your career, before you choose whether or not you want to pursue a vertical career or a horizontal one. But remember, you can change your path as you go, if you like.  

How Do You Know If A Vertical Career Is Right For You?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you like communicating with people and building relationships?
  2. Do you want to inspire and connect with others?
  3. Are you focused on results?
  4. Do you like overseeing projects?
  5. Are you happy in your current role and could you see yourself doing this for many years?
  6. Do you want to lead and change the way your business works?

If getting promotions and earning bigger salaries is something you’d like to achieve then perhap a vertical career is for you. But it’s important to remember that as you work up to a higher position, you need to be a strong leader, who can make strategic decisions and prioritize tasks. Teams also need leaders they can trust, can look up to, and can talk to when there are issues.

In a lot of cases, a good leader is someone who’s worked their way up through the business, and may have taken several horizontal steps to get to the top position. These individuals may be able to empathize with their colleagues then. Although, this isn’t always the case if a person has moved from one company to another.  

Final thoughts… 

When I have conducted interviews with both experienced specialists and graduates, they often show leadership qualities from an early age, and these qualities can be developed throughout college and university. These qualities can drive individuals towards a vertical career. 

That being said, young and successful leaders are still rare. Although there are a few examples that we can look towards today for inspiration, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, who started the social network Facebook at the age of 20, or Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who co-founded Google when they were in their twenties.

Although leadership qualities are important, you don’t have to be at the very top of your industry to want to pursue a vertical career. Some people just like moving up the career ladder slowly over an entire working life.

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