Want a pay rise in the new year? Here are three tips for career success

Depending on your age and years of experience, taking on lateral job opportunities (as opposed to waiting for a promotion) may hold the key to your long-term career success

Many Australians today face the fastest relative rise in mortgage rates in the nation’s history. At the same time, non-homeowners face an affordability crisis and a housing shortage. NSW vacancy rates, for example, have fallen to levels not seen since 2003, while prices have increased by 3.2 per cent. Why is all of this happening? Between September 2021-2022, headline inflation in Australia rose 7.3 per cent, while wages only rose 3.1 per cent. As landlords came under fire from interest rate hikes and borders reopened, Australian rent has jumped nearly 10 per cent.

These cost-of-living pressures have meant many Australians are being forced to consider additional sources of income. The number of multiple job holders reached a record high of 900,000 people in the June quarter of 2022, an increase of 4.3 per cent, while the number of jobs worked as secondary jobs also increased by 5.5 per cent and passed 1 million for the first time. But what about those who cannot take on a second job? Is it possible to both advance your career and increase your pay? Depending on your age, there is more than one way to advance your career and income.

Here are three tips for career success based on research:

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UNSW Business School's Karin Sanders says young people benefit the most from lateral job changes, which lead to higher learning and development opportunities and overall career success. Image: Supplied

1. Career transitions impact long-term career success

The findings of a new study, Career transitions and career success from a lifespan developmental perspective: A 15-year longitudinal study, reveal how career transitions at different stages of people’s working life can make a huge difference to income and overall job satisfaction. The study’s lead, Bryndis Steindorsdottir, PhD Candidate in the Department of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School, worked together with co-authors, including UNSW Business School’s Karin Sanders, Professor in the School of Governance and Management and Senior Deputy Dean (Research & Enterprise), examine what career transitions had the biggest impact on career success.

What is career success? According to the authors, ‘success’ in work is objective and subjective. Objective career success refers to more tangible things like salary growth and promotions, while subjective career success refers to more personally meaningful career outcomes, such as growth and development. For example, young people might value obtaining financial success and career advancement. But as these individuals grow older, they might want to move to a role that increases their level of job satisfaction.

In total, 323 participants were asked a series of questions about their career movements from their first job after graduation up until the present day. For each career transition, participants were asked whether the movement involved a change in job function (i.e., horizontal transition) or whether it involved an increase in their number of subordinates (upward transition). The participants who changed their jobs horizontally said they felt more valuable in the labour market and satisfied with their careers in the long-run.

Read more: How an agile mindset can change your career for good: Rob Chan

Importantly, both types of career transitions influenced salary progression differently for people of different ages. For younger individuals, it paid off more to move roles horizontally, while for middle-aged individuals, upward career movements lead to more substantial increases in salary progression.

2. It might be time for a lateral career change

Upward career transitions mean that when individuals change their job, they get more responsibility and higher status (such as through a promotion). Horizontal shifts mean that when individuals change their job, they change their job without being promoted upward. For example, individuals might change departments within the same organisation, from working in academia to consulting or from road to construction engineering.

Whether you call it lateral, horizontal or sideways, this career move means you're moving across a company or industry to another role but at a similar level of responsibility and pay. And while getting promoted is still a relevant means of obtaining career success for many individuals, the research findings highlight the importance of horizontal moves to career success.

Read more: Lessons from the Great Resignation in how to find meaning at work

Given these findings, the authors suggest that organisations should consider offering younger employees horizontal opportunities and middle-aged employees opportunities to move upward to promote their career success and minimise the risk of losing talent to other organisations.

“We decided to research career transitions from a lifespan perspective because we wanted to know more about which types of career transitions are important to make when individuals are younger and earlier in their career versus when individuals become older and more experienced,” the authors explained. 

“Also, examining career transitions from a lifespan perspective has important practical implications. The findings emphasised that it is important for organisations to tailor their career management practices based on employees' age because employees have different career needs depending on their age,” they say.

The authors argue that both transitions are essential to career success over time. While some individuals might succeed by moving upwards, others might succeed horizontally, and many obtain success by moving both upward and horizontally in their careers. 

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A lateral job change could see you learn new skills that may lead to success later in your career. Image: Shutterstock

“In the employment context today, it is more difficult for individuals to move upward because organisational structures have become flatter. Therefore, it is good news for individuals that they do not have to move upward to obtain career success. They can also obtain career success by moving horizontally,” say the authors. 

3. Learning and development opportunities are key to career success

The findings go a step further to demonstrate just how significant learning and development opportunities are, especially for young people starting their careers.

Younger individuals have stronger motives to gain resources that help them to prepare for the future. By moving horizontally, younger individuals can gain such resources (such as learning new skills, gaining diverse experience and becoming more adaptable) that help them to succeed in the long-run, according to the paper’s authors.

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So, for younger people starting their careers, it is essential to find learning opportunities. Although it might be more difficult for younger people with less experience to get promoted, they can still get ahead by moving horizontally. 

“When people try a new job in another department or another field, it requires a lot of learning and developing new skills. But, in the long run, employers will see the value of people with such diverse experiences,” conclude the authors.


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