The Raise-less Promotion

Career Blog

Businessman showing his empty pocket, turning his pocket inside out, concept no money.

A colleague recently asked if he should accept a promotion. Knowing he was an ambitious fellow with energy to spare, I thought it was a trick question. But then came the catch. 

Although the role offered a better title and potentially more visibility, it did not come with a salary increase. Apparently, the organization expected him to take on considerably more work and managerial responsibilities simply for the fun of it.  

So, what would you do if confronted with a similar offer? Do you take the role, hoping to garner goodwill? Do you storm out in disgust and search for a company that offers better compensation? Or perhaps there is a middle road where you can capitalize on the new title and work it into a more lucrative opportunity in the near future.  

Before you answer, consider the following points.

  1. Check Your Assumptions: Before taking action, ascertain whether it was an actual offer in line with an official grade level change or if you were simply asked to take on more work in exchange for an irrelevant external title.
  2. Ask the Right Questions: Engage your manager in a healthy dialogue about the opportunity. If the offer is based on an actual grade-level promotion, inquire about the salary range for the role, so you know where you stand. Ask for the rationale as to why a raise doesn’t accompany the promotion. Perhaps the department is over budget, or the company is going through rough times. Neither is acceptable, but at least you can gauge the company’s financial health. Finally, ask about the expectations for the new role and associated workload: clarify deliverables, additional management responsibilities, time and travel commitments, etc. 
  3. Always Negotiate: A promotion offer is, in essence, a new job offer. You should ask yourself all the same questions you would when contemplating an external offer. If it doesn’t work for you (financially or for other personal work/life balance reasons), decline. If, on the other hand, you want the role, Always ask for more. If additional salary is off the table (doubtful), ask for more in annual bonus or other perks.
  4. Mind the Red Flags: Consider what an offer of this type says about the company ­– its financial health, the department’s forecasting ability, and your manager’s level of respect for you. 

How do the points above affect your course of action? Here’s one more to consider. Picture this: Your lawn guy comes to cut your grass. You greet him with a smile and announce that from now on, you’ll be happy to refer to him as Chief Landscaping Architect… assuming, of course, that he performs a variety of additional services for free. Think he’d go for it? Would your lawyer, doctor, or accountant take a similar deal? Only in the corporate world would this madness even be considered.

Your career is yours to manage, but if presented with such an offer, I’d take the opportunity to shop my resume and see what I’m worth in the market. Best case, I’d snag a better deal. In the worst case, I’d realize I’m overpaid and lucky to have the current role. In the end, be sure to make your decisions based on facts.  

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