This is post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
Congratulations! You’ve done such an amazing job managing your current responsibilities; we’ve decided to give you more! You’ve earned longer hours at the office, higher levels of stress, and no additional vacation time. Plus—here’s the good news—that minimal increase in salary will be completely wiped out by taxes.
Promotions sometimes feel like back-handed compliments. Sadly, we’re programmed from an early age to strive for them. A promotion, we’re told, is the ultimate reward for a job well done. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a positive career move for the person being promoted. While it may feel flattering at first, reality soon comes crashing in, and the scenario described at the beginning of this post is often a pretty accurate description.
In all likelihood, a promotion means more work and more responsibility. It sometimes means a new title, raise or some other perk. Most of us get so entrenched in the idea of “upward movement” that we jump at the opportunity of promotion, regardless of the true impact and how (or if) it will support our larger career goals.
The ironic part is that promotions are usually offered at a point when you’re really in a productive rhythm with your current responsibilities; you’ve got the program down. A promotion can change all that. You could end up doing entirely different work and the tasks at which you’ve become so skilled may fall to another. Or, you may end up simply accumulating more tasks making the high-quality work that brought you to the attention of the higher ups a near impossibility to maintain.
Many people find that accepting a promotion pulls them away from the work they love and the skills they’ve honed. For some, it’s an opportunity to expand their comfort zone and learn new things. For others, it’s simply a distraction.
So, when offered a promotion, how are you to know it’s the right move for you? There’s no easy way to know for sure. The best you can do is think it over with a clear mind and honestly weigh the pros and cons.
Evaluate it as an opportunity, not a reward.
A bonus is a reward; there’s no question you should accept it. A promotion, however, is an opportunity. It comes with risks and potential rewards.
Consider how it will support or distract from your long-term career goals.
What experience do you stand to gain if you accept this promotion? Is the experience valuable to you and your long-term career strategy? Even if the position itself isn’t necessarily what you’re looking for, the skills you will gain might make it worthwhile.
What other opportunities might this lead to?
Even if this immediate move isn’t a perfect fit, there may be other opportunities more in line with your career goals down the road that may emerge from this. By saying “no” to this, there may be long-term implications.
Remember that (in that vast majority of cases) a promotion is an offer. It’s not a requirement. You don’t have to accept it. If it’s not the right move for you, share your thoughts with management. Perhaps expressing your career goals in such a way will help them identify other opportunities that may be more appropriate for you. Be clear about what you’re looking for and why.