A promotion is usually good news. In the post-recession economy, simply holding onto a job is hard enough. If you get a chance to move up the corporate ladder without even rolling over your 401(k) and mapping out a new commute, why wouldn’t you take it?
Well, the problem is, of course, that you don’t always get the exact promotions you seek – sometimes, you get the ones you never wanted in the first place. Maybe your boss wants to reward you, but doesn’t really understand your goals. Maybe the company is restructuring and management values you, but your old position is going away. Whatever the reason, if you’re offered a promotion you don’t want, you need to figure out what to do next.
Option 1: Take it.
Hear us out: no one is suggesting that you reconcile yourself to a position that will force you to do a job you don’t like or that won’t take your career in the right direction. But sometimes, our careers zigzag instead of moving in a straight line – plus, there’s the fact that the rent isn’t going to pay itself.
The most important thing to do, if you’re offered a job you don’t want, is to keep your options open and assess them on your own time. When offered the promotion, be gracious. Regardless of the circumstances, it means something that your company values you enough to make the offer.
Option 2: See if you can move the job description closer to your goals.
Once you’ve thanked your boss for the offer, go home and make a pros and cons list for taking the promotion and for not taking it. Then, think about why the job doesn’t appeal to you, as is.
Could the position be changed to be more in line with something you’d enjoy? Perhaps added (or subtracted) responsibilities would make it a better fit for you, or maybe your manager could add opportunities to learn a new skill, to engage with a potential mentor you admire, or to work on a project that interests you. Think about whether some or any of these factors would make the promotion worthwhile.
Option 3: Take it, but just for the short-term.
Sometimes, tweaking the job description isn’t an option – for example, when there’s been a layoff, and the promotion is really just a way for a supportive manager to save you from the axe, or when the company has, shall we say, larger communication and corporate-cultural issues that prohibit discussion of pretty much anything. In these cases, you might want to consider gritting your teeth and taking the job for the time being, while you surreptitiously conduct your job search on your own time. (And make sure it’s on your own time. There’s very little that’s more embarrassing than being fired for cause right after being promoted.)
If you take this option, make sure you keep your eyes on your goal. Think about the experience that your new position does offer you. Are you learning new skills, becoming a better manager, or developing better rapport with teammates in other departments? All of that belongs on your resume, which – needless to say – you should be updating constantly while you keep your ear to the ground.
Option 4: Decline graciously.
Depending on your situation, this could be the nuclear option. Even if the promotion isn’t an all-or-nothing deal – in other words, this new job, or no job at all — you’ll have to do some good communicating to make sure that your boss understands why you don’t want this particular boost up the corporate ladder.
Here, as always, it’s important to focus on the positive. Be prepared to express your commitment to the company’s mission and demonstrate how you’ve served it so far. Think about the role you’d want, or at least the types of work you enjoy doing. You never know. Your manager, impressed with your self-knowledge and dedication, might just start envisioning you for a role that involves a promotion you’d love to take.