Don't assume taking that promotion is good for your career. Here's what you should think through first.

Tempting as it may be, just because you’re offered a promotion doesn’t necessarily mean you have to accept it. In fact, self-aware employees consider the extra responsibilities that come with a promotion and turn down the job if they feel the job exceeds their capabilities.

If you’re a rising star and sense you’ve been offered a promotion you may not be ready for, here are some issues to think through:

Can you handle the workload? How are others at this level getting along? Are they drowning or are they able to maintain some semblance of work-life balance?

Do you want the workload? What are the daily responsibilities of individuals at this level? Do their days involve activities you enjoy, like traveling, attending strategic meetings and managing finances?

Will you be adequately compensated? Will the increase in your salary be worth the extra hours and responsibilities?

Does this promotion take you in the right direction? Will this promotion allow you to clearly map your path over the next five years? Will you be able to continue your climb, and is the final destination somewhere you want to be?

 Are you prepared to manage staff? What do you know about the people you’ll inherit? Do you already have positive relationships with some individuals? Is there a collaborative spirit among the group?

What if you’ve carefully considered these questions and you feel that accepting the promotion is not the right move to make? It is indeed possible to turn it down without losing your job.

Best practices for saying no to a promotion include:

Give it a few days: Even if you think you know your answer right away, you’ll gain nothing from jumping the gun. Tell your boss you’d like 48 hours to consider the offer, and you’ll come across as mature and thoughtful rather than brash and ungrateful.

Be gracious: When you re-approach your manager about the offer, start by thanking her for the opportunity and telling her how much you appreciate her faith in you. For example, you might say, “I’m really flattered that you feel I’ve made such strides, and I’m looking forward to making X, Y and Z contributions in this role next year.

Be careful not to act as if her decision was a bad one. For example, don’t say, “I just don’t think I’m the right person for the job.”

Sell him on the status quo: Tell your manager why you feel it’s best for the organization if you stay in your current position. You might say that you really love your job and still feel like you could add a lot of value to the role. You might also talk about uncompleted projects that you want to personally see to fruition.

Be flexible: Remember that by turning down the promotion, you’re creating a problem for your boss – now he has to fill that job some other way. So as best you can, try to compromise and perhaps even come up with an alternative solution. For instance, maybe you can volunteer to assist in hiring a more senior individual and take on more responsibility until that person can get up and running.

Turning down a promotion is a difficult rite of passage in a rising star’s trajectory. But it’s better for your long-term career to exceed expectations in your current position and move up when you’re ready than be forced to wear shoes you can’t possibly fill.

Alexandra Levit is a nationally recognized career expert who is working with the Obama administration to understand trends affecting young employees. She is the author of the new book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success.


  1. Anonymous

    This is beyond a great point! And actually happened to my friend a couple months ago. She chose not to even go for the promotion because she’s considering leaving the company soon, and would have felt guilty taking it and peacing out. But I think all of these are excellent points… recently my HR department decided to reinforce several rules about when to promote employees, including the notion that they have to be doing something new and outside their job description in order to rec’ve one.

  2. Anonymous

    Great post and I couldn’t agree more! Managing people and being in charge is not for everyone — and it doesn’t make you less of a hard, motivated worker if you decide it’s not right for you. Sometimes moving up into management can take you father and farther away from whatever drew you to the job in the first place.

    • Marty Lake

      Absolutely Noel – I’ve seen my boss go from being a colleague I admired and respected a great deal to a boss that is indecisive and very honestly weak. He looks downright miserable many days and has recently made comments about returning to being an engineer in an individual contributor role. His weight ballooned to significant levels, he is under chronic stress and I’m seriously concerned for his health as a prime heart attack candidate in his 40’s. He often copes by retreating to his office to do analysis. It seems to be what he is happiest doing and naturally inclined to do.

  3. blah blah

    Great article, very true, and totally the opposite of the previous (Gen-X and older) generation of workers. As a manager, I’m stoked to see articles like this!

    • Marty Lake

      I wouldn’t lump X’ers in that category. Most of us realize the illusion of rising star stuff for what it really is – a heaping bowl of crap!

      Play to your strengths and you’ll be just fine. It is when people get out of position (because of ego or some other delusional reason) that they get into trouble. Companies need to do a much better job of determining if someone is really cut out to manage people, address gaps if the desire is there but skills are lacking, or like a guidance counselor, steer the person towards something else entirely. People need to work on maturity to realize if they are doing it for status or because they really enjoy managing others. We have little to no training in our organization and absolutely zero for a feedback loop. The result – a lot of bosses that mean well but quite frankly suck at managing others. Some will even tell you they aren’t real comfortable doing it!!! So my question is, why on earth are they playing that position???

      Great article!

  4. internship

    very true but sometimes we cannot avoid something.

  5. MyCollegesandCareers

    Giving yourself a few days to think it through and decide is always a good practice in business, whether it’s a promotion or a business collaboration. -Sarah

  6. Anonymous

    People who take unwanted promotions that take them away from the parts of a job that they love may become resentful and develop a bad attitude toward others in the group. Knowing when to say “No” is a sign of maturity and self knowledge. People who are very competent in their jobs, but do not have the skills or temperament to manage others will conform to the “Peter Principle” of rising to a level where they are no longer competent, and in the end, will hamper the organization’s success.

  7. Jodine Ibeme

    Yes there is a lot to think about. I thought about what might happen if I become a supervisor. I thought about having lunch with management. The people I had been fighting with to understand us workers. I thought about the gossip that I might hear between management about my coworkers. My coworkers might lose respect for me. I might have to make hard decision to recommend someone to be fired. And my relationships with my coworkers would change too. We couldn’t be so chummy at work.

  8. Anonymous

    Back in 1993, we had a person in our programming unit promoted to the next level, technically a supervisor position. Unfortunately, it put him into a level that was targeted for layoff activity. On the layoffs, the people laid off were concentrated in middle management (known as Levels F and G), focusing on those with at least 15 years of experience. By being promoted to Level F, he was put in harm’s way, whereas if he had not been promoted, he would have not been laid off.
    This should be a lesson to those that think only bad workers are laid off. He was good enough to earn a promotion, yet he became layoff fodder.

    • Marty Lake

      Well put bearzee, very well put!

      If there is one thing I’ve realized in this crazy corporate culture is that remaining close to the honey production is much better than overseeing who leaves and enters the hive. Middle managers are usually overhead and thus expendable in the eyes of those who come in and cut heads in the short term.

  9. Alex Murphy

    I guess I can see this thought process working out, but really, my reaction is give me a break.

    Work your tail off, exceed others’ expectations, do your best and don’t be afraid to fail along the way. We need more people pushing harder, doing more, thinking longer, and digging deeper.

    Just do it!

  10. Palladium964

    You aren’t kidding about being prepared for management and staff!!!!! I worked for a school (for profit type), received a promotion; how stupid was I to think I landed the job of my dreams? Answer, very stupid. I was so enthusiastic about making the transition. Never gave it a thought about a negative mgmt staff. Why would I, the location I was at was fantastic and how could that for-profit school not have a fantastic location? Couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    My manager was a bipoloar physcho nutjob with multiple personalities. The one personality touched me inapprorpriately several times, exposed certain body parts in meetings, you never knew who you were dealing with! What a nut job. Completely unprofessional. There were nine of us on that team. Some left by attricition, voluntarily(that would be me), some filed lawsuits, some were terminated and the ones that wanted to play that game got promoted of all things!

    When businesses want to hire and attract talent they need to start at the top and have leadership that would not allow this bafoonery to take place. The team I worked with were all subjected to unacceptable work practices which the campus director even participated in. They made it very clear that if you did not play in their sandbox you would not be there long.

    What a complete shame that the lives of wonderful, productive, awesome people had their livelihood taken from them because of misguided management and unscrupulous direction. There weren’t enough laws to protect us from this debackle. Frankly, I’m done working for corporate anybody and will continue to be self employed.

    Bearzee: Your co-worker was promoted into a job since he most likely had no experience to perform. Plus being put into harm’s way. Don’t really know what that means but it sounds like the upper management designed that plan to eliminate another good life of a another good worker. Corporate America has gone down the tubes with wanting to practice any true management processes.

    • Cath

      If I had a dime for every dysfunctional middle manager I’ve been exposed to I’d be very rich. The ability for a company to get rid of nutty managers is the canary in the coalmine to the health of an organization, but no one ever talks about it.

      At one company this female middle manager was so despised that they gave her an office away from staff so that people would not have to deal with her. No one would take the responsibility for firing her. There was also this misconception by upper management that she was strong technically, which, if they ever bothered to test her, or look at the actual work she did, they would have found it to be a big lie. Ultimately the company was bought and the entire center was laid off.

      Another company had a middle manager that was a screamer where the staff ran a phone tree to warn workers where he was. How inept do you have to be not to notice that no one is ever around when you walk the halls of your work? Upper management did nothing about the complaints until he slapped a woman. The lawsuit that followed caused the shutdown of the division.

      A practice in mortgage banking was to always promote the top producing loan officer into management in the hopes that he or she will share their sales expertise, which never happened. They usually make poor managers (they are never trained on how to manage a sales staff) and usually compete against their own staff for loans. This makes for a vicious-grab-any-loan-you-can-get work environment and I don’t need to tell you what happened in the loan industry …

      This happens over and over. Many companies are clueless as to what makes a good manager. It can be better to flatten the work environment and create teams.

      Otherwise these “great universities” need to start training their business students how to spot a bad manager and then how to have the guts to fire them.

  11. Palladium964

    My advice, don’t take the promotion and don’t drink the cool-aid!

  12. Weekly Roundup

    […] Hmmm: Think Twice About That Promotion. […]

  13. Libbymccullough

    One trend affecting young employees is the enormous tax burden being placed on small businesses, as well as on corporations. When businesses are required to pay for health care, and taxed more and more, then they lay people off, or do not hire. The businesses must stay in business in order to hire. It is that simple.

    The thing is that Obama has been told this and he 1) does not want to listen and 2) appears that he does not care.

    The other trend affecting young workers is that many companies won’t provide internships because the present employees do not have much time to train them, and then the requirement of experience becomes the ever depressing cycle. If there were incentives for businesses that keep interns, that might help.

  14. Mango Money

    Thank you for bringing this up, Brazen! Nobody ever talks about rejecting a promotion, though sometimes it’s necessary. I think there is a pressure to accept a promotion– I mean, it is a “promotion”– the word itself is positive. But if it is not a positive move for *you*, it’s important to realize that before it’s too late. If you do turn down a promotion, take some time to think about an alternative person to take the position, and be sure to tell that person ahead of time! (You’ll need to make sure it is someone who wants the position more than you did!)

  15. Tony

    Some great advice here. I work with a lot of people who took the promotion because from where they sat the job looked easy. Once they get the job they found it was not quite how they saw it. The most common issue that I work with my coaching clients is people difficulties – how to manage, motivate, delegate etc

  16. website company delhi

    i completely agree with this article and reminds me of a saying “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”. So think twice before accepting that promotion.

  17. marriage registration

    rightly said. One should weigh all the pros and cons before taking a promotion. With the more power comes more responsibility.

  18. Joel Rigonan

    Get your game on. For you to go higher in your career, you have to go extra. Don’t be that mediocre type who just settles on what is given. The aim should be going more than what is expected. Work your rear off to get to the top and then when you get there, it doesn’t stop there. Just keep moving forward.

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    […] in my career, I’ve made the mistake of going after a promotion just because it was a step up. I didn’t really think through how these moves fit with my career […]

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