How Turning Down a Promotion Can Impact Your Career Path

What should someone do if they’ve been offered a promotion but aren’t interested in the position? Will it forever impede their career advancement if they turn it down?

The first thing to do is to “get curious,” says Catherine Crabtree, a certified professional training manager and executive recruiter for LearnSearch. She suggests asking several questions before making any decision about the offer.

Why have you been selected? What skills do you have that make your employer think you’re the right person for the position? What challenges will the new job present? And, finally, is the new role the best place for you to use your skills and experience in ways that will contribute to the company’s growth?

Getting curious, Crabtree adds, will help you understand the impetus behind offering you the promotion.

“Are they moving you into this role as a temporary stop-gap? Is there an understanding of or a willingness to accept that the role may be a stretch or may not be the best use of your skills?” she says. “Understanding these factors gives you tools to use when negotiating your path forward. You must understand the environment that led to this ‘promotion’ and the expectations tied to it. If it’s temporary, or understood to be a risk, then you have different options to evaluate. There is a big difference between ‘We want you in this role because we see it as the best use of your skills’ and ‘We need you in this role because there is no one else.'”

And what happens to your career if, after carefully considering all those issues, you turn the job down?

“If you’re turning down a promotion and wish to remain in the role you’re in long-term, assuming your current role is core to the organization’s long-term strategy, you have little risk,” Crabtree says.

However, if you want to stay on the radar for future opportunities, you’ll have some work to do. As Crabtree cautions, “Even in the best of circumstances, when an individual turns down a promotion, it brings with it certain risks.

It’s about framing your decision to turn down the promotion within the context of helping the company achieve its short-term and long-term objectives.”

Crabtree suggests starting off that conversation with something like, “I am inclined to accept, because I want to stretch myself professionally and I want to contribute in the most meaningful way that I can. With that said, based on the growth goals of this organization and the initiatives we’re focused on today, [I think] my best opportunity to improve [quality, safety, revenue] is in [my current role, another department, etc.].”

And realize that, yes, turning down a promotion can hurt you in the long-term, especially if your reasons “…are contrary to the expectations initially set upon hire, or run directly in opposition to the organizations core strategy, new direction or short-term/long-term projects; even the most mindful rejection will likely result in future growth limitations within that company,” Crabtree concludes.

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)