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You're Offered a Promotion Without a Raise. Now What?

Lindsay Olson

While it would seem that getting promoted would always be nothing but good, there are situations where you should hesitate before accepting. Being offered a promotion without a raise is one such scenario.

But just because you're offered a new job title without the pay doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it. First, find out why the company is unable (or unwilling) to offer you an increase in pay, says Mark R. Gerlach, private career consultant and owner of PoleStar Job Search Communications. "Does the company have limited finances? Does management view this as a lateral transition. ... Is the company hesitant to pay you more money without knowing what the payoff will look like?"

Your decision of whether or not to take the promotion could change, based on the reason you wouldn't get a raise. For example, if your company is suffering from economic conditions, it may be unable to pay you more. If you truly love where you work, you might decide to take the promotion without the salary increase. Or if you think your boss is trying to get more work out of you by boosting your job title without paying for the extra headache, you might walk away, or at the very least, refuse the promotion.

Is the Job Title Alone Worth It?

For many people, simply getting a new job title is worth the promotion. "Unless the promotion comes with huge downsides (such as a heavier work schedule, more travel or responsibility without authority) it never hurts to get a better job title," says Molly Mahoney Matthews, CEO of The Starfish Group. The new title you get with that promotion may help you parlay into a better-paying job elsewhere when you're ready to change companies.

That's not to say you should snag the new job title and run. But if you already have plans to find a job elsewhere in the next year, possibly due to the fact that your company can't afford to pay you more, then that job title will position you to negotiate a higher salary at another company.

Other Forms of Compensation

If you truly enjoy working for your company, find creative ways to make the promotion work for both you and your employer. That doesn't have to mean financial compensation. Consider what else is important to you, says Gerlach: extra time off, telecommuting, flexible working hours, a computer, or a cell phone paid for by the company. "Be prepared to suggest quality-of-life compensation that costs the company little," he says.

Once you come up with a list of non-financial compensation options, now's the time to provide your counteroffer. "Have a good argument as to why you're valuable, and why the promotion should come with financial compensation, if the company is able," says Ben Cober of PGAVDestinations.com. "If they're not, go back and look at your prioritized list of compensation. Maybe the money's not ready now, but your annual bonus will increase by 10 percent each year. A negotiation is all about finding out each party's priorities and seeing where they could match."

To Accept or Not to Accept

The ultimate decision comes down to whether you think taking the promotion without the pay boost is worth it to your career. You can get a sense for whether your employer truly can't afford to offer you more money, or if he's just trying to get more work out of you.

Mahoney Matthews says: "DO accept if the promotion will look better on your resume, get you more opportunity to advancement, or connect you to more people at a higher level in the organization. DO NOT accept it if you will be exploited--or if you think it means your employer is taking advantage of you and it will make your work life harder."

She suggests asking for a salary review sooner rather than later (three to six months) with the understanding that if you meet key benchmarks you will get the raise. If that's not possible, push for those other perks. And if nothing else, aim to score brownie points.

"A promotion without a raise that is accepted graciously is a great opportunity to earn an employer's gratitude and good will," explains Mahoney Matthews. "Good will often turn into more money, access and opportunity down the road because cultivating champions for your career is a key element of success."

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

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