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How to reject a promotion without torpedoing your career

Going up, or going down?

Going up, or going down?

Turning down a promotion in the current climate might seem insane, but sometimes there are very good reasons to reject advancement. The trick is how to do it without it being a career-limiting move, resulting in you vanishing into corporate obscurity, never to re-emerge.

How can you ensure that turning down one job doesn’t mean your career grinds to a halt? We spoke to a few recruiters to get their insights into what can be a tricky decision.

When it’s a good idea to turn down a promotion

Even with the global financial services industry facing redundancies and cutbacks, you shouldn’t accept any old promotion, particularly if it’s a subtle way of handing you more work with no extra benefits.

Stella Tang, a director at Robert Half Singapore, said: “A good example of a bad promotion is being offered a new title and extra job scope without any additional remuneration. This may mean your boss is trying to take advantage of you and it’s probably time to look for employment elsewhere.” Tang says another example is a new job that directs you away from your career path or into a dead-end role.

Joel Hides, associate director of contracting and technology at Robert Walters Singapore, says that you need to assess the new position thoroughly. “While anyone would normally jump at a promotion, it is important to note that without the right skill sets, business support and infrastructure, taking on an expanded role could actually do your career and the company more harm than good.”

Marcus Emery, national general manager for financial services recruiter, Porterallen, notes, however, that people in the financial sector very rarely turn down promotions. “They worry about appearing to lack ambition, or being unable to step up to the challenges of a new role. And they are concerned that they’ll be overlooked when another opportunity comes up.”

How to avoid killing your chances of ever being offered another

As Emery notes, many people in the financial services sector are afraid that turning down a promotion, even if it is a poisoned chalice, will result in them being sidelined or targeted for lay-offs.

However, Tang said that you should not be afraid to say no to a new role – the trick is communicating your decision in a way that underscores your commitment to the business. “Be thankful, and start your rejection with a sincere thank you for the offer, as this creates a positive start to a difficult conversation. You must also be honest in your reasons for saying no. Your superiors will appreciate if you are upfront about why you have chosen to decline the role. Concern for family or wanting to pursue different goals are things most employers will understand.”

Emery, said that you must make it clear that you have given deep thought to the pros and cons of the promotion before saying no. “You could then say that the proposed new role doesn’t play to your strengths, the timing is not right, or that you still have goals to achieve in your current position.”

How to explain yourself to a prospective employer

Many would be skeptical at hearing that a prospective employee had refused a promotion, especially in the current job market, and would be inclined to think the candidate was trying to gloss over being sidelined. At the very least, it could raise questions in the mind of the interviewer about the candidate’s work ethic and commitment.

Tang says in this instance, less is more. “It is wise not to mention that you have just declined a promotion in your previous company. There is no reason why you should bring it up unless you are asked about it. If you do need to explain your choice, then give the honest reasons for your decision. Never tell your boss one thing and a prospective employer another in case they know each other and compare notes.”

Integrity is key. Hides says it is essential to upfront and honest. “If need be, get permission and offer your previous employer’s contact as a reference.”

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