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Should You Take a Promotion Without a Raise? Experts and Employees Weigh In

Topics: Career Advice
a promotion without a raise

When you get a promotion, you hope it comes with a nice pay boost. But for various reasons, sometimes companies offer the title change without the cash.

Maybe budgets are tight, or your manager hopes that by changing your title, they’ll be able to lobby for a pay increase later on. Maybe you’re already nearing the top of your pay range. Whatever the reason behind it, being offered a promotion without a raise is kind of a bummer, to say the least.

The question is: should you take the title? Or should you push for the money as well — knowing that you might not get it?

We asked career experts and employees whether it’s ever worth it to take the title without a pay increase. The experts and some workers felt that it’s generally worth it — as long as you’re planning to make tracks toward another organization.

Other employees said they’d never take the title without the cash. (Note that we withheld the last names of workers to protect their privacy, and in some cases changed first names as well.)

Do You Know What You're Worth?

It Might Help You Get More Money Later On

Should you take a promotion without a raise? Alison Doyle, job search expert for The Balance Careers, says that it depends.

“Maybe. If it’s a fancy job title that looks good on your resume, it could help you get a better salary with your next employer,” she tells PayScale.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re done negotiating, she says, just because more money is off the table.

“The other thing is if the organization can’t afford to pay you, is there a perk — flexible schedule, work from home once in a while, something else you’d like — you could negotiate to make a promotion without a salary bump more palatable?” she suggests. “Or could you possibly negotiate a future salary increase to match the promotion, so you have a commitment for down the road, even though it’s not in your paycheck now?”

Should you ever take a promotion without a raise? 'Maybe,' says Alison Doyle. 'If it's a fancy job title that looks good on your resume, it could help you get a better salary with your next employer.'Click To Tweet

“Take the Title as Part of an Exit Strategy”

Workers who’ve found themselves in this spot agree: it’s all about your priorities and where you plan to go next. But if you’re ever on the other side of the negotiating table, you should know that an employee who agrees to take a better title without the paycheck may be eyeing the exit.

“When your employer offers you a promotion that comes with additional responsibility, but not more money, it may be worth it to accept it initially,” says Dawn Rosenberg McKay, a career development specialist with 20 years of experience. “It’s a great opportunity to acquire new skills.”

However, she adds: “Once you have a solid understanding of all the responsibilities that come with your new title, put yourself on the job market and start looking for your next employer. Don’t spend too much time in a job for which you aren’t being fairly compensated, however.”

'Don't spend too much time in a job for which you aren't being fairly compensated.' - Dawn Rosenberg McKayClick To Tweet

Some of the employees we spoke with said that they would take a title jump without a pay increase. But, most said that they’d do so only on their way to a better-paying job.

“I’d take the title as part of an exit strategy for two reasons,” says Leigh, a former senior policy advisor in the Obama Administration. “First, plain and simple it demonstrates growth, which is obviously important to potential employers. Second, I think of titles in terms of currency and exchange rates — i.e., while it may have less or different meaning internally, potential employers will always make assumptions about you based on your title and translate that to a role within their own orgs. So, I would obviously want to maximize the value of my ‘currency’ before exchanging it for another country’s currency.”

A better title can sometimes help you boost pay later on. Meghan, formerly an assistant director of donor relations, says, “I was promoted to Associate Director at Big Deal Business School with no raise, but that job title paid dividends in later positions.”

And Kimberly, an assistant director at a research institute, says, “I probably would [take the promotion] just to demonstrate progressive increase of responsibilities in my resume. There were quite a few times in a previous position where I was ‘awarded’ more responsibility without the title or the money. I would have been grateful for even an improved title. However, this type of maneuvering is demoralizing, and it is only a matter of time before a person feels the need for a new position and makes it a priority.”

“If You See My Value, Pay Me for It”

Other workers say they’d never take a promotion without a raise.

“NO. WAY,” says Susie, an ABA therapist. “If you see my value … pay me for it.”

And Matt, head of a non-profit with 20-plus employees, says, “No. Not even for a small raise. If they want you take a job with more responsibility, they pay. Just say no, and they will probably find the money.”

Others reported taking no-raise promotions earlier in their career … and regretting it.

“I did, once. Only I didn’t know there was no raise involved as I knew what the budget had for the new position,” says Joan, a manager of instructional design. “Big disappointment, but I liked the work, so I decided to stay another year anyway. Then I was in a meeting with my boss and a vendor and heard my boss tell the vendor how much money he’d saved by promoting me. Next day, I was on the phone with a headhunter who had been calling, telling her I was definitely interested in moving.”

“I might have done so when I was younger and lower down on the ladder, so to speak, because the extra responsibility would be good experience and would look good on a resume,” said Nancy, an editor for a major news organization. “Today, I wouldn’t do it willingly — and if a promotion (read: more work) without a raise were offered to me, I might even start looking for another job.”

Tell Us What You Think

Would you take a promotion without a raise — or have you already done so? We want to hear about it. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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