What to Do If You’re Turned Down for a Raise or Promotion

It’s the outcome no one wants: You put together a compelling case for a raise or promotion, pitched it to your manager, and got turned down. Here are the four things you should do next.

1. Don’t take it personally. Yes, it might sting to hear that your manager or company doesn’t want to recognize your work with a pay increase or promotion, but the reason might not have anything to do with you at all. For instance, your department might not have money in the budget for a raise (and/or your manager might have other team members who have been waiting for a raise longer or whose performance merits it more right now). Or your company might have relatively rigid rules about when raises can be given, in terms of both time of year and performance triggers. Or, in the case of promotions, there might not be a logical spot to move you to – or another candidate might simply have been more qualified (which doesn’t mean that you weren’t qualified, just that someone else was a better fit).

2. Ask what it would take to earn the raise or promotion that you wanted. Too often, people just hear “no” and consider the conversation over. It’s true that you shouldn’t keep pushing once your manager has said no, but you absolutely can ask what you’d need to do in the future to earn a “yes.” You might find out that there are specific areas you need to work on improving in or new responsibilities you’d need to take on. Or, in some cases, you might find that your manager can’t think of any path to the raise or promotion you want – and if that’s the case, it’s very useful for you to know that, rather than to continue to try to work toward something that’s unlikely to come to fruition.

3. Take stock. You’re probably feeling pretty disappointed, but try to separate those emotions out from figuring out what makes sense for you as a next step. You want to be able to consider as objectively as possible what this decision means for your tenure in your current job. Do you have a good understanding of why you were turned down and what you’d need to earn a raise or promotion in the future, and does your manager seem to value and appreciate your work? Or do you think the decision reflects a fundamental lack of appreciation for your work, and/or a misalignment between you and your company about your contributions? Is there a path to work toward your professional goals without leaving your company?

4. Decide on a plan of action. From here, decide on concrete steps that you’ll take to earn the raise or promotion you want, and a rough timeline for having those pay off. For instance, you might decide that you’re going to work on improving your presentation skills, increase your projects’ visibility with higher-ups, and ask for more frequent feedback from your manager, and then reopen the salary conversation in 10 months. (Be realistic here; in most cases, it will make sense to wait at least 6-12 months before reopening the conversation.) Or, if you’ve realized that you’re unlikely to meet your goals at your current company, you might decide to meet with three key contacts about other opportunities in your industry. Whatever you conclude, launching a plan with specific action steps will ensure that this one “no” doesn’t knock you off the path you want to be on.

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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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