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A Promotion: What happens if you don't want it?
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
She'd worked at her job several years. She knew she wanted to advance. So why wasn't this marketing executive happy when the position ahead of hers opened up?

"I'm not ready for it!" she lamented, to almost anyone who would listen.

But would it spell career suicide if she took a promotion pass? Thinking so, she swallowed hard, filled out the requisite paperwork and went through the interview process, all the while hoping she wouldn't get the job.

In other words, she did everything wrong.

In today's fast-paced working world, you might think you'll be bumped off the advancement track if you pass up a promotion. But it isn't so. Your career is your own to manage, experts say, and only you know if a promotion is right. Besides, going for a rank you don't want could do more damage than good.

"You end up wasting people's time," says Lois Frankel, a PhD and president of Corporate Coaching International in Pasadena, CA. "So if you don't want it, don't interview for it. It doesn't make you look good."

There are many reasons you might not want a promotion that -- on paper, at least -- looks like the next logical step in your career. You may be in the middle of a big project, Frankel says, that requires you to see it through. You may not have been in your current position long enough. The new job may take too much time away from your family. Or you may not feel like you have enough experience.

"You may need to have some more tickets punched," Frankel says.

Key to remember, though, is that you control your career, says Lenora Edwards, the Seattle-based owner of a business development consulting and coaching firm. Ideally, you should know the career path you want and look at each promotion through that pathway's lens.

"I think the corporate world used to be like dating, and everyone was waiting for someone to ask them to marry them. It's not like that anymore," she says.

Rather, because companies want to keep their talented employees, they're more open to crafting a position for you rather than cramming you into the first higher opening that comes along.

"It's not something like pass or play" anymore, Edwards says.

Of course, there are times you may be asked to take a new position because it's best for the company. That's particularly true in smaller organizations, Frankel says. And remember: "In smaller companies, you get a lot of opportunities to get a lot of tickets punched."

If, however, you absolutely, positively don't want the job your boss is steering you toward, "it doesn't mean you have to be married to that company," she adds.

So, if you've assessed your career path, weighed the merits of an opening above you and decided that -- for whatever reason -- it isn't right, tell somebody! Now is not the time to avoid your superiors, experts say.

Rather, talk to your supervisor, says Edwards. If you don't feel ready for the job right now, ask what you need to do to prepare for it in the future. Schedule periodic career development discussions that will address issues like advancement and career tracks.

And if the reason you don't want the job is a bit more ephemeral? Be honest about that, too, says Marcia Merrill, a career and life transitions coach and owner of ECareerCorner.com in Baltimore. Tell your boss that a move isn't going to work "at this time," then ask to be kept in mind for future openings.

"You're not burning bridges," she says.

And what of that marketing exec who went for a promotion she didn't really want?

She didn't get it. She's relieved. As she should be, says Lee Richmond, a PhD and professor of education at Loyola College in Baltimore and a national certified career counselor. It wouldn't have been career suicide for her to pass the opportunity up, but "accepting a promotion you don't want, just to get a promotion, might be personal suicide."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.