“Is This Working?”: Advice On Promotions and Leaves of Absence -The Toast

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Email us questions at advice@the-toast.net, subject line “businesslady.” Previous installments can be found here.


Dear Businesslady,

How long can I wait to quit after accepting a promotion at a workplace I dislike? Despite the fact that I wanted to turn down said promotion and stay in my old position…I took it. At the time I was in the midst of trying to get the heck out of this place, and now, a month in to the new job, I’d still like to move on. I would like to show on my resume that I am trustworthy and awesome enough to get a promotion, but I don’t want to look like a real weasel, either. What should I do?

–Discontent and underpaid non-profit professional

Dear Discontent,

Well, ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your career. So—there’s your answer: do that thing.

Just kidding! This is a tough spot to be in, because there are a lot of different factors at play: your current workplace, the potential future workplaces where you’re a candidate, and your resume/career arc as a whole. I’m going to try to tackle them each separately (although not necessarily in that order).

Regarding your current job, first and foremost, you may want to give the new position a bit of time to see if you dislike it as much as you think you do. I’m not saying to tough it out indefinitely—and depending on the degree to which your work remains the same even with the promotion, you may already have plenty of information about its long-term viability. But it usually takes longer than a month to start feeling comfortable and confident in a new role, so you may find it more tolerable as your familiarity increases. Either way, learning to find something to appreciate about even the crappiest jobs is a valuable professional skill.

(By the same token, make sure you evaluate what you don’t like about your work now so you can avoid doing it in the future. And if you find that some variation on “having to work for a living” is the main culprit, you may need to adjust your expectations about whether a new position is going to solve the problem. I’m not saying this is the case with you, but I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of “I hate my job” complaints—usually, but not always, from people fairly early in their careers—that boil down to “…because it comes with expectations that are tied to my livelihood and I’d rather do what I want all day long while enjoying infinite financial support.” However much I may identify with this perspective emotionally, it’s not particularly realistic or productive.)

I also give the advice above because, as you surely know, job searches can be lengthy ordeals. So at the same time as you’re trying to stay positive and open-minded about what you’re doing now, you should absolutely be updating your resume, polishing up your LinkedIn profile, putting out feelers to anyone in your network who might know of viable openings, and perusing job listings for other opportunities. You’ve already been in your new position for a month; by the time you submit an application, get an interview, and eventually accept an offer to go elsewhere, it could be another five or six months from now (at least!), and that’s not quite the same as leaving a few weeks after a promotion.

Of course, things can also move unexpectedly quickly if the right job comes along, so another factor to consider is how you narrate this move to prospective employers. In interviews, you can probably address “why are you leaving so soon?” by spinning the promotion into a broader story of dissatisfaction: “I’ve been eager to start doing [XYZ thing the prospective job includes that your current one doesn’t], and while I thought this promotion would help quell my desire to move on, I find it only reinforced my sense that I need a change.” Don’t badmouth your workplace, of course, but I think you can pretty easily make this about you and your desire to expand your career. This is especially true if you’ve otherwise got a pretty solid track record of sticking around for the long haul; if instead your resume has a few gigs of a year or less, you may find it more difficult to convince a new workplace that you’re willing to commit to them.

The other issue you’ll need to manage is—assuming you do find a great new position—whether your current colleagues feel frustrated that you’re leaving so soon after the promotion. Some of this will depend on how the whole thing went down; if it was something they basically thrust upon you, you’ll probably find it easier to explain that it wasn’t really what you wanted (this dovetails with the “how to talk about it in interviews” perspective above). If, on the other hand, your manager went to bat to get you promoted, or if they turned down other viable candidates to give the job to you, there may be some resentment there. My general feeling about this is “they can deal,” but if you’re in a fairly close-knit industry where news of your “betrayal” could spread and adversely affect your future job prospects, that may be another reason to stick around as long as possible and only move on for a job that’s a truly fantastic opportunity.

Which brings me back to my earlier advice: do what’s best for you and your career. Sending out applications most likely can’t hurt you; at worst, employers who are turned off by how briefly you’ve been in your current role will…simply not interview you, which is no different than the zero interviews you’d otherwise get without applying. (Additionally, you’ll have the bonus of a refurbished resume and a cover letter ready to go.) Don’t feel guilty about leaving your current workplace behind, but do be cognizant of whether (and if so, how) any bad blood on their end could follow you around even after you leave. My personal cautionary tale on this front involves a family friend—let’s call her Ms. Jumper—who, after quickly leaving her first postcollege job for greener pastures, apparently so offended her former boss that any future young go-getters were viewed with suspicion as potential “Jumper types,” even years later. Fortunately her departure also took her into a different industry, but a grudge like that—or any other fallout that damages your reputation—has the potential to do more harm in the long run than staying in a lame job for a year.

If your only concern is how you look to prospective employers, though, I don’t think you have much to worry about. When a manager’s looking at an application from a candidate they’d like to hire, it’s easy to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding their career choices—the “awesome enough to get a promotion” should stand out far more than any potential assessments of weaseliness. Best of luck in your search! (Oh, and P.S., please don’t quit without another job lined up unless your budget can comfortably accommodate at least year of unemployment—the economy’s still rough, and that frustrating position you’re in now will start looking like a pretty sweet gig if you’re worried about making rent.)



Dear Businesslady,

I just started working at a new job after being unemployed for a while, and while I was going through the hiring process, my boss told me that she would be taking a leave of absence for my first two months in the position. Although we have lovely volunteers, she’s the only other employee at this office, and she was a huge leader in the company: major events were organized under her watch, by-laws were updated, board members were wrangled, and a million other things got done. My role was supposed to be admin support: working with the volunteers, doing data entry, and helping with her daily work.

You know where this is going, right? She never came back from her leave. I’ve been at my job for about three months now, and all of the sudden, I find myself thrust into this weird hybrid role where I seem to be taking on a lot of the big-picture stuff she would have handled (applying for a company credit card! Organizing the AGM for the board!) and continuing on with my normal stuff. My days are very full, and very stressful. The President of the board has taken over as the nominal leader, but in reality he usually just turns to me and says, “Make sure that (whatever “that” is) gets done.” There’s no clear sense of when my boss will be replaced; the last time they hired for her role, it took them almost three months to get someone in.

So, I have a two-parter: 1) How do I mitigate the frustrations of doing all this work, alone? I’m not one to shirk responsibilities, but this seems kind of intense!; and 2) what kind of leverage do I have here? I make about 34K; my former boss made about 80K. Should I be thinking raise? Bonus? More vacation days? Something else?


– Alone Again, Professionally.

Dear Alone,

Congratulations on stepping up to the plate when your boss left—taking on new responsibilities and generally excelling at them is one of the best ways to position yourself for a major step forward in your career. (It’s also usually tied to forces entirely beyond your control, so you have to either seize the opportunity when it presents itself or else hope another one comes along.) On the other hand, it’s not a major step forward if the result is “do way more work for the same pay, forever,” so you’re also smart to be thinking about the bigger picture with regard to your role.

I totally understand the two facets of your question, but in some ways, they’re interrelated: figuring out the answer to 1) will likely involve some decision-making in the realm of 2). It sounds as though you’re pretty much on board with the tasks you’re managing, but (naturally) want there to be some increased compensation or other recognition if it’s going to continue indefinitely.

First and foremost, if you haven’t already, I’d start trying to establish regular check-in meetings with the President, and/or whomever is acting as your supervisor. Don’t launch into “I’ve been doing all this work and still making less than half of my old boss and AAAH!” right away, but use this as a way to enumerate everything you’re doing and demonstrate your overall professionalism. After a few conversations about your workload, it should feel pretty natural to segue into “So, can you tell me what the plan is for my position? Are you rehiring [old boss’s job] or…?”

Before you broach this subject, however, you’ll want to do some thinking about what your role would look like in an ideal world. The higher-ups might already have an ironclad strategy in mind, but they also might ask “well what do you think we should do?” or respond with something in between.

Think through the various possibilities that they might pursue; the obvious ones I see are: they hire a new person to replace your boss (perhaps you, via an internal promotion, and otherwise this could return you to your previously scheduled suite of tasks) or you keep doing oldjob+newjob in a hybrid position that may or may not have a new title. Of these, which is the most appealing? If your heart of hearts says, “you know, I liked it when I was only doing the admin stuff and I can live just fine on $34k,” there’s no obligation to be more ambitious—although do note my caveat above that opportunities like this aren’t super common or predictable.

My guess, though—and my advice for you, absent any other data about your self/situation—is that you’ll be better served by leveraging this into some kind of a promotion. If you think you’re too junior to actually assume your old boss’s job, then “new title/salary to reflect new responsibilities” is the way to go. (Plus, in all but the most rigidly bureaucratic organizations, a new title is an extremely easy way for employers to recognize hard work—after all, it’s free! So you’ll want to consider your future career goals and what kind of title will help you land your next position when the time comes.) Also do some research into salary ranges for higher-level admin positions, and don’t be afraid to ask for a big bump in pay if it seems reasonable. (Remember our uncertain possible-promotion-pursuer from the second question I answered? She ended up getting the job and a 44% salary increase in the process. True, I can’t guarantee you’ll get that lucky, but as I said then, it rarely hurts to be your own advocate.)

The degree to which your pay goes up will depend on a lot of things—their budget, how well they think you’ve been performing, parity with your colleagues (maybe not an issue for a small office like yours, but generally a factor), and the amount of work that will remain fully yours under the new role. But it might look something like this: if your current title is, say, Administrative Associate (at $34k), but they want you to keep doing all but the most high-level tasks you’ve recently taken on, you might end up becoming a Project Manager (at, let’s say, $48k). Or if they want you to basically go back to your old job, but keep doing a few things that you’ve proven your capacity to manage, you might become a Senior Administrative Associate (ideally at $40k, but at the very least recognized via a fancy new title). You’ll note that neither of those hypothetical new salaries comes close to $80k, and that’s because, while I’m sure that you are in fact doing most of the on-the-ground work that your former boss used to do, her pay was just as surely reflecting some behind-the-scenes leadership that’s related to seniority. If they do think you’re a viable candidate to fully assume her old position, then a more substantial increase would make sense.

One way or another, if they’re less flexible on salary than you’d like, that’s when you start discussing non-salary perks that you’d find meaningful. Your example of more vacation days is a good thought (although possibly impractical if they have an official policy that governs those allotments), as is a bonus (one-time or quarterly for as long as your increased workload lasts); other options might be the ability to work from home periodically, a flexible schedule, some kind of tuition reimbursement or other professional-development support, a reprieve from your least-favorite task, inclusion on a particular project you find interesting, or any combination of the above. Again, you don’t want to launch into a When Harry Met Sally-esque laundry list of “I’d like this or else this but if that’s not possible…”; you just want to have your own priorities in order so that you’re prepared for the discussion when it happens. Take that perfect-world job description and then think about a rough hierarchy of alternatives if (and let’s be real: when) they can’t give you exactly what you want.

Reality being what it is, it’s possible that you’ll hear “our plan is for you to keep doing what you’re doing right now, at $34k, with no title change or other job perks, and like it,” and that no amount of persuasion will convince them otherwise. In that case, please see the advice for the letter-writer above you: try to keep a positive attitude, think of all your new work as valuable training for an expanded role elsewhere, and begin searching for a new job. The chance to tell interviewers about how you took on all these additional tasks—successfully and with a smile!—is definitely worth some stressful workdays while you’re looking for your next move.

But my hope is that this becomes an exciting and pivotal chapter in The Story of Alone Again’s Prosperous and Fulfilling Career. In all likelihood, the President is just enjoying the status quo for as long as it lasts, but will ultimately be eager to keep an enthusiastic and productive employee around once pressed to do so. If not, well, once an employer says “take it or leave it,” they can’t be that shocked when their staff chooses the latter option. And either way, you’ll be able to use this experience as a springboard to something bigger and better.



Businesslady is in her early 30s and somehow managed to find a rewarding career despite her allegedly useless degree in the humanities. Her job history includes everything from food service to retail to corporate nonsense, but she currently does writing and editing for a nonprofit, and devotes the rest of her life to playing video games, patronizing bars, and spending way too much time on the internet.

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