Background: I'm a software engineer in my mid-20s working at a small (~20 people) software/hardware company in southern Germany. I have ~5 years of experience, all at this company.

In brief, there are two key aspects to my question: 1) I want to move company because the pay here is too low for me, and 2) at the same time my bosses intend to promote me to a managerial or leadership position at the first opportunity. I will expand on these below.

1) Moving company: My salary is 60-65k EUR. I have aspirations to work at a tech giant or a financial firm in order to earn more and satisfy my ambitions. I am in a 5 month plan to prepare for those interviews. I especially want to leave because, after working my butt off for the past year, going the extra mile every time, and having an impressive list of the ways I've gone above and beyond, my boss declined to give me any raise at all. The reason was that I'm already being payed significantly more than my peers. That said, I already made plans to leave before this refusal.

2) Promotion: I have been displaying a strong ambition to be in a leadership role over the last years. Recently, my boss has revealed to me and reiterated that he expects opportunities to come up soon where he intends to make me the lead developer or project manager.

The fact that I'm torn between the career value of a promotion to manager but with lower pay versus being an engineer but with higher pay, is not my question (I'll ask that on a more appropriate forum).

My question is twofold:

A) If I choose to leave the company in a few months, what's a diplomatic way to decline the promotion, thereby preserving a great reference for my next employer? I have been pushing for this promotion for a while, so to the boss it will be disappointing and might disturb his plans.

B) If I am undecided, to leave or not, would it be terrible if I accept the promotion, and 3 months later look for the other job I have been preparing for? I could be undecided because maybe my market value is not as high as I thought; maybe I fail to join the companies I want to. In that case it would be great that I accepted the promotion and carry on with this career path. Otherwise, is there a minimum number of months that is acceptable to do this?

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    Until you get the promotion, and unless interviewing for another position requires you to leave your current job, I don't see a problem. Continue your job hunt for a job you believe is an improvement to your current job, if that job is a leadership position for 5 months, then you have achieved your goals. I have trouble understanding the dilemma you are in.
    – Donald
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 22:56
  • @Ramhound The timeline that elicits my worries is I accept the promotion, be assigned a new client project, my superiors trust me to do a good job. But then I leave 2-3 months into it. I thought this is something that is deceptive and will unfairly jeopordise the project for my employer, but the consensus in the answer does not think that. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 3:16
  • You know, we would negotiate a new salary, agree and shake hands. Now boss understands I'm happy with the terms, will stick around and relies on me to do a good job on the new project. Instead, while I was shaking his hand, smiling, and assuring him about my competence, I was already planning to abandon the company a short while later. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 3:30
  • Any employer with a brain should expect you to start looking elsewhere - it's your first job, you are young and you have passed the minimal acceptable staying time of ca. three years. So unless employer asks you for a clear commitment, they should not be surprised if you leave suddenly. And of course you should play your cards close to the chest. Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 11:04

2 Answers 2


My answer is one-fold: Accept the promotion. You've pushed for it and earned it, so accept it. It's your employer's responsibility to keep you happy in your role and if the promotion isn't it, then they need to work with you on that. You are within your right to go and find a better role elsewhere when you see fit.

This answers B) too. Voilà, you've got the promotion, so you can move on from not having that as something that is holding you back. If your job hunt fails for whatever reason, you're better off than where you started.

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    Thanks for the perspective. But I'm worried about the damage to the business and my reputation if an assigned leader (a newly made leader no less) for the project leaves 3 months into it (they are normally multi-year). Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 18:55
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    The business will be fine without you. And your reputation will be that you found a better position.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 18:58
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    Plus you will get invaluable experience that will help in your next job.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 19:10
  • Seconded. If you goal is higher pay, getting a lead position on your resume would be invaluable. My advice would be this: if you can deal with the lower pay for now, work there for another year. Then start applying for other positions as a lead developer. If you do that, your prospective salary will go way up. Remember, there are no guarantees that you'd be promoted at a new company in a reasonable timeframe. However, if you can get in the door as a lead, you're set. If you really just want to leave as soon as possible, accept the promotion and leave three months in.
    – Slothario
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 20:59
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    @Louise The consensus on the answer alone makes it very useful, so thank you. I'm glad this is the answer because I get to have the best of both worlds! I also don't know the weight of references, but I assumed they mean a lot. The new employer gets information about a candidate directly from his old boss. This is more reliable than the exaggerations and fantasies a candidate may have put on his resume. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:08

I understand your dilemma, since I've been there. The stress comes certainly from your high ethics and your willingness to avoid damaging others. Good for you!

However, you are seeing this problem from few dimensions: currently you are only analyzing this from the ethical (you want your current employer to win) and career (you want to win) dimensions. Let's add "fairness" to the mix and you'll see how it becomes easier to digest.

First of all, promotions are something you earn , not something they give. If your job description (along with job-grade and pay-grade) demands an X level of activities and engagement, and you are consistently giving X+N all year long, then you are certainly on your way to earn the promotion, regardless of external factors, such as being attracted to another job. THAT'D BE THE FAIR THING TO DO.

However, if you thought you deserved a promotion, but now you realize you are barely giving only X (or below X), then you don't deserve the promotion yet. That'd be the fair thing to do too. It would be unfair that no one asked you to work on a weekend, yet you come on Monday morning telling your boss "hey, you owe me extra pay since I worked on Sunday". So, busting your butt on your job does not imply a promotion should be granted if you are the only person who is working 70 hours per week by your own willingness to do so.

Because of your high ethics, you should pursue the fair thing to do.

Now, regarding market value: that's another thing where fairness come. It's unfair to not be promoted (nor getting a raise) just because you already make more money than your coworkers. So what? You ALL should be paid according market-value for the same job (description+grade+zone). That's the fair thing to do.

Also, if none of your coworkers are willing to fight for a promotion like you do, it's also out of your hands. You should not latch yourself to the same job position just because everyone else does. That'd be unfair. You should be able to make progress based on your own goals, not on someone else's.

Probably you are studying for interviews on your free time, while you're coworkers prefer reading a novel or hanging out. It's fair you can drive your own path.

The only thing that would not be acceptable would is backstabbing your coworkers to get a promotion over them. That's totally unethical and unfair (which I don't think it's the case). The reason why I brought it is because "driving your career" should always be done with fair play.

And regarding your high tech position, that's certainly different from working for small companies. That's a career move that almost no small company can match. If this was about housing construction, a small company usually works only building small houses or apartments, while on a big company you could build 100-stories buildings or overseas bridges. No matter how many promotions you can get in a small company, it'd be unlikely you'll be building real-time-distributed-systems projects.

And regarding pay-checks, it's easier you get a good payment on a high-tech company if you join them in a leader-position. If you accept the leader position in your current job and work it for a year, you might be able to cash it later when you join the high tech company.

All that career and money decisions have to be carefully walked step by step in a well-crafted strategy, if you want to do it right. I recommend you to read the book "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works" to learn about strategy and make assertive decisions.

As you can see, there's not right or wrong answer, but I hope this helps.

  • I agree with you about the raise. My theory is the boss dropped the ball on the last raise negotiation and was unprepared; and so I managed to win a big raise: 14%. This time around his partners advised him that it's a high salary. There is also a ceiling for positions, where it doesn't make sense to pay an engineer more. I definitely feel burned and that it's unfair, but it's just business so I'll react with my own move that's in my self-interest, be it to go to another employer or stay for the promotion. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 17:28

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