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I'm currently working in Toronto, Canada; as the highest-seniority engineer ("Senior Engineer IV") in Canada for a large US-based engineering firm. I've been working with this company for about 2 years now, and basically put in obscene amounts of overtime (60 - 100+ hours per week), and helped save a project/product that nearly failed (millions of dollars would have been lost; my employer straight-up told me a lot was expected of me to help salvage the project when I started, and has since told me that I "delivered" on the expectations they had from me). My employer, as of 4 months ago, started assigning me even more complex work that involves researching industry standards and emerging technologies, managing people, and so on. I was told that I'm being put in the "effective role" of the most senior non-management role there is, "Principal Engineer". This role pays nearly 1.5x my current role.

I just had my annual review, and was told I'm doing a great job in my new role, and I brought up the topic of "that's great to hear! When will my remuneration reflect my new role?". My manager, who's normally very upbeat, frowned a bit, and noted that nobody gets promoted within the company in under 4 years, especially for such an advanced role, but that at this rate, I would definitely be earning a Principal Engineer's salary when the 5 year mark hits. False modesty aside, I don't buy it: exceptions are made for exceptional circumstances, and being credited with being a major contributor to company success and already working in the capacity of a "Principal Engineer" seems more than reasonable enough justification for my promotion.

Question:

I can find similarly paying work, but I'd like to stay on board with this company and see how far I can go with them, as the "Principal Engineer" position is a pathway to even higher pay in a senior management role, which eventually paves the way to becoming VP/exec level, etc. My goal is to not burn up existing goodwill, and not to simply quit and job/ladder-hop. That being said, I'm willing to risk burning up goodwill and taking a job with another company if it's apparent the company is going to make me work in a role and wait 3 years to start (potentially) being paid appropriately (they can only burn up so much of my faith/trust too).

To the question: how can I light a fire under my employer's toes to make them reconsider, without having to threaten to leave and accept a counter offer? My stance is to never accept a counter offer, as the good will is already burned up (i.e. "the well is poisoned"), and that promotion would be the last one I have with the company. My thoughts so far:

  • Have a friend call my boss pretending to be a recruiter, asking for very minor information (i.e. did "Mr. XYZ" work here during this time period?): things that employers are often willing to share without being intrusive.
  • There are a number of relevant industry certifications I could pick up within a couple weeks, and add to my LinkedIn profile (coworkers of mine are able to access my profile). I could just re-enable "broadcast my updates to friends", post it (which draws attention), and have a friend create a fake recruiter account and publicly try to reach out to me.
  • Have a friend pretend to be a recruiter, call the front desk, and ask to be forwarded to me. It's not hard to automate this.
  • Ask my employer for special dispensation (which the company allows) to run my own company (i.e. so I can provide volunteer/pro-bono services to charities that need my skills). I can just insist I need to incorporate for insurance and professional liability reasons. Right now I'm doing about 55 hours of work per week, and am happy to drop it down to an even 40 hours, and let them assume that formerly-free 15 hours per week (almost 3 per work day) is going somewhere other than their pockets.

Thoughts/comments? Thank you!

  • "exceptions are made for exceptional circumstances, and being credited with being a major contributor to company success and already working in the capacity of a "Principal Engineer" seems more than reasonable enough justification for my promotion." Do you have any examples of these exceptions being made that you could point to? If you know of someone who did it, maybe you should ask them. – AffableAmbler Sep 1 at 6:17
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    Don’t lie, get an interview and take a few hours off to go to it. The manager should get the hint... he has just told you you won’t get a pay rise for 3+ years... but wants you to work above your pay grade... he is taking the piss... – Solar Mike Sep 1 at 6:27
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    If promotion is only limited by company protocol, you can ask for a bonus to even out the discrepancy between your current work and your current salary. – Cerno Sep 1 at 7:37
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Don't be roundabout or dishonest: It's time to have an open and honest discussion with your manger.

Tell him what you told us: Your achievements, your massive overtime and the scope of your work, that you feel is at the principle level and that you are underpaid for what you are delivering

Tell him, that you understand that a promotion at this time is out of policy and that this makes it tricky. But also ask what the purpose of the policy is and what exceptions do exist. "I was assuming that compensation should be commensurate with the value you deliver. I'm confused why it matters how long have you occupied this particular desk." Ask specifically: "There have to be other things that I can do to earn a promotion"

Tell him that this is not working for you and something needs to change. "I'm happy with the company and the value I'm delivering, but having by contributions and compensation being out of sync for at least another three years doesn't feel viable to me"

Think creatively about some options. "Promotion, performance-based bonus, benefits (working from home, more PTO), no more overtime, company-paid classes/certification", etc. Whatever you think would help you and which the company can consider.

Finally ask open ended questions and listen carefully: "what do you think?", "What about my analysis do you agree or disagree with?", "What would you do if you are in my shoes?", "what do you expect me to do here?".

You don't have to actively threaten to quit: unless your manager is dumb or tone deaf he'll get the message. And that's perfectly all right: you are actually considering to leave, so you are just telling the truth. Your current state is not sustainable and so something will have to change, and you leaving is a perfectly credible and rational option.

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TLDR: It seems to me your immediate motivation is better pay for doing all of this. If that is so, negotiate on this aspect for now, rather than an immediate promotion, or taking the approach of lighting fires.

highest-seniority engineer ("Senior Engineer IV") in Canada for a large US-based engineering firm

Manager noted that nobody gets promoted within the company in under 4 years, especially for such an advanced role

Larger firms can be quite rigid and hard nosed in their policies, and for good reason.

Your manager is right about this part. You are already at a very senior role, A promotion within 2 years for an even higher role can raise quite a lot of eyebrows. Its not just about you, there will be other people at your level who would be eyeing such a promotion, or even a promotion to your level. So, management will always err on the side of caution, as all it takes is one such case to set the example organization wide, and then it becomes a hard task for management to control everyone's expectations.

I was told that I'm being put in the "effective role" of the most senior non-management role there is, "Principal Engineer"

That is management jargon of saying that they want to see you perform in the role, before they actually give it to you. While someone in a self-centered frame of mind may construe it as exploitation / over work for less pay, the management is basically minimizing their risks - they get to observe you at the upgraded level. They get the requisite data points to prove you can perform at that level.

[Personal opinion] During my time at Amazon as an SDE, the general management expectation was that the person must be performing 30-50% of the responsibilities of the next level before being promoted, and that this percentage would vary based on what the next level was.

I would assume your case to be similar as you work at a large engineering organization too.

My goal is to not burn up existing goodwill, and not to simply quit and job/ladder-hop.

Any of the approaches you mention is going to burn that goodwill. You have already communicated your expectation to your manager, give him time to internalize it. Being reactive here will only hurt your own chances of promotion, as any such step would put a question mark on your commitment to the role you want to achieve.

As he has already told you, he expects your salary to touch the same amount in 5 years. However, he has also told you that nobody gets promoted in less than 4 years, which means at 2 years of your experience so far, he can try for your promotion in another 2 years.

IMO, you should here try reduce that 2 years to 1 year in his mind, and set his expectation to that effect, slowly and steadily.

Additionally, in the meantime, try to achieve your expectation of better pay - Your level is visible to everyone, but your compensation is confidential - so target say 1.2x the compensation, or one time bonus (for working so hard and saving the project), or more stock grants to ensure your longevity.

Given you are such a senior resource yourself, you would be reporting into a senior leader, who should be having appropriate discretion for such case, as you have already saved them millions and a failed project, and are otherwise a very committed person for project success.

This will also help you understand if the manager actually wants to retain you for promotion, or just wants to over work you with the quintessential carrot of promotion.

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    The other possibility is to find out if the company has a fast-track promotion process. I've worked with a handful of exceptionally talent people who were very obviously on a ballistic career trajectory. Sometimes companies can retain such people, and some time those "promotions take time" polities cost them an employee. – Julie in Austin Sep 1 at 19:27
  • @JulieinAustin Sounds interesting, I think you should post that as a separate answer. – mu 無 Sep 1 at 19:43
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[Copied from a comment on request]

The other possibility is to find out if the company has a fast-track promotion process. I've worked with a handful of exceptionally talented people who were very obviously on a ballistic career trajectory. Sometimes companies can retain such people, and some times those "promotions take time" policies cost them an employee.


It can be difficult for a company to determine if an employee's growth potential is long-term, and they should increase the employee's responsibilities and compensation, or if their most recent performance is a one-off event.

You have to be honest with yourself about your ability to sustain continued rapid growth, and you have to be honest with yourself about how patient you can be while your career unfolds.

What a good manager will look for is sustainable career growth, and working massive amounts of overtime is not sustainable. If your most recent achievements are the result of working large numbers of hours, sooner or later your body will catch up with you, and in my experience that means your performance will suffer dramatically. You will go from a star performer to an under-performer. If you were given a promotion, you will be a really big under-performer and your career will likely end with that employer. You described yourself as working "obscene" amounts of overtime. That's not how careers are built.

This means you need to get yourself onto a sustainable work schedule and demonstrate that your performance is still exceptional even with the reduced hours. If you can get yourself onto a normal work schedule -- 40, to no more than 50 hours per week from time to time -- and continue to demonstrate high performance, the next step is to get yourself onto an accelerated schedule.

To do that, you will need to work with your employer on a career growth plan that is based on acquiring skills, experience, perhaps a mentor, and then showing that you can continue to climb the ladder.

You will also need to be more honest with others. That means no fake recruiters calling and no fake companies. The further up the career ladder you get, the more trustworthy you have to be.

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The problem here is that you've been doing a huge amount of unpaid work in the expectation that the company will reward you with a promotion and more pay. This was never in a contract or even a verbal promise, just your assumption.

Your boss will have some flexibility but he will also be bound by company rules and his boss. You may (as Hilmar suggests) be able to negotiate something, but your boss probably is very limited in what he can offer. If the company can't offer you anything in return for your extra work, stop doing it. You don't get many hours of leisure per week after you subtract sleeping, commuting and other chores, so cutting unpaid overtime may double your free time - that's better than a pay rise.

You'll probably still be given 'principal engineer' type work, because there's always more work that can be done and you've shown your ability to do it. Once you've done that for a while, you should be in a good position to ask for the title. If they still refuse, you will be in a very good position to apply for jobs at that level elsewhere.

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If climbing a corporate ladder or title collecting is your goal then keep up the good work. honestly it sounds like you just want some more money and a decent work-life balance which is what most people want. Studies show that any amount of money beyond $70,000 per year does not add significant value or happiness to your life. I'm a firm believer in working in the job roll you currently have. If they want you to take on more responsibility or do something that would normally require more pay than they should pay you. if you're the one that wants that additional responsibility and the pay to go along with it then you should look elsewhere. Chances are you can land directly in that role at another employer. Heck, after a year or two you could probably slingshot back into the company you left at a higher level and higher pay. I've seen this done before. of course that all depends on your situation and you have to be the best judge of that.

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