I work in a medium-sized company on a team that takes on special projects and kind of struggles to explain and define its role in the wider office.

The team has been without a manager for a year, the previous manager left for personal reasons.

I started working on this team about 2.5 years ago and it's my first job after uni. A slightly more senior colleague is leaving and they're hiring for his position. The role in question is called something like 'project coordinator' and would come with only marginally higher responsibilities than my current one.

The lack of management and problems with the team's wider mission have driven away some very talented and experienced people.

I have applied for the internal opening and decided I'll just change company if I don't get it. The people that I learned from the most over the past years have all left, so the pace of learning in my current role has slowed down a lot.

In truth I might leave in a year's time even if I get the promotion because the environment is quite difficult overall. But having this title would look great on my CV and give me the chance to acquire important communication skills etc.

Over the past years I have accumulated certain tech skills that are very important to the team, so if I did leave they would be in a very difficult position. However I'm worried the guy currently heading the team (and also conducting the interviews) doesn't realise this because he's way too high up in the company to actually spend time with us.

My question is how I can convey that I'll be actively pursuing external opportunities if I don't get this promotion without it sounding like a threat.

I should note that I have in fact already had a first interview and didn't really emphasise this, but there might be more interviews or another opportunity to talk to the interim manager. How do I approach this?

UPDATE: Not that it really helps to answer the question but I ended up getting the promotion. I avoided making any sort of threat or obvious comment to the interviewers

  • 6
    Does this answer your question? How to give a polite ultimatum?
    – gnat
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 13:28
  • 1
    Under standard circumstances the best way to get promoted would be to figure out what knowledge or skills is required for the higher role and try to gain, improve or demonstrate this, or otherwise go above and beyond, in your current role. A good manager would be able to help with this if asked. Related: How to respond to "Why do you deserve a promotion"? But this is mostly a long-term strategy that doesn't seem to apply to your case. Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 11:14
  • 3
    I was in the (almost) exact same situation and had even talked about the role or other options that would make me stay (never gave an ultimatum). They chose not to care. I chose to leave. Be ready for any eventuality. Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 12:02
  • Hopefully Nike doesn't sue me but quite frankly "Just do It"; follow your plan but do not inform anyone of it. You are honestly seeking promotion on a basis of threat rather than merit? Even if you get the promotion then you're going to leave in a year anyways?? You really think that your current employer will provide a good reference for you after you leave your next company?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 13:30
  • 1
    It always amazes me how juniors fresh out of the uni with just a few years of work experience in the field firmly believe they are indispensable. :)
    – MLu
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


how I can convey that I'll be actively pursuing external opportunities if I don't get this promotion without it sounding like a threat?

By describing your goals, not your tactics.

You'll likely be asked why you're going for the more senior position. Answer something like:

I've been in {current role} for 2.5 years now. I've learned a lot, and I feel prepared to and want to step up to the next level in my career and take on the extra responsibilities of {new role}.

Notice, it's very general. You're simply describing what you want, and are ready to do. This particular opportunity at your current company could fulfil that, but should it pass you by, naturally you're going to be looking at other opportunities. You don't have to spell this out concretely, because it just follows.

What also follows is the question of if they're willing to give you this promotion to keep you. Bear in mind they may not be, and that's fine - you can then look elsewhere as implied. Just be straightforward about your goals, and put the ball in their court.

I should note that I have in fact already had a first interview and didn't really emphasise this

This is not ideal, but unless you said anything directly contradictory to the above then just lean the conversation that way in any further interviews, or even informally if there won't be any. However you do it, just be sure they get the message that you want to step up, and soon, as a general career goal.

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    Thanks, I find your answer the most constructive so far. In any normally managed team I would agree that my direct manager should have a broad awareness of my career goals, and how I feel about my current role. But this interim manager is very hands-off. Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 11:15
  • I did mention my goal of moving to the role in question a few months ago at my employee appraisal, but at the time there was no opening so it was all rather hypothetical. We didn't discuss a time frame or what concrete steps I would have to take to get there ... Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 11:17
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    @themirrorconspiracy yeah, that's a tough situation then. Honestly, hands-off in this situation more or less reads as not doing their job - as in, if you make them aware of your goals and they simply don't listen and/or care, there might not not be much you can do in practice other than look elsewhere. But regardless, cover your bases and make sure they know. You might as well!
    – davnicwil
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 11:08

My question is how I can convey that I'll be actively pursuing external opportunities if I don't get this promotion without it sounding like a threat.

You can't, because it is a threat. In reality, you gain nothing by announcing that you will be actively pursuing external opportunities. In fact, you are more likely to hurt yourself by doing so.

If you are unhappy with your current role, then you should start applying to other opportunities ( internal and external ). If you are unhappy with your current company's overall environment, I would not even bother with the internal position as you have indicated you would likely leave regardless. Unless your overall work experience is very small, one year of experience with a new title will not be that significant when searching for a new job.

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    He said he only has 2.5 years of experience so far, meaning in one year this would account for more than 25% of his overall career. Are you sure that wouldn't be significant? Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 19:26
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    @DavidEtler If you only do one year in a position, the assumption many people will make from seeing that on a resume is that you’re running away after having a bad review. So, it might be significantly negative.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 0:49
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    @Joe so, he should stay trapped in a position because someone may see something "negatively"? he certainly has a resume and references to offset anything like that.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 0:08
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    @WernerCD I don't think Joe is recommending anyone "stays trapped" because of a possible negative viewpoint; more that the OP take that potential negative aspect into account before getting into that position. E.g. if they were likely to only stick at the promoted role for a year, it may be better to stay in their current position while looking for a new (external) job.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 7:22
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    @Joe actually one year in a position rases no flags. It's typical. It's 3 to 6 months in a position that raises flags. And all a flag means is you'll likely get asked why and have to explain. Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 10:51

There is no value to be had for you to tell them that you will leave if you are not promoted. It just sounds like you are trying to determine how important you are to the organization. If they are not doing a good job keeping good people, they likely are not concerned with individuals in general. If they aren't attempting to keep the people you trust, you have no reason to believe they will make any efforts to keep you.

There is nothing wrong with you applying for the promotion, and there is nothing wrong with you looking for other opportunities, and there is no reason to reveal your reasoning until you decide to act.

  • Yes, I guess my question is how I can avoid sounding like I'm just "trying to determine how important [I am]". You are right that their failure to retain talented colleagues of mine is not a good sign. The way I see it, it comes down to this: Does the interim manager just not look closely enough at what's going on, or is he aware but simply doesn't care? If it's the latter, you're right there is no value in telling him (or anyone higher up) about my plans. But what if it's the former? Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 11:02

My question is how I can convey that I'll be actively pursuing external opportunities if I don't get this promotion without it sounding like a threat.

You don't need to convey anything about leaving at this point.

Follow the sequence below:

  • Ask for what you believe you're worth of (promotion, salary revision etc.).
  • Start finding other opportunities when it's time* and make sure you have a written offer.
  • Submit resignation, (serve notice period, if any) and move on.

[*]: Note about the timeline:

As you mentioned,

[...] I'll be actively pursuing external opportunities if I don't get this promotion [...]


In truth I might leave in a year's time even if I get the promotion because the environment is quite difficult overall. [...]

So, it's immediate, if they cannot match your expectations, in a year, if your expectation is attained.


You are focusing on the promotion as a means to your ends, something which has turned up now and which you feel is the best recourse to remodel your work situation to one where your efforts pay off with sufficient reward.

The problems you are describing and that you want to see addressed are not resolved by you getting more pay or a title. That's just gratification. Indeed, you state that it is not unlikely that you'll leave in the course of a year even given the promotion.

I think it would be good to focus on the changes you want to see, and your relevant experience that would help implementing them. And also focus on the resources and reorganisation it would take to get them done.

And that's what you need to pitch, for the company's sake. If you feel that you are in a better position effecting such changes in the open job slot, that's something you should bring up. If you feel that somebody else getting that job/promotion should be in a better position effecting such changes, you should have the talk with them. If you feel that a different kind of reorganisation would be more conducive, that is something the responsible management should get to know.

Do your best pitch at promoting changes to the company that will lead to them becoming a more productive workplace. It may fail, independent of that particular promotion, or because you are "overstepping the line", but you are already prepared to leave. Giving your current employer your best shot of making them successful is a good idea because it will benefit more people than just you. The promotion you are eyeing may be a step towards that goal but it has to be part of a larger plan, not just more compensation for a job that keeps sucking.

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