my company is promoting me without discussing salary

A reader writes:

I have been offered a promotion to a manager position, recommended from my current manager. He has already begun to train me in doing his duties, since he is leaving for a different job. He has already told the owners that he recommended me becoming his replacement. I have asked him several times about discussing my pay and benefits package, but he keeps giving me the same answer: They are in still in the talks about final approval, etc. Now he has started his new job, and I am currently scheduled to manage the store, without having actually sat down with the owners to discuss my salary. I’m not sure how I should approach this. I like this company, but the way they are approaching this has me worried.

I get a surprising number of variations of this letter, all essentially saying, “I’m taking a new job or a promotion, but we haven’t yet nailed down the salary.” This makes me a little weepy.

Here’s the deal: If you accept a job without discussing salary, you have relinquished your negotiating power. You’re essentially saying, “I’ll do this job for anything you want to offer me.”  In your case, you might not have formally accepted but I’d bet you anything that they think you’ve accepted through your actions – if you start training for the job and acting as if you’re going to be doing the job, and salary hasn’t yet been discussed, your employer is going to assume that you’re taking the job, regardless.

You have to talk salary before you start acting as if you’re taking the job. (Or at least you do if you care about getting paid a certain amount.)

In this case, before you got too far into the training, you should have said, “I’m definitely interested in this promotion, but before we go too far, I’d like to discuss the salary.” When your boss told you that the owners were still “in talks” about final approval, you’d then say, “I understand. Please let me know once they’re ready to talk with me about salary. If you’d like me to train in the meantime, I certainly can, but I want to make sure that it’s clear that I can’t accept the position until we’ve discussed the salary.”

And then — and this is important — you need to stay clear in your own head that the position is not a done deal, because you haven’t discussed salary yet. If you start thinking of it as final — because you’re training, after all, and everyone is talking to you like this will be your new job — then you will start thinking of it as final, and that will make it much harder for you to stand up for yourself when salary finally does get discussed … because you need to be willing to walk away if the salary isn’t right.

And that’s the key thing here: You need to be willing to walk away if you can’t come to terms on salary. Your employer needs to know that you’re willing to walk away, and you need to know it too. Otherwise there really isn’t a salary negotiation at all; it’s just them telling you what you’ll be getting paid, and you accepting it. Even if it’s no salary increase at all.

So, as for what to do now … Contact the owners or whoever you currently report to now that your boss is gone and say, “I’m very interested in taking on Bob’s role, which he’s trained me for, but we haven’t yet had a chance to formally discuss it. I’d like to talk with you about the terms of the offer, including salary. When can we sit down and speak?”

If they put you off and push you to start doing the new job now, you need to hold firm: “I’m not comfortable taking on a new job without discussing the terms, such as salary. I want to make sure that we’re able to reach an agreement on salary before I start in that role. When can we have that discussion?”

If you let them push you into starting work now, you will have very little negotiating power at whatever point they do decide to talk to you — because you’ll have already shown that you’re willing to do the work at your current rate of pay.

Always, always, always talk about salary before agreeing to a new job or promotion.

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