To borrow (and slightly adapt) a quote from Spider-Man: With a great salary comes great responsibility. If you want to continually increase your salary, you’ll often reach a point where you’re not just responsible for yourself — you’re overseeing a team as well.
However, there are always exceptions to that rule. If you’re not cut out to be a manager, boosting your pay isn’t impossible — you just need to be strategic about it. We turned to a couple of salary and career experts to get the lowdown on how to make the big bucks without becoming a manager.
1. Choose the Right Roles
It is possible to turn down a promotion into management while still boosting your salary — more on that later — but it’s definitely easier to be clear about it from the get-go.
“When you’re looking for jobs, be deliberate about the roles/companies you apply for. Ensure they are ones which could benefit from your deep subject matter expertise and/or individual contributions. Don’t take a job where you know you can’t advance unless you manage others, otherwise you may find yourself disappointed and frustrated,” says Foram Soni Sheth, Co-Founder and Career Coach at Ama la Vida.
The key to finding out whether or not you’ll be expected to move into management eventually is during the interview process, says Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation. “A good way to find this out is to ask the right questions in your interview when you get the chance. One of the questions I really like is: ‘What would a long-term career look like at this company?’ This accomplishes two things: 1. It helps you understand whether they're expecting you to manage people any time soon, [and] 2. It will help you stand out as a studious candidate who's thinking about long-term business results. Win-win!”
If it becomes clear that you’ll be expected to move into management eventually, it may not be the right role. If that doesn’t sound like the case, though, and they still mention the potential for bonuses, raises, and promotions, that may be more up your alley — especially if you can negotiate your way to a higher salary.
2. Check in Regularly
After you accept a role like that, though, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so that you don’t accidentally end up on the fast track to a management role.
“Once you're working at the company, I recommend talking about your career path with your manager at least once a quarter so that you can understand what's expected as you grow, but also so the ‘I prefer not to be a manager’ conversation comes up naturally before they try to slot you into a manager role,” Doody says. “That way, you're well ahead of that conversation and performance review or promotion conversations won't have any surprises for you or your manager.”
Sheth agrees — “The last thing you want is for your boss to work hard to promote you to a manager role and find out at the last minute that you don’t want it,” she shares. “Be upfront and honest with your boss and communicate what you want out of your job. Be sure to have frequent communication with your boss about your needs and develop a plan to work towards your goals.”
3. Turn Managerial Offers Down Gracefully
Hopefully, if you’ve been clear and consistent with your expectations, you won’t encounter a surprise promotion to a managerial position. In the case that it does happen, though, don’t worry — “you do not have to take it and you should definitely say something to your manager,” Doody says.
You might be thinking: “Could this hurt my standing at work?” The truth is that it could, depending on your company culture and manager, Doody says, but “accepting a managerial role and phoning it in will definitely hurt your standing at work. Accepting a role and then doing a poor job in that role could hurt your future potential at your company and affect your reputation, so you want to avoid that.”
The key is to turn down the offer in a tasteful, gracious manner. “Be humble… thank them for the opportunity. Appreciate them and let them know how much it means to you that they’re rewarding you,” Sheth recommends. “After you’ve expressed your gratitude, explain to them what your time and skills would be best suited for and how that will benefit the organization and will also help you achieve your goals. Offer an alternative path and explain the impact that you’ll have. This will show them that you’re invested.”
Doody recommends saying something like "I really appreciate you offering me this promotion, and it means a lot to me. I prefer to keep focusing on helping the company reach its goals as an individual contributor, and I would love to talk about more ways I can add value and improve our team in that capacity."
4. Perfect the Pivot and Score More Cash
Once you’ve made it clear that you’re not interested in a promotion to a managerial position, it is possible to either pivot that into a promotion with non-managerial responsibilities or just a raise. But Doody points out that raises and promotions aren’t always the same thing.
“Promotions are an acknowledgment that you're already doing the type of work associated with [a] different, more advanced job. Raises are an acknowledgment that you're adding unanticipated, additional business value since the last time your salary was set,” he says. If you believe you are indeed adding that unanticipated, additional business value though, “it might be appropriate to carefully build a strong case and ask for a raise,” he says.
“Your boss and the leaders of the company care about having happy and productive employees that will give back to the organization. So, continue to demonstrate your worth and be proactive about what your goal is and how it’s going to help not only you but the organization,” Sheth recommends.
From there, all you have to do is state the case for why you deserve to be earning more.
“Clearly explain what you’re doing and the impact you’re having on the organization and its bottom line. Your work will speak for itself and the raise will be a no-brainer,” Sheth says.