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Rebecca SchalmBeing offered a promotion or a chance to do something new at work may be your dream come true. But is every opportunity a good one? Before you jump and say ‘yes’ ask yourself these five questions.

Why me?

Organizations re-assign people for a variety of reasons. Brent took two back-to-back ‘Acting’ roles and was promoted into neither. He was crushed the second time since it was a job he really aspired to. In reality, he was viewed by the boss as a safe, dependable fill-in but not a permanent team player. The challenge for Brent, now, is how to explain these ‘failures’ to a future employer as he strives to achieve his ultimate career goal. The lesson: before you jump to say ‘yes’, look yourself in the mirror and be honest about why you’ve been chosen. Are you on the fast track and this is an opportunity for the organization to test you? Are you a scarce resource, the only person who has the experience and skills to do the job? Does your boss like you but think you are miscast in your current job? Is the organization in a bind and you are their only option?

Why now?

Smart, capable people are often quickly and regularly moved around an organization. Janice’s potential was spotted early and she rarely found herself in a job for more than 18 months. She’s recently been offered a new role. What she doesn’t know is that there is a big question mark hanging over her head. She was rotated through her last two positions so quickly she did not have time to deliver any significant results. Whereas she was once viewed as having unlimited potential, people are now asking ‘can she actually deliver something?’ What she doesn’t know is that this is her last chance to prove herself. The lesson: before you say ‘yes’, ask yourself whether this is a good time to leave your current role. Sometimes, slowing down your progress is in your best interest.

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How will this new position build my resume?

Opportunities can reinforce capability or develop diversity. Joe has a reputation as a ‘turnaround guy’. Twice in a row he has gone into troubled manufacturing operations and set them on a successful course. Now he’s getting a promotion but he’s being asked to do the same thing again. His concern is that he is developing a reputation as a one-trick pony. He needs to decide if he will be happy to continue down this path for the rest of his career or if he wants to broaden his repertoire. He would really like the chance to build something from scratch one day, but is afraid no one will think of him when a situation like that arises. The lesson: before you say ‘yes’, ask yourself if this opportunity builds your resume the way you want to build your career.

What happens after this?

Opportunities can pop up that look very attractive in the short term but have no clear forward path. Patricia was asked to head up a due diligence team as a special project. It was a chance for her to get global experience without moving her family abroad and she was keen to take it on. It turned out to be a bigger job with less pay than she was expecting, and she was still doing a lot of her old job on the side. In the 11 months it took to complete the project, her old job disappeared and there wasn’t a spot for her back in her business unit. She ended up resenting the ‘opportunity’ and subsequently left the organization. The lesson: there are no guarantees in life, but before you say ‘yes’, weigh the opportunity against the worst-case scenario and assess your tolerance for risk.

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What happens if I say no to this new position?

Too often people say ‘yes’ to an offer because they don’t think they have a choice – if they say no, they will never get another chance. While Sam’s boss thought she was doing him a favour offering him a promotion, he didn’t want it but didn’t feel he could say no. He ended up failing miserably. Happily, he was able to return to a role where he was more comfortable. The lesson: before you jump to say ‘yes’, ask what would happen if, for a good reason, you declined. Sometimes ‘no’ is the right answer.

Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.

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