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No one likes feeling overlooked, passed over, or rejected—particularly when it comes to an opportunity that you really wanted. Yet each position on your way up the ladder can only be filled by one person at a time, which means many others won’t get the nod this time around. You might find the sting particularly painful if the job was given to a new hire outside of the company, to a colleague who appears less qualified than you are, or to a friend.
If you’re among those who weren’t chosen for a coveted promotion, there are a number of actions you might take. What’s important, however, is to think strategically about your career and focus on your long-term goals. Don’t let your emotions, pride, or ego get the better of you, leading you to express an opinion that you might regret. Instead, take some time to let the information sink in, and when you feel ready, try some of the tactics below:
Not receiving a promotion may bring up negative feelings and make you feel undervalued, but it’s important to deal with your emotions outside of the office and stay professional at all times. No matter who it was who got the promotion—whether a friend, an outside hire, or someone you feel can’t do the job as well as you could have—it’s a smart move to acknowledge that person and create goodwill.
John Crossman, president of Crossman & Company, suggests that you should first connect with the person who received the promotion and offer your support. “Write them a handwritten note and congratulate them,” says Crossman. “Do not say anything negative about the situation to anyone at the office.”
Cheryl Rich Heisler, president and founder of Lawternatives, recommends harnessing any anger or hurt that you feel about the situation, and instead using this as an opportunity to take stock of your position. “Try to calmly and rationally review what the company was looking for and why you weren’t selected,” says Heisler. “Sometimes not getting the promotion is really the clearest form of feedback the organization can offer you.”
Ask for Feedback
While being passed over for a move up sends a message in itself, you can request additional details to help you understand what the company needs and how you can best prepare yourself to be promoted in the future. Kristen Prinz, founder and principal of The Prinz Law Firm, advises sitting down with your boss, letting him or her know that you were interested in the position, and asking what you need to do to earn a promotion within the next six months.
“Make sure you don’t sound defensive or accusatory,” says Prinz. “Be direct, but also be humble. Take responsibility for not being the right candidate. Compliment the skills of the selected candidate if it is your friend or a colleague you know. Ask what you need to do to be the right candidate. And, don’t forget to put a time frame on it (six months is a good default).”
Psychologist and author Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD, suggests asking for candid feedback, including asking direct questions like what went into management’s decision. “Asking for feedback without being upset will first offer you important information, and second demonstrate what kind of a leader you are,” says Lombardo.
Specifics are important, notes Cheryl Palmer, owner of Call to Career. “Find out exactly what management considers necessary to make you worthy of promotion,” says Palmer. “Is it your education level? Do you need a certification? Is it your lack of managerial or supervisory experience?”
As part of your information-gathering mission, be prepared to do some self-assessment of your own goals and capabilities as well. Dave Popple, PhD, president of Psynet Group, believes it’s important for employees in this situation to take a moment to reflect on where they want to be in five years. Next, clearly outline your desired path to your supervisor, and ask him or her to help you identify where your gaps are. With this knowledge in hand, you can then develop and present a plan to close those gaps to your supervisor and get support for it.
“The best way to get buy-in is by getting a yes answer to the following question: ‘If I follow this plan and close these gaps, will I be the front runner for the next opportunity?’” says Popple. With this rational and direct response to an emotional let down, you will show your organization that you’re mature enough to handle the next opportunity.
Now that you know what you want in the future and have been given specific directives from your supervisor about what it will take to get there, you must start taking steps to move in that direction. If you have agreement from your boss about an action plan to close any perceived gaps in your professional skill set, then you need to formalize following through on that plan, documenting your progress as you go. If you’ve suggested a time frame of six months or a year for reevaluation toward a promotion, request a meeting with your manager at the halfway mark to discuss progress together.
Beyond working toward success with your personalized action plan, think about whether you’re doing everything you can to maximize your career growth and widen your options. “This is about building relationships and staying vigilant to opportunities that may present themselves,” says career consultant and author Karen Kodzik at Cultivating Careers. “Promotions often come to those who have the strongest reputation and relationships.”
Focusing on what you can do and changes you can make will help keep you going in the right direction, toward a future promotion. Jack Martin, founder and CEO of technologyjobs.nyc, suggests that the best way to advance your career—even after a setback—is to look at situations for the opportunity that they offer. “Rather than dwelling on a missed promotion or internal politics, examine the positive aspects of your situation and become exceedingly good at the job at hand,” says Martin. “There are a lifetime of opportunities to take—use your efforts toward exploring and building on those. Stay positive and keep moving forward.”