It’s not exactly fun when you apply for a job with a different company and aren’t selected, but there is something particularly painful about getting passed over for an internal promotion.
Over the last five years this has happened to me twice, and both times sucked. The first time was particularly rough. I had worked in that office for three years and believed I was more than capable of moving from team member to team lead. When I wasn’t selected, it felt like a vote of no confidence and I took it personally.
If you’ve been recently passed over for a promotion, here are some things I learned from my experiences that I hope will help you work through it and figure out what to do next. NOTE: If you believe illegal hiring practices were a factor in your getting passed over you will have additional decisions to make. Those are outside the scope of this post (and my experience).
Identify the Source of Your Disappointment
Disappointment is a natural reaction. And, while it is okay to spend a few days feeling sorry for yourself, once you recover from the initial grief, I encourage you to take time to ponder why you are disappointed. The source may surprise you (it did me!) and help you figure out how to move forward.
It was your dream job. If this was your dream job—the one you know will make your life complete—then I am truly sorry you weren’t selected. Check out the suggestions below for how to respond and identify what you need to do to make sure you are selected next time. In my case, neither position was my dream job (whatever that is).
You wanted the raise that came with it. This was one of the reasons I was disappointed the first time I was passed over and it’s a legitimate reason. The good news is that there will likely be other opportunities to move up for more pay, either at your organization or at another one. It’s a setback, but likely not an insurmountable one.
You hate that you “lost.” My ego was definitely bruised both times I was passed over. How could they not see how qualified I was? I also felt like everyone around me was either laughing at me or feeling sorry for me.
The reality was that I didn’t lose and the person who got the job didn’t win. The hiring committee just didn’t think I was the best applicant. And my colleagues? I don’t think they cared enough to either laugh or feel pity (a lot of them didn’t even know I applied until I told them). All in all, my wounded pride caused me a lot of misery. Once I made like Elsa and “let it go,” I was much happier.
Ask Yourself Why You Weren’t Chosen
In those initial hours after learning you were passed over, your may instinctively start questioning the intelligence of the hiring committee. There may even be chocolate and curse words involved. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything.
But whatever you do, don’t stop there. There was a reason you weren’t chosen. Figure it out and learn from it.
You were less qualified. Being qualified doesn’t mean you are the most qualified. You probably won’t know the names of everyone who applied but you will at least know the name of the person chosen. Check them out. Give them the benefit of the doubt that there was something about them that made them the better applicant.
This is also a great opportunity to do an honest assessment of your skills. The first time I was passed over, I identified several weaknesses that could have influenced the hiring committee:
- My occasional snarky comments in meetings reflected poorly on my ability to represent the office
- I knew one aspect of the work extremely well but had only general experience with the other duties required
- I had never formally supervised anyone
- I probably didn’t come across as super excited about the job (because I wasn’t—it was the logical next step for my career but was definitely not my dream job).
You weren’t a good fit. The term “fit” gets thrown around a lot and is, like a lot of business-speak, annoyingly vague. But now that I have been on both sides—an applicant and a panelist on a hiring committee—I think that there are some situations where a person really is a bad fit for the position.
For example, the first time I was passed over, I was working in an office with very complicated dynamics and a lot of big egos. I had been there for several years by this point and probably hadn’t come across in my interactions as someone who was willing to invest time in working within these dynamics or in stroking someone’s ego (because I am not one of those people). Not only would this have limited how effective I was going to be, in all likelihood the job would have made me miserable. I was not a good fit.
Your reputation may have harmed your chances. Building a solid reputation is something that takes a lot of time and which can, unfortunately, be undone very quickly.
It’s less of an issue for me now but when I was younger I seemed to excel at sticking my foot in my mouth (as noted above, I think my snarkiness harmed my reputation and resulted in people questioning how effective I could be as a communicator). And if there is an opposite of a poker face, that is what I have. In meetings, I have learned to keep my eyes on my notebook so people can’t see my thoughts reflected in my expression.
I’m not saying you can’t be yourself at work, only that it may help your career if you dial it back a little. That’s what I try to do. When I want to make a sarcastic comment, I’ll try write it down to share with a friend later. Or if I know someone rubs me the wrong way, I’ll make sure I am not sitting across from them so they can’t see my expression.
And watch out for office gossips. Work may feel like high school some of the time but it is not. If you get a reputation as someone more interested in talking behind the backs of your colleagues then getting your work done, it will be really hard to overcome it and be considered a serious candidate for a promotion. This is especially true if that promotion means you will have to supervise people or have access to personnel records.
Determine How You Will Respond
Once you’ve had time to reflect on being passed over, the next step is to figure out what you are going to do now.
Stick around and do what you need to do to be a better candidate next time. There is nothing wrong with continuing to work in your current position. This is especially true if a) you like your job and b) it is through this job you will learn the skills you need to be a stronger applicant next time. If possible, you can even talk to your supervisor about taking on additional tasks to develop those skills.
Move on. Likewise, identifying an exit strategy is okay too. However, as I discussed in a previous post, Don’t Flee a Job You Hate—At Least Not Until Your Read This, be strategic. The first time I was passed over I knew I would need to go since it effectively cut off any chance I had to be promoted: if I wanted to move up, I needed to move on. And I did.
Did I do it right away? No. I was there for another seven or eight months while I worked my network and found a new position. I won’t lie—sticking around wasn’t fun. But it enabled me to conduct my job search from a secure place and it reflected well on my character.
Be passive-aggressive toward your colleagues and consumed by bitterness. I am joking here. While it may be an easy pattern to fall into, this is not an approach I would recommend. First, it won’t do your career any favors—if anything, it will reassure people that they made the right decision. Second, it will make you miserable. Be like Elsa: let it go.
The Rest of the Story
Now that some time has passed, I can honestly say that things worked out for the best. I would have been miserable in the first job and the person in the position now is doing great. For the second position, I don’t think I would have been miserable but I do know that if I had been selected it would have prevented me from taking on a new project that I am currently really enjoying.
I recently saw this quote on Instagram that perfectly reflects my experience: If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.
What Did You Do?
How did you respond to getting passed over? Did it work for you? Do you have any regrets? Let me know in the comment section below.
Great post. I was the boss and responsible for selecting or approving people for promotion frequently back before I early retired. One thing that really impressed me was when someone who didn’t get promoted would look me in the eye and ask me where they needed to improve. Those people usually got promoted the next time because they didn’t get mortally wounded by losing one time. Everyone fails or loses sometimes and it can either fuel despair or ignite their desire to win. So when you don’t win the day it is still a great chance to impress your boss with a winning attitude and a focus on improving instead of being focused on “poor me”. Which you pointed out. And yes, sometimes leaving is a way better option as well. Good advice.
Thank you–I really appreciate the feedback! It is so hard to be reflective in the moment because there are so many emotions floating around but those initial reactions can really help or hurt you in the long run. I hope people read this and take a deep breath. Be upset but smart too!
Hi Jenny. Great post. I’ve been on both sides of this. In my younger days, I was the one getting the positions. Now at mid-career it has been a struggle. I think you’re spot on with assessing our own skills and working on filling any gaps. I work in technology so it’s always a challenge to do an excellent job, while trying to play catch up with the latest and greatest. I also recently did a post of some of my top books I’m reading and re-reading for 2018 and “12 bad habits that hold good people back” comes to mind when I think about these situations. If you get a chance, check it out. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Jim
Thanks Jim! It does feel like when I was younger, I was less likely to get turned down but in really thinking back for this article I could recall a handful. Doesn’t make it less crappy now to lose out but it at least reminds me that it won’t be the end as long as I keep hustling. I will check out your post!
Interesting post, which I of course read because I have been passed over for promotion for a 3rd time! I appreciate the comment from Steveark who says he was impressed when the employee asked why and what could be done to improve.. I agree.. I must say though, that I did exactly the same.. First time round I thought “Oh well, that is just the way the cookie crumbles.” Maybe I was under-qualified or competition was too hard. So, I started a Master’s degree to improve my educational background, as well as signing up for every course I could at work. Then, a second opportunity came along. At this stage I was just a few steps away from my Master’s degree. And…passed over. The feedback provided was basically confirming that someone else got the credit for my hard work. That was a blow.. After the shock settled I thought,”OK, I will wait until I complete my Master.” Low and behold, another opportunity presented itself. After a long wait, I was again informed my application was not successful….
Makes one wonder what more one can do to improve? My immediate supervisors have recommended me for promotion, my reviews and reports are always excellent, and yet I don’t even get called for an interview. Maybe time to look elsewhere (just too bad I enjoy my job so much. Although this is killing my motivation.)
I’m sorry you are going through this and agree it does sound like it’s time to move on as nothing you are doing is setting you up to be considered for a promotion. It’s hard moving on from such a situation but at least you know you will likely get good references from your current supervisor as you are looking for that next job. And, who knows, you might end up liking it even more than this one! Good luck!
I am in the same position. Really not a nice place to be not one not two but snubbed for a third time. I need me another job.
There does come a point where it seems moving on is the best option. I’ve been there and while a job search is a daunting and time consuming task, it can really payoff in the end.
I have tried for promotions on and off over the years at my current job. Each time I am rejected. Sometimes I could clearly see that the person promoted was better qualified, but lately I’m feeling like only younger people are selected. I do like my job, but it does feel a bit like age discrimination at this point. I have talked to another person close to my age at my job who has a similar problem and has never been promoted either. I am torn between moving on or just staying because I do like my job. I don’t feel that filing some age discrimination suit is worth it. If the company wants young managers then that is what it wants. I suppose I should have pushed for promotion sooner in my career.
It sounds like you’re in a tough situation–you can stay in a job you know you like but also know isn’t going to likely lead to anything more or you can look for a new position at a different organization that will give you room for advancement but you may not like as much. Neither choice is wrong but it is something you will have to come to terms with. I just completed a very long job search (about 8 months) and have been in a new position for about 3 months. I’m glad I moved but it was a lot of work and there were moments I was discouraged (I completely bombed the first interview I got during my search). That said, moving on was, without a doubt, the best choice for me. Good luck with whatever you decide to do–I’m rooting for you!