4 steps to take if you’re passed over for promotion
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4 steps to take if you’re passed over for promotion

Feb 26, 2020 · 3 min read

If you’re feeling stagnant in your career, you should know that the feeling is common and you can do something about it.

Sixty-one percent of workers reported having been snubbed for a promotion or award at work, according to a 2017 Monster.com poll.

And for those in finance and insurance, the average length of time a nonmanager waits for a first promotion into management is just over seven years, among the longest of all industries measured by the payroll and human resources management firm ADP in its 2019 State of the Workforce Report.

Part of the reason for those results may be that promotions are less common than they were in the past. A report from Gartner, the global research and advisory company, found that employees spend 50% longer at the same level in companies than before 2008.

“Many, many people experience this sort of setback,” said Amy Gallo, executive coach and author of the HBR Guide to Dealing With Conflict. “You’re certainly not the first, certainly not the last, so take action where you can and move forward.”

Here are four steps to take if you’ve been passed over for a promotion:

Process your disappointment

If you’ve been working toward a promotion for a while, finding out you didn’t get it is likely to be discouraging. Gallo recommends taking a beat and digesting your feelings before moving forward.

“You have to allow yourself to feel that [disappointment], but also accept that it should only be a temporary state,” Gallo said. “Those feelings are really most helpful if you can channel them into some sort of action.”

She emphasized that you shouldn’t act right away after finding out you didn’t get a promotion because it’s in those initial moments that you’re most likely to do something you regret. Research shows that we don’t act best when we’re under stress, she said. Processing your disappointment will give you time to calm down and avoid storming into your boss’s office and quitting in a huff.

Gallo also warned against gossiping about the situation with others in the office.

“Try not to talk poorly about the person who got the job or even the people who helped make the decision, whether that’s HR or your boss,” she said. “[Gossip] often reflects negatively on the gossiper.”

Figure out why you weren’t chosen

Once your emotions have leveled out, you should contact the people who made the decision and ask why you weren’t selected for the promotion.

Gallo stressed that you need to approach the question in a curious, rather than accusatory, way. Gather information before you decide whether the reasons were justified. Unfortunately, you may not always get a straight answer from your boss, Gallo said, so you might need to find someone you trust in the organization, whether that’s a mentor or peer who has your back, and see if they will give you some honest feedback. Ask them, “Why do you think this happened?” Or, “What do you think was really going on?”

You may find out that the reasons you didn’t get the promotion were entirely justified; perhaps you don’t have the necessary skills or experience for the role. But it’s also possible that the reasons were not justified, in which case you’re going to have to make a tough decision about next steps, Gallo said.

While Gallo never advises people to quit their job lightly, she acknowledged that it can be hard to work within an organization that makes these sorts of decisions unfairly. You will have to decide whether you can still be happy working there under the circumstances.

Chart a path toward your next goal

If you believe you were passed over for justifiable reasons, then the next step is to figure out how to attain the skills or experience you need. You may even want to sit down with your boss and craft a plan so you can get the promotion next time.

Gallo pointed out that when people have been deciding whether or not you’re going to get a promotion, they’ve ideally been thinking about you and your performance quite a bit. They likely have some fresh feedback for you that could be incredibly helpful in deciding what to do next.

After gathering feedback, you may decide it makes sense to pursue a professional certification or request specific stretch assignments within the organization that can help fill any gaps in your experience.

Reframe your disappointment as an opportunity

Getting passed over for a promotion is not going to destroy your career — in fact, the experience could potentially lead to even better opportunities, Gallo argued.

Gallo’s clients often look back and realize not getting that promotion is often what helped them do something differently. “Try to keep it in perspective and know this is not going to torpedo your entire career,” she said.

Aim to look at the missed promotion as an opportunity to rethink your career and whether you want to make any changes. Perhaps you’ll decide to get back in the job market, make a lateral career move, or simply gain more skills and experience. Regardless of what you decide to do, Gallo emphasized that many others have been there before.

Hannah Pitstick, B.A.

Hannah Pitstick is a content writer at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA.

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