By Andrew Forrester
Despite being a stellar candidate and jumping through all the hoops, the promotion went to someone else. Ouch. Read below to learn how to move on graciously and professionally after being passed over for a promotion.
“I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
Michael Jordan, former professional basketball player and businessman.
You wrote a killer cover letter. You updated your resume to reflect the ways you’ve grown, the efforts you’ve made in professional development. You jumped through all the hoops, despite being a stellar internal candidate, and still, the promotion goes to someone else.
That stings. You probably feel frustrated, disappointed, maybe confused. Most likely, this situation makes you reassess the work you’ve been doing. It might even call your current role at the company into question. What is it you’re doing here, anyway?
Each of these responses is normal. You’ve been denied something you wanted—something that, ultimately, wasn’t up to you to decide. Discouraging as it may seem, there’s nothing you can do about it now. How you respond, however, is entirely within your control, and here are some ways you can make the best of it.
Listen, you are absolutely allowed to be upset. You can and should complain to friends and family members, preferably those whose connection to folks at your job is minimal. Even in the office, you’re bound to have at least one trusted confidant who expects you to be honest with them. When it comes to your people, be real.
But when it comes to everyone else in the workplace, be professional. Hold your head up high. Congratulate the actual recipient of the promotion. Admit, where appropriate, your disappointment, but don’t linger on it. There’s work to do.
Most important in the immediate aftermath: take the time to thank your supervisors for their time and consideration. A handwritten note is best, but even a quick email demonstrates your professionalism and willingness to keep showing up. If you can manage it without being awkward, this is also a great opportunity to extend a request for constructive criticism. Asking, in the least defensive terms possible, why you weren’t chosen and where you can improve are surefire ways to demonstrate your humility and growth mindset – two things your supervisor will remember when future opportunities come along.
Get to Work
It’s obvious, but now is not the time to slack off. No one likes sour grapes, and it’s entirely possible that others will be watching you to see how you react to a loss. This is your chance to continue doing your job with excellence; perhaps it’s even a chance to go above and beyond. If it helps (and if you can do it without being spiteful), use it as an opportunity to prove them wrong. Show them what they’re missing. And do it in a way they can’t ignore.
Be a Team Player
It can be hard to work for or even just with the person who got the job you wanted. It seems like the easy thing is to avoid your newly-promoted colleague. You might even be tempted to be unhelpful or standoffish. This goes without saying: don’t do that.
There’s a reason interviewers love to ask questions about past disappointments and what you learned. A good answer to this sort of question demonstrates your ability to respond to setbacks. It shows your willingness to learn from your mistakes, or if not mistakes, from your gaps in knowledge and experience. And here, served up to you on a platter, is a perfect example of such a setback. Things have not gone according to plan; your next steps are crucial. Are you going to be bitter and resentful? Or are you going to prove that you’re the sort of person who prioritizes the company’s and your team’s prolonged success over your own momentary dissatisfaction?
Continue Making Your Intentions Known (To Yourself and Others)
This is not the end of your professional story. It’s merely a chapter. Where the narrative goes next is largely dependent on you and your attitude, as well as your ability to articulate what you want.
First of all, don’t give up. Remind yourself of why you wanted this promotion and spend your days working to achieve the next one, whatever it may be. Let this setback serve as motivation, not an impediment—an on-ramp, not a speedbump. If you think you deserved the promotion, then prove it, starting with yourself.
Second, don’t stop speaking up about what you’re looking for. When the dust settles, find time to re-emphasize your professional goals with your boss. Make it known that you’re still interested in more responsibility and live out that desire as much as possible. When you’re gunning for the next good opportunity, work for the job you want and not just the job you have. Be (appropriately) loud about what you want—both in words and in deed.
If All Else Fails, Look Somewhere Else
You know the tone and tenor of your company culture. Chances are, you have a good read on your team and its vacillations. Use that knowledge. If it seems likely that new positions will open up within an acceptable time frame, wait for it. Keep a list of successes, achievements and insightful answers to potential interview questions. But if the writing on the wall suggests that this is it for you here and now, read it and respond.
There’s an old adage that the surest way to get promoted is to land a new job. This may or may not be universally true, but if you feel your current internal trajectory is reaching a plateau, it’s worth considering other options. Employers often look for outsiders who can come in and breathe fresh air into old programs and stolid teams. Who’s to say you aren’t that person?
The good news is that you’ll have spent your time up to this moment being a model employee—someone who responds to disappointments with positive energy and team-minded aplomb. Someone who is exactly the kind of person a supervisor can’t help but say glowing things about when called for a reference.
If you’re a thoughtful, careful team player, then the promotion is yours. One way or another.
Andrew Forrester is a writer whose work has appeared in Parents Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Andrew also teaches English and creative writing in Austin, Texas, and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Southern Methodist University.
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