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What to Do Next If You’re Passed Over for Promotion

Topics: Career Advice
passed over for promotion

According to a recent survey by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry, 50% of professionals are planning to ask for a promotion in the next 12 months. However, many organizations are failing when it comes to creating clear advancement opportunities. Nearly two-thirds of respondents who did not get a promotion within the past year cited “a bottleneck or nowhere to go” as the main reason. Seventeen percent said “office politics” got in their way of moving up the ladder.

Whatever the reason, being passed over for a promotion sucks. We invest so much at work that when the recognition you want is given to someone else, it hurts.

If the promotion you are coveting seems to have landed on someone else’s plate, it doesn’t mean you can’t, or won’t, achieve your goals, too. Take some time to work through your emotions — we’re all human — but then use these five steps to get yourself back on track.

1. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

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If being passed over for promotion feels upsetting, turn your attention back to you, but not in a “compare and contrast” kind of way. It can be easy for our minds to start swirling with thoughts like, “that person is more respected than me,” or “they are way more successful than me” or “everyone else is getting ahead faster than me.”

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If you find yourself falling into a negative spiral remember this — our journeys are not the same, even if we start at what appears to be the exact same place. Your newly promoted coworker’s career path may look golden, but appearances can be deceptive. Without a doubt they will have experienced dips, sacrifices and tough times along the way.

Regardless of how you truly feel, always congratulate the person who has been promoted and demonstrate you’re a team player. Do not vent to coworkers or other people at your company. Even when you trust your circle, people love to gossip, and you don’t want news of your frustration to work its way back to the promoted colleague.

2. Understand What Success Looks Like


If you have your eye on a promotion, it’s important to lay the groundwork with your manager, and to do so ahead of your next performance review. Ask for guidance on what they’d like to see you accomplish and ask for their advice on how you can prepare to advance. This isn’t always an easy thing to ask, so consider when would be an optimal time to have the conversation. Schedule a meeting and give your manager a heads up that you want to talk about your career so they can come to the conversation prepared.

Whether you have a great boss or a bad one, their feedback is crucial as long as you, or they, remain at the company. Take time to listen and absorb all the feedback you receive. Your manager’s perspective is pivotal in the moment, but you ultimately control your career, the opportunities you seek and how you navigate your path to the leadership role you are working toward.

In addition, I always recommend creating and cultivating networks that include people in leadership roles. They could be colleagues at your company, or they could be people in your industry who hold the positions you want to progress to. Ask their advice and their insights on how they climbed the career ladder. Getting the inside track on what worked for others will be invaluable. Ultimately, it will help you clarify the route you should consider in order to get where you want to be.

3. Do an Objective Assessment of Your Strengths and Weaknesses

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When you have a guidance from your manager and insights from people in the roles you are targeting, you can start to assess the skills you need to develop and the areas you need to improve.

Identify who the top performers are in your team and play close attention to what they do and how they do it. We all bring a variety of skill sets to a team, so take time to consider where your strengths lie and what areas you may want to focus on for improvement.

Take some time to consider your strengths and traits that support you, as well as your weaknesses and traits that can make you less effective. Be as objective as you can and consider feedback you have received from others during your career.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start with what you do best. Listing your “Distinctive Strengths” is a great way to get the ball rolling. Your “Distinctive Strengths” are the things you know that you do well, and the strengths others see in you. Next, write down your “Potential Strengths.” These are things you know you could do better, or more often, if you focused on them.

Then, turn your attention to your “Biggest Liabilities.” These are the things that you know you don’t do well and that you need to improve in order to position yourself for promotion. Remember, no one is great at everything, so I recommend focusing on the key areas that you need to develop or improve to advance to the role you are targeting.

If you base your objective assessment on feedback you’ve received from your manager, then you will already be taking positive action in the right direction. Some of these areas of development may be related to soft skills and others may be related to hard skills. Soft skills are traits that are unique to you, such as how you communicate or how you manage your time. Hard skills are competencies that you can develop through training or education, such as technical knowledge or an accreditation.

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4. Create a Professional Development Plan

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The next step is to act, by creating a professional development plan based on the self-assessment you’ve completed.

Find out if your employer offers in-house training that you can access. You could be surprised to learn what resources are already available for you to use. If your employer doesn’t offer the training you need, your manager may be open to a conversation about how you can move forward. Generally, employers are committed to investing in their employee’s professional development, so it’s always smart to share your desire and discuss the opportunities. Making a commitment to keep learning will be a valuable investment.

In addition, you should consider external avenues you can explore to accelerate your professional development. Industry associations can be a great way to find events or resources that can help you advance. In addition, ask your network for recommendations on books, podcasts or courses that cover the areas you are looking to enhance.

Finally, it’s vital to hold yourself accountable to your professional development plan. Do what you say you will do. No one else will hold accountable to your career, so you need to prioritize what you want, and commit to what it will take to get there. Set yourself goals and allocate time to take the steps you need to achieve them. Documenting your progress can be a great way of staying on track, with pre-established intervals to review your progress and consider next steps.

5. Go the Extra Mile

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While you’re busy planning for your future, don’t lose track of the present and your day-to-day responsibilities. Don’t underestimate the value you bring, even if you have been passed over for promotion. Your attitude is a key benchmark for your professional reputation and your reputation will be built on your performance at work.

Always consider this: what do you want to be known for? How do you want your coworkers to think of you? What do you want your boss to say about you when you’re not in the room? How do you want clients to feel when they interact with you?

If you want to be known as a high performer, you need to be consistent in the results you produce and how you deliver them. Be positive, be professional and be consistent. If you want to stand out, don’t just do the bare minimum. Meet deadlines, go out of your way to do more, solve problems and make a positive contribution. I promise, it won’t go unnoticed.

Being passed over for a promotion is hard, but if you can adjust your mindset, it could be a catalyst to move forwards. Remember it’s not a race. Instead of focusing on others, focus on yourself. You may decide you want to remain in your current role and work toward your promotion, or you may decide to start exploring other opportunities.

Instead of comparing yourself directly to others, take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve learned from the tough times in your career so far. These experiences are the building blocks that you will use to carve out your career as you continue to move forward.

Ultimately, you will move forward, it just may not be at the same pace or in the same manner as someone else. When you’ve decided on your next goal, channel your energy into the career you’re building. One step at a time.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been passed over for a promotion? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Octavia Goredema is a career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Talent. Find her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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