What to do When You Don't Get the Promotion: Strategies for Moving Forward

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You just got the news: you didn’t get the promotion. You’re disappointed. You’re upset. In fact, you’re pretty pissed off and even a bit humiliated. You put in the work and time but for one reason or another you didn’t get it. So, what now?

Go Through It

First, acknowledge the disappointment. You’re emotional response is valid so give yourself the proper time to deal with it. Eat the pint of ice cream. Watch the sappy comfort movie (mine is Blindside). Call your best friend and talk it out. Getting all the hurt feelings – because it does hurt - has to happen for you to look at the situation with a clear mind.

If you feel like you are going through it, you are. Go through it and let yourself have a pity party. 

What happened? Reflecting on the Promotion Decision

Now, with a clear head you can look at what happened. If you got any feedback on why you didn’t get the promotion you were after, take stock. Is any of what they said true? Say, you were told that they want you to have more managerial experience before moving up to director and you’ve only been in your Manager position for a year, they might be right. Or they went with your colleague who participates more in conference events and does more networking. Whatever it was, ask yourself if there is any validity to what they said. If there is, take note of the skills that you can work on so that you can move up the chain of command the next time around. Ask the questions to be sure you understand what the expectations really look like. “If I had the managerial experience to achieve the promotion what would be different? Where are the gaps?”

Work on Your Skills

If you decide to work on the skills they told you to work on, check if your company will fund you getting extra training, taking courses or get certification. What ways can you improve on your skills and also show your effort and results? Determine if you need skills, a mentor or something else. Get help determining how to get there. Ask people that you know who are there how they got it.

If their feedback has no merit, and you really believe that they are not appreciating what you bring to the table, it could be time to work on your “bragging” skills or to consider leaving. I will write about how you learn to make sure your manager knows how incredible you are without you feeling you are boasting. That is a for another blog.  Until then you can ask yourself, were there other signs of being undervalued at your organization; are you underpaid, doing the job of multiple people (most people are today),  does the organization you are in align with your long term goals? If you are not being recognized or your unique skillset isn’t appreciated where you are at, does it make sense for you to start looking elsewhere? If the answer is yes, then you should start making an exit plan.

The Exit Strategy

After deciding that you’re not being adequately recognized at your company and want out, you need to craft an exit strategy that has you landing softly – preferably in a better position with an organization that really values you. Sure, part of you may be tempted to storm out and book a three week vacation to Maui (wouldn’t blame you if you did, but maybe not the safest career move)… or you may be tempted to just keep your head down, build up resentment slowly and quiet quit while still receiving your paycheck (wouldn’t recommend it – you’re so much better than that!).
Check in with your values first. What don’t you like about where you are and what is the opposite of that? Determine what position fits those values and make a list of companies that you’d like to work at as well. Then, research people that are working in positions that you would like to be in (obviously, not their position). Reach out and try to set up an informational interview.

An Informational Interview is a great way to research for the role you’re looking for all while networking for it too. You can reach out to people already in your network if you’ve been working on that already, or reach out directly to people on LinkedIn with a thoughtful and polite message. It can be a zoom meeting or if they’re in your city, offer to buy them coffee.  The interview is really about them, so have questions ready to ask that will help you get an understanding of what steps you need to take to get the position and industry they are in. You can download my detailed guide to doing informational interviews here.

You’ll not only get great insights from these interviews, you may even talk with someone who is looking to hire, or knows somewhere with an open position. Either way, use the information and connections you've acquired to enhance your skills and qualifications. If the interviews revealed areas where you need improvement, take the necessary steps to develop those skills. Stay in touch with the people you met with and you may be able to leverage those relationships to  your benefit.

When one door closes….

At the risk of sounding corny, the old adage is true: When one door closes, another one opens. Being passed over for a promotion is not a joyful experience. Take it as a signal to reevaluate your goals and your current skills. If you see areas where you can improve, work on yourself. If you think that it is time to move on to another organization, do the research. Stock up on knowledge, take action and get the support and insight from professionals who have gotten to where you want to go and you will inevitably get there.


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