10 things to do if you’re passed over for promotion

So you didn’t get the promotion. Despite all your best efforts, and obvious suitability for the role, your manager or employer gave it to someone else instead.

What do you do now?

It’s normal to feel frustrated, betrayed and even angry if you missed out on a promotion you were hoping for. Especially if you think you’re the best person for the role, or you were given indications it was going to be yours.

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But once you’ve got over your initial disappointment, what next?

10 things to do if you’re passed over for promotion

To help ensure your name is at the top of the list the next time an opportunity comes up, here are 10 things to do when you’re passed over for a promotion.

1) Vent to someone outside the company

Before you start plotting your comeback from your disappointment, you need to get it out of your system and process it properly.

So call a good friend, relative or even ex-colleague and explain what has happened and how you feel about it.

Sometimes just talking about a situation can take some of the raw emotion from it, and enable us to start being more philosophical. And speaking with someone who knows you well but is distanced from the situation gives you an objective sounding board.

It’s not a good idea to turn to your current colleagues for this, especially if you are in, or aspire to be in, a leadership position. You want to maintain a professional air at work, and venting your frustrations won’t help.

2) Hold yourself back from making a knee-jerk decision

It’s very tempting, when you’ve been delivered a bitterly disappointing blow, to respond with a knee-jerk reaction. Like resigning from your role.

But try to hold yourself back.

You’ve probably spent many months or even years building your reputation at work. If you leave now without a fight, you’ll just be starting from scratch somewhere else.

So, don’t give in to your emotions. Wait for your initial disappointment to wear off, then consider your position with a calmer, more rational mind. Your situation might not be as grim or hopeless as it feels right now.

3) Be grateful

It might feel hard to believe at the moment, but even if you were passed over for the promotion of your dreams, there is always a silver lining. And once you’ve calmed down, you can look for it.

Sometimes we can get so hung up on something we want, we don’t really assess whether it’s what we need. So see if you can reframe your rejection as something positive by identifying an upside to remaining where you are.

Some things you may consider include:

  • Enjoyment – would you have enjoyed your new role, and the people you would have been working with as much as your current one?
  • Hours – would your promotion have meant working longer or less flexible hours? Sometimes work-life balance is more valuable than a higher salary.
  • Stress – there’s often a big learning curve with a new position, and it can be stressful as you get the hang of it.
  • Aptitude – you may love, and be good at the role you do now, but would your promotion have included the same skills? Sometimes by moving up the ladder, we do less of what we love and more admin!
  • Timing – is now really the perfect time to make a change? It may be that later on would suit you more.
  • Responsibility – would your promotion have meant taking on greater responsibility, including managing more people? And if so, do you genuinely have the capacity for it?
  • Reasons – were you going for a promotion for the right reasons? Did you genuinely believe the role was perfect for you (and you it) or did you apply because you thought you had to, or wanted more money or status?

Being put in the position you are in can also bring other unexpected benefits. You may, for example, question whether you want to remain working for someone else altogether, and instead investigate pursuing a long-held freelance or business dream.

Sometimes it’s only when we’re put in uncomfortable positions that we have the courage to make big changes in our lives. This could be your moment!

(If you struggle to find a silver lining, or wonder at the point of doing so, we highly recommend watching Dan Gilbert’s TED talk The surprising science of happiness.)

4) Talk to your boss

Once you have accepted the decision, ask your manager or employer if you can speak to them about it.

Ask them what their reasons for passing you over for the promotion were, and what you would need to do, or acquire, to be considered for the role in future.

Not only will this give you an explanation as to what happened, clear guidance on what you can do to secure the promotion in future, and a realistic appraisal of whether it’s likely to be offered to you, but it shows your manager that you are enthusiastic and willing to do what it takes to succeed in your role.

They’re also more likely to bear you in mind the next time an appropriate opportunity comes up.

5) Be proactive

Once you have an idea of what your manager expects to see from you to be considered for promotion, you can start proactively working towards it.

If you need training or experience, put requests in for it through work, or look for opportunities to gain it yourself outside work.

Keep records of your achievements and set yourself SMART goals. Make sure you are as ready as you can be the next time an opportunity for promotion presents itself.

6) Identify whether you really want this job

After assessing whether the promotion was really right for you, and learning what your employer thinks of your potential, you may want to have a good think about your present role.

Do you genuinely enjoy working for your employer, or even the industry you are in? Do you love your role – or do you suffer from the Sunday evening blues each week?

Before upping your game to fight for the next potential promotion opportunity, you need to make sure your heart is in it. And if not, you need to find out why.

Where would you like to see yourself in a year’s time? What does your ideal work day look like? How does work make you feel? What hours are you working?

Try to get a clear picture of what you’d like your work life to be, and see if it matches up to your reality now, or a potential reality within your grasp in your current company.

If not, being passed over for promotion may have done you a favour. And instead of climbing the ladder in your present organisation, you may decide to jump off it into a new opportunity altogether.

(You can read some helpful questions to assess the suitability of your current role in this article about career burnout.)

7) Ask about a salary raise

Right now your company knows they’re in a sensitive position regarding your status. And while you may not have been the best fit for the promotion they passed you over for, your loyalty is still important to them.

So now could be a good time to renegotiate your current position – starting with your salary.

But don’t just stop there. You’ve already made it clear you’d like extra responsibility. And while you may not have landed the role you wanted, there’s nothing wrong with asking if you can take on more in your current role, and even ditch parts of your job you don’t enjoy.

Or you may decide that work-life balance is the most important, and use this opportunity to negotiate a more flexible working arrangement.

8) Keep a positive attitude

Whatever strategy you decide to deploy in the wake of your disappointment, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of brooding or becoming passive aggressive.

Unless you have evidence otherwise, passing you over for promotion wasn’t a personal slight. Your company may have had excellent reasons for making the choice they did. And whether that turns out to be right or wrong, the decision is out of your hands and is made. So for now you need to accept it.

So keep positive and show your manager and colleagues that you can bounce back from disappointment and continue to work at your usual high standard.

How you respond to the news could pave the way for being potentially considered for new opportunities in future – or being dismissed as not having the right attitude or team spirit.

9) Commit to your decision

If you have decided to stay with your current company, then throw yourself fully back into your role. And if you have come to the realisation that it’s time to go – start planning and taking action:

10) Don’t take it personally

If we had to leave you with one piece of advice after losing a promotion it would be this: don’t take it personally.

There are lots of reasons why you were passed over for promotion – and some of them may have been nothing to do with you (for example someone with better experience could have been in the running, or your boss might have secretly promised the role to a relative).

And even if you lost the opportunity because you weren’t right for it, that’s okay too. Maybe you don’t have enough experience right now, or you would have found it tough to manage.

Or perhaps your employer didn’t recognise or value your true potential. And if they did, that’s their shortcoming, not yours.

You can’t control your employer’s decision-making. So just focus on being the best you possibly can be at what you do. And try to influence them positively next time, or take control of the situation and make decisions that will get you where you want to be.

Marc Mendelman is a career advisor and professional writer. He wants to help people simplify their lifes by sharing his knowledge about daily hacks and online resources for students at Today’s Assistant.