How to Answer, "I See That You Have Worked for Four Years without Being Promoted. Why Not?"

So you’ve been working for the same company for four years and you haven’t been promoted. You’re wondering why. Unfortunately, so are the recruiters you’re interviewing with in hopes of finding better opportunities. They’ll ask you why you haven’t been promoted, and how you answer can make a big difference. Here are some right and wrong ways to answer that question:


Wrong answers

A wrong answer is anything that sounds like an excuse:


  • "My boss doesn’t like me."
  • "The company doesn’t appreciate me."
  • "They only promote people who are friends with upper management."
  • "It’s not about what you do; it’s about who you know."

Employers hate answers that sound like excuses – and that make you sound like a victim. Fortunately, there are ways to answer this question that portray you in a positive light.


Right answers

Right answers deal with facts, not with judgment or speculation.

  • "While my title may not have changed, my responsibilities have grown a great deal…. (and then go on to provide examples)."
  • "It’s a small company, so the opportunities for promotion are limited. There just aren’t that many spots available."
  • "It’s such a great company that there’s very little turnover. That’s a good thing, but, when no one ever leaves, it limits your opportunities for advancement."
  • "I asked the same question, and I was told it was because of a dumb mistake I made when I first started with the company. I’ve learned a lot since then, and it would never happen again, but first impressions can be hard to overcome."
  • "Our succession planning is very structured. Promotions are planned years in advance, and there are few opportunities for newcomers."
  • "There’s a lot of exceptional talent at my company. While I’ve made significant contributions, so have other people. It’s one of the drawbacks of working for a company known for attracting the ’best and brightest’."
  • "I’m really not sure why I haven’t been promoted. I’ve asked for specific feedback, but I haven’t received any. That’s one of the main reasons I’m looking into other opportunities. I can’t improve on my weaknesses if I don’t know what they are.”
  • "I was actually offered a promotion, but it would have taken me away from what I love to do. I chose to stick with my passion, which is why I’m interested in the position with your company."
  • "It’s a very flat organization. Employees are encouraged to focus on increasing their core competencies rather than pursuing changes in title."


Here’s the key: Never, ever say anything that makes it sound like you’re making excuses (such as, “My boss is jealous and has bad-mouthed me to everyone). Making excuses is a death knell when it comes to interviews. A good answer is based on facts, not excuses: You acknowledge that you haven’t been promoted, and accept a portion of the responsibility. The good thing about being accountable is that it gives you the opportunity to fix the problem. It’s far better to be seen as proactive and in charge of your own career path than it is to be seen as a victim of unfair tactics. Nobody wants to hire a victim.


Photo credit: flickr via David Blackwell, 2006

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