How to Deal with Being Passed over for a Promotion

Reframe your disappointment as an opportunity.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

What to do when passed over for a promotion

The announcement for a promotion has been made and you’re 100% certain that it’s your turn to move up the career ladder. You come into work every day on time, complete all your duties and get to leave on the clock too — it means you’re more than capable right? Wrong! Doing the bare minimum is not what’s going to get you a promotion — those are your duties and the reason you get paid. To get a promotion, you must go above and beyond what’s expected of you.

To spin it around and make sure your name is cemented on the promotion, read the steps below to learn how to react, how to cope with the decision, and how to move on from a passed promotion. We’ll also explain why you might have been passed over and how to successfully bag a future promotion.

Reasons you may have been passed over

If the manager in charge didn’t really offer you much constructive feedback, here are a few things to consider. If something rings true, then you’ll know where you could have gone wrong.

1. You lack the skills necessary for the job

It may be as simple as this. Some roles are just not suited for you, and although you may have thought that you were a perfect fit, the reality is that you’re not. Become familiar with each and every requirement of the job, and check to see if you have the skills or can obtain them to move up in your organization.

2. Your leadership skills are non-existent

Not everyone is a born leader, and this may be a vital reason why you were overlooked for this promotion. You must focus on understanding what it takes to be a strong leader within your company — look at the traits that your managers possess and learn how to inherit these skills too.

3. You don’t think or act like a boss

It’s obvious to all that you turn up to work just to receive your paycheck at the end of the month. You’re the last to arrive and the first to leave; although you may think it’s great that you can accomplish your tasks in this time, it’s not a reason for a promotion. You need to show that you’re dedicated and hard-working and that you’re interested in the progression of not just yourself but also the company as a whole.

4. You’re a negative Nancy

Take a minute and think about whether you’re the person that’s always complaining about working hours, your supervisor, the fact that the coffee is the “cheap stuff” or that you always have such a big workload. If this is you, then you haven’t unfairly been passed over. A leader must have a positive attitude and inspire people to be in that company; if you don’t, then you need to adjust it.

5. You lack initiative

Although you spot the problems, you don’t come up with solutions. How would you be able to help your coworkers and find solutions to their problems? You need to start analyzing the task and find steps and actions you can take to resolve it.

6. You’re out of sight, out of mind

Does your second-line manager know who you are? How often have you presented something in a meeting that included upper management? If you’re not visible, you’re not going to be preferred when your superiors have to decide who to promote. That’s because if they don’t know who you are, you certainly aren’t going to be high on their list. I’m not telling you to boast, but start being more proactive in front of management; you could volunteer to assist with the next office party or offer to do the next presentation.

7. Your soft skills aren’t up to par

Soft skills include being an effective communicator, strong team player, reliable, and having motivation. Although you may be the best at your job, you may lack these vital skills in being a likeable team leader.

8. You’re the office gossip

You know the latest scoop on all your coworkers and aren’t shy about sharing it with your trusted circle. You’re that person that has a cheeky chat in the corridor and is always out socializing on their lunch break. Although socializing with coworkers is great, there must be boundaries when it comes to office politics. How would you be trusted with confidential information when you spill the beans in a daily coffee catch up?

9. You get defensive when you receive constructive feedback

Nobody likes being criticized, but to improve, you need constructive pointers on your performance. If you get defensive or angry when a supervisor gives you tips on how to better your work, it's a sign that you’re not mature enough for more responsibility.

10. You lack passion and drive

To be a good leader and get a promotion, you must be passionate about your job and company. Have you ever come across a manager who doesn’t sing the organization’s praises? Management is looking for the desire to encourage others and succeed in increasing future results. If they saw that passion in your coworker that has been there less time than you, this may be why.

How to react

While it’s absolutely fine to feel a little gutted by being unsuccessful, it’s best to remain calm when you’re told the news. Don’t go slamming doors and smashing keys into your keyboard, as this will only come across as immature (making the manager realize they made the right choice). Accept the news with grace and take a deep breath. Make sure to thank your manager for the opportunity, and then take a little time to process.

Once you’ve had time to accept the news, take a little time to self-reflect and think about what might have happened for them to decide someone else is more suited. Make sure to ask for some feedback and consider what they say carefully.

Once you understand where you could have gone wrong, it’s time to create a plan of action so you don’t feel deflated for too long. This should allow you to react positively, as you’ll feel like you’ve learned something and know the direction to head in to be successful next time. When you’ve moved on and your plan is in place, make sure you focus on your wins and not just your failures. It’s easy to get bogged down with your failures, when each day there will be something that you did “right” that’s worth noting.

How to cope

Learning to cope when we’ve failed at something is a skill in itself. Here are a few things to do to keep you motivated as you move on from the situation.

1. Don’t quit

You’re probably feeling hurt and rejected and your head is telling you to quit: “Why should I stay here if I’m not appreciated?!” I understand the feeling, but don’t quit on an impulse (especially when you don’t have another job lined up).

2. Keep your emotions in check

However angry and frustrated you may be don’t, let it show! Complete the rest of your day with the same dignity you had before you found out the horrible news. Make sure you come across as mature and accepting of the decision. You don’t want to be the person creating a scene by frantically bashing the keys on your keyboard and slamming files on the desk now, do you?

3. Choose who you vent to wisely

In an emotional state, we tend to say things we later regret. Don’t go and vent to anyone in your team, because chances are your moaning will get back to your boss by the end of the day. Make sure you vent to someone you can trust — preferably someone outside of your organization.

4. Host a pity party

Any excuse for a party, right? What better way to pick yourself up when you’re feeling down! Call your besties and arrange a night out on the town to get yourself back into a good mood, or arrange to go on a shopping spree. Susan Whitcomb, the president of Career Coach Academy recommends “doing something right away to take care of yourself, whether it's a spa retreat, yoga class or long walk in the park. If you have the time, your favorite activity might give you the momentum to bounce back”.

5. Ask why

Although this is obvious, many employees back away from asking the decisionmaker why they did not get the promotion. To move forward, you must first figure out what your mistakes are so you can improve. You’ll come away with a stronger understanding of how leadership operates and can decide if you would comfortably fit into that culture.

6. Let go of disappointment

Accepting is different than letting go. To move on, you must do both. You cannot change the past, so why dwell on it? This promotion was not right for you, or it may not be the right time in your life. Perhaps something better is around the corner? Count your blessings, learn from the experience, and grow as a person.

How to move on from a passed promotion

Now that you have an idea where you might have gone wrong, it’s time to figure out how to move on from a passed promotion. Here are a few tips to help you through it.

1. Treat it as a learning curve

How you handle rejection is really important in your career growth. Use this experience to find out what skills need improving and use it as an opportunity to grow.

2. Set a plan for progression

As we mentioned earlier, the best way to respond to being passed over for a promotion is to set a plan for progression. Sit down with your boss and share your passion for advancement, and ask for their advice on how you can proceed. As referenced on the Business Insider, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they need… Seeking a promotion demonstrates a person’s ambition, loyalty, and commitment to the organization.”

3. Don’t burn any bridges

It’s important when you’ve been passed over for a promotion to keep your door open. You may not be able to improve your situation right now, but you could prove yourself in the future. Even if you are looking for another job, don’t slack on the current one.

4. Be proactive

Once you have a clear understanding of what to do in order to be considered for the next promotion, you can start proactively working towards it. If you need training or experience, put in a request for it and ask to shadow someone in a higher position during your quiet period. Another good way is to keep records of your achievements and a copy of your action plan so that you have proof of the steps you have taken to achieve a larger role.

5. Identify what job you really want and ask for a salary raise

Maybe you applied for the promotion just to get a higher salary? Reflect to see if the job was actually what you wanted, or if it was just a higher paycheck. If it’s the latter and you know you’re extremely good at your current position and have proof of why you deserve a raise, then follow the right steps to ask for a pay rise in your current job role.

Final thoughts

Being passed over for a promotion isn’t a nice feeling — we totally get it. However, the best way to work through it is to think of the future and analyze how you can improve to land the promotion next time. Look at the company structure as it stands, and figure out how to get to where you want to be. What opportunities could arise in the near future? What steps do you need to take to get there? Will the company support you in further training that could be required? Work all of this out while things are still fresh in your mind, and then move on.

If, after doing this, you feel there aren’t going to be the opportunities to advance that you’d like, then it’s worth looking around to find another organization that can help you get to the career level you want to be at. After all, we only live once, so reach out and grab what you want (and work hard to get there!).

Have you been passed over for a recent promotion? We want to know how you dealt with it and what steps you took to progress. Drop us a comment below.


Originally published on October 10, 2017. Updated by Hayley Ramsey.