How to handle being overlooked for promotion

July 23, 2018

Your colleague – maybe your best work buddy – just got promoted, and you didn’t.


As well as feeling pleased for them, for some of us it’s natural to feel a pang of envy too. But don’t let this feeling get the better of you. Get jealous and it could sour an important working relationship, and lower others’ esteem of you.

It’s not all about you, even if that’s how it feels right now. Step away from the ‘It’s not fair!’ button.

What can you do instead? Reflect and learn.


How well are you doing the job you have?

Ouch. Sometimes a reality check can hurt. But it’s necessary before we explore steps you can take to get on the promotion track. Take an evening to review the job description for your current role and self-assess for each criterion. Do you ace the critical criteria for the job? Or are there areas where you fall short – or may have completely overlooked? Now I’m not saying you’ve got to be 100% all over the current job – too many of us can stay stuck thanks to that mindset – but if your shortcomings are in critical areas they’ll have to be overcome. Dig out your last appraisal / review / whatever it’s called where you work. What feedback did you get from managers, peers and direct reports? What development goals were agreed and documented? How are you progressing towards achieving them?


Were you expecting promotion? Who knew?

It’s unusual for someone to be moved up the ladder without a discussion taking place. If you’ve just been hoping your manager will look kindly on your efforts and – ta dah! – give you an elevated role, sorry but it doesn’t work like that. You need to clarify what you want, why you want it and – equally importantly – identify how your employer will benefit if they promote you. Take some time to write down your thoughts and consider them from your manager’s point of view. Then give your notes the overnight test, refine them and arrange a 1:1 conversation with your manager.


Do you really want to be promoted? Or simply recognised?

There’s a difference between wanting the next rung up and wanting your efforts to be recognised. The latter can all too often be lacking in many workplaces: ‘well, it IS their job, after all’. Recognition can take many forms: a few comments, feedback and praise, and a ‘well done’ from someone much more senior. It can also be a stretch task or new opportunity. And yes, it could be money. If what’s really bugging you is a lack of recognition, you can approach that 1:1 differently and ask for feedback on how you handled a particular task and any suggestions for how you can improve.


What’s holding you back?

You may be holding yourself back by believing you need to demonstrate all the requirements of the role you aspire to before even daring to ask about your promotion prospects. If that’s you, get hold of the job description for the role you seek and devise an action plan for discussion, showing the steps you’ll take to get closer to what’s needed. Ask for more challenging and varied tasks – and do them well. Get a mentor – whether they’re someone in your workplace or outside, such as a contact on LinkedIn or via an industry network. But don’t wait until you’re the finished article; the most valuable learning and development will take place once you’re in the role.


About the author

Dawn SillettDawn Sillett has been designing and delivering training workshops and executive coaching for over 15 years.


Author of: The Feedback Book

THE FEEDBACK BOOKMaintaining performance today is no longer simply about having an annual appraisal and telling employees “you must try harder”. Research demonstrates that regular discussions about performance and providing feedback to the people you manage is a more effective way to motivate them and keep them on track.Distilled into this single, handy-sized volume are 50 tips, advice and techniques to help any manager become quickly skilled at regularly discussing performance, setting goals and objectives and providing the necessary feedback to ensure individuals and teams thrive in the company. Structured into five key parts, each of the 50 concise chapters also contains a practical exercise to help the reader understand and implement the concepts and ideas of this book.

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