What To Do When You Are Passed Over For Promotion

Image Credit: Figures by ed_davad (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Figures by ed_davad (Pixabay.com)

Years of work have led to the big moment. Waiting for the promotion email! Yet, sometimes the promotion simply doesn’t happen. It’s a frustrating experience that many of us have experienced. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • No Partnership. Consulting, accounting and law firms are often organized as partnerships. Receiving a promotion to partner means greater responsibility, the requirement to land new clients and often a significant income increase. However, partnership decisions are driven by a number of factors including several outside of your control such as changes to firm strategy or buy-in requirements.
  • No Promotion to Management. In companies, governments and other organizations, landing your first manager position is a major career milestone. The organization grants you additional authority and expects you to contribute at a higher level. Unfortunately, sometimes your quality is not understood and appreciated by the organization.
  • No C-Suite Promotion. Making the leap to the executive level is a major turning point. The high risk decisions executives make mean that organizations often use elaborate procedures to govern executive promotion. If you didn’t make it to the corner office, there are plenty of reasons for that to happen.

Why You Did Not Receive The Promotion

Before you start working on improvement strategies, it makes sense to spend some time understanding what was behind the decision. In many cases, you will probably not receive a direct answer. Hiring managers and committees are often reluctant to answer directly due to the fear of lawsuits. In 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported over three hundred lawsuits were filed in American federal courts. Right or wrong, there is a perception that providing feedback regarding hiring (or promotion) decisions increases the chance of a lawsuit. Given that situation, you will need to gather information and make an educated guess.

  • Soft Skills. The higher you rise in an organization, soft skills become highly important. For example, do you know how to run an effective meeting?
  • Hard Skills. In some roles, specific hard skills are absolutely a requirement. For example, many jobs at the Government of Canada require a person to be fluent in English and French. In other roles, you may be required to know a specific methodology (e.g. Agile) or programming language.
  • Poor Performance During Interviews. Your performance and attitude during the interview is important. That’s why I purchased the Interview Series from Manager Tools. If you are an internal candidate, all the usual interviewing rules apply.
  • Not Meeting Unspoken Norms. Some organizations have conventions needed for promotion. For example, many companies effectively require senior managers and executives to earn a MBA degree from a highly ranked university in order to be promoted. In a global organization, senior managers may be expected to have at least one successful international assignment.
  • Not Meeting Time on Job Requirements. If you have only been in your job for a few months, seeking a promotion is not a wise idea. As a general rule of thumb, you will need to spend 12-24 months in a job before you seek promotion.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, the above factors are often at play in promotion decisions. If any of those problems sound familiar,  you’re in luck. We’re going to cover how to solve some of those problems in the next section of this article.

Preparing For The Next Round of Promotions

Getting ready for promotion after you have been passed over once is a daunting situation to be in. There are several approaches you can take to move your career ahead following such a disappointment. For the best results, experiment with multiple strategies as your time and resources permit.

Evaluate Your Prospects At The Organization

Some organizations offer better opportunities than others. Did you know that there are companies that are rapidly hiring new people and taking on more customers? Rapid growth companies offer excellent potential for promotion. The INC 5,000 List is a great resource – many of the companies have annual revenue growth over 100%. If your organization is in decline – cutting staff, seeing reduced revenue – you may still choose to stay. In that case, keep in mind you may have to wait a long time for another opportunity to come up.

Discover The Unwritten Rules of Promotion

As Jim Rohn said, “success leaves clues.” That principle applies to promotions and hiring decisions. If you are seeking a promotion to program manager, find people who are in that job today. Searching your company’s intranet or employee directory is one way to find these people. You can also use Linkedin Advanced Search. When you meet with these people, ask them how they got their current job. In my experience, most people are happy to share their experience.

Develop More Skills

Your skills make it possible for you to achieve in the work place. If lack of skills are holding you back, you are living in the golden age of learning. The main challenge is to decide where to apply your learning energy first. If you are seeking a project management job, then I suggest studying for the PMP (here are my lessons learned in studying for the PMP certification). If you are focused on going for a management job, then you will probably want to focus your efforts on interpersonal skills, leadership and related points.

If you’re looking for a variety of ideas for learning, start with this guide: 51 Training Resources For Project Managers.

Explore Exit Opportunities

At a certain point, promotion may not be a viable strategy. You could be stuck in a job (or “job family”) with no significant advancement potential. Or you may simply be looking for new challenges. If you are seeking to break out to new opportunities, look for ways to translate your skills to new roles. Mergers and Inquisitions, an outstanding career website for bankers, frequently explores the question of exit opportunities for bankers. If you’re planning for a radical shift in career, expect to struggle longer to meet success.

Question & Action:

What positive actions have you taken after learning that you did not obtain the promotion of your dreams?

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