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You surpassed all your targets, volunteered for extra projects, and even took a leadership class along the way. So you thought that promotion would be yours.

Except it wasn’t.

Many people have been passed over for a promotion they thought they deserved.

Here’s how to move forward when you weren’t chosen to move up:

1. Take a Deep Breath

Getting passed over for a promotion is a bitter pill to swallow. Unless you’re a robot, it’s going to hurt — that’s natural. And it can take awhile to get over the shock, rejection, and humiliation you’re feeling. The rationale they give you won’t matter; you will still feel likeyou weren’t wanted or respected.

It’s ok to vent about it with someone you trust – just make sure it’s someone who’s far removed from your job. Making it known to everyone that you’re devastated will cause others to feel uncomfortable and could reach the ears of those in a position to promote you the next time, causing them to wonder if you’re able to handle difficult situations.

Most of all, don’t sulk, whine, or act as if something you were entitled to has been “stolen” away from you. Do something to take care of yourself – whether it’s a spa retreat, dinner with friends, or long walk in the park – to give you the boost you need to bounce back.

2. Be Gracious to the Person that Got It

Even if a much-loathed coworker got the promotion you’d been hoping for, extend your congratulations. Also, offer sincere assurances that you’re going to be the same team player you’ve always been.

Inform your coworkers that you didn’t get the promotion and say that you’re looking forward to working with the person who got it. There’s nothing to be gained by moping around the office or being short with your peers. Doing your best to support the new boss will only help your professional reputation.

3. Try to Get Some Answers

Once your emotions have settled, schedule a meeting with the decision maker, who may or may not be your direct supervisor. Instead of asking why you didn’t get the promotion (which can put the other person in defensive mode), ask what it will it take to get promoted in the future.

Request specific examples that made your superiors doubt your ability to handle the new position. You’re looking for feedback you can grow from, and you don’t want to come across as if you’re questioning their decision. Of course, you are, but you’re doing it diplomatically, and that makes all the difference. Ask if your company would be willing to subsidize a leadership development program that might improve your performance.

I’ve written before about how promotion decisions are made.  A lot of the criteria is subjective – how strong your relationships are, how visible you are, and perceptions of your potential. These standards can vary by company (and even by department). You need to understand what matters to the people involved in your decision. Ask your boss and your mentors what the priorities of the company are. Do not assume which clients, which types of projects, or which results will get the most attention.

4. Start Making Changes

Use this setback as a chance for personal and professional growth. Do some soul-searching. Many times when people start to look inward, they have some clues about why they weren’t promoted. Think back over the interview process. You’ll know deep down where things could have been improved, where elements could have been better highlighted during the process. Start focusing on the things that you need to do to improve your chances and take action.

This time you didn’t get what you aimed for but you can make things better in the future and increase your chances of getting a promotion next time.  If there is a perception from senior management that you’re not promotion material, for whatever reason, actively listen and learn how you can turn around that perception. You may disagree, but seek advice from a variety of people as to what you need to do to change. Even the process of asking for feedback impresses people and helps them realize that you’re serious about making the needed changes.

There is no harm asking an outsider (such as a leadership coach) for feedback as well. Talk to recruitment agencies or executive coaches about your current set of skills and have them assess what you need to do to improve your chance for promotion in the future. Their neutral assessment can be very helpful and emotionally detached from your current workplace, helping you to see the issues more clearly.


If you would like to learn how to confidently position yourself for a promotioncheck out this coaching intensive.  

The training is specifically designed for those that are ready to develop their leadership skills, but just aren’t sure what they should do differently or what it takes to prepare for the next level. Most people don’t realize which behaviors they need to change until it’s too late. And doing one wrong thing repeatedly can undermine your credibility and sabotage your career.

In the coaching intensive, you’ll discover how to:

  • make 4 specific transitions, or shifts, needed to succeed at higher levels of leadership
  • raise your awareness to eliminate self-defeating patterns of behavior
  • communicate with confidence
  • maintain your composure when things go wrong at work
  • create an optimistic and inspiring vision that moves people forward
  • build trust with a stronger, more supportive network of sponsors and mentors
  • increase your leadership agility so you can adapt your behavior to fit new job requirements


Dr. Stefani Yorges

I am a psychologist and professional leadership coach. I partner with people who want to rise to their full potential so they can have an increasingly greater impact on others.

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