When you are passed up for a promotion

You’ve worked long hours, lead a successful team, innovated new processes, and still, you can’t seem to nab the promotion you’ve sought. It feels frustrating, perhaps even maddening, to not receive the recognition and opportunity you believe you deserve. It’s important to remember that just because one decision is made, it doesn’t mean the end of the road, and it doesn’t mean management isn’t keeping their eye on you. Bosses like to see how potential leaders handle adversity and setbacks. Will you pout and bad-mouth others, or will you accept the situation and grow from it?

Take for example the ceiling-breaking story of former Miami Marlins General Manager Kim Ng, the first female General Manager in Major League Baseball, who led the Marlins to only their fourth playoff birth in franchise history. For 30 years, Ng worked her way up the baseball ranks, serving three times as an Assistant GM. She has three World Series rings, and interviewed for five GM jobs—with the L.A. Dodgers, the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angela and San Francisco Giants—and was turned down each time. She’s known as a brilliant negotiator and evaluator. After working with some of Major League Baseball’s top GMs, not to mention serving as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB, Ng finally got the opportunity she wanted when Hall of Famer Derek Jeter named her the next GM of the Miami Marlins. One of her mentors, former Dodgers GM Dan Evans, said, “She’s been one of the most qualified people for that role for 15 years.” Despite deep disappointment, she continued to persevere, and now she is one of only 30 people in the world to hold her job.

So when you face your own disappointment, it’s not the time to turn sour and give up. It’s time to dig in and try harder. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  1. Don’t allow frustration, anger, or disappointment to get the best of you—or at least don’t show it in public

    Yes, this is easier said than done. Even though your emotions are understandably raw, your boss doesn’t need to see them. The last thing you want your colleagues—especially management—to see is you acting out of control.

  2. Acting gracious will go a long way, as will channeling your emotions into renewed focus

    Even if the colleague you can’t stand gets the promotion you coveted, extend congratulations. Your willingness to move past previous disagreements for the sake of being a team player won’t go unnoticed by your boss. Using your disappointment as fuel for renewed focus, drive and determination will lead to creativity and innovation on your part.


  3. Seek direct feedback

    Once you’re in the right frame of mind, set up a time to talk to your boss. You’ll gain valuable feedback, and your boss might gain some newfound respect for the straightforward, professional manner in which you’re moving forward.


  4. At the meeting

    Bring questions and be open to honest feedback. Ask for advice on overcoming professional shortcomings—real or perceived. If there are specific skills they want you to have, this is your chance to ask for additional training or professional development courses you can attend. Overall, this is your chance to ask for suggestions on how to improve your overall performance—an opportunity to hear from your boss precisely what they are looking for in a person they want to promote.


  5. Use it as a learning opportunity

    It’s important to remember that this isn’t failure, it’s a stumbling block. It can be overcome. It also requires honest self-reflection of your own actions. Are there things you could have done differently or more efficiently? Could you have communicated more effectively? Sometimes, the other candidate is simply more qualified, and has more experience, skill or talent. That means you have the chance to develop into that kind of candidate as well. Even if that isn’t the case, you still have the chance to become the kind of employee your boss simply can’t overlook  next time.


  6. Figure out your next step

    A setback is a great time to reflect on the direction you’re headed professionally. You can honestly assess what’s working and what isn’t. Start thinking about what you really want, and figure out steps to make that a reality.


Judy Smith advises Presidents, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, and was even the real-life inspiration for Scandal’s Olivia Pope. In other words, when it comes to solving problems large and small, she’s the best. She can help you face—and overcome—the toughest challenges in your professional and personal life, so you can unleash your full potential.

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