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What to Do if Bypassed for a Promotion on the Job

by Jill Leviticus

Learning you’ve been passed over for a promotion can be difficult to process. You might feel you’re more qualified than the person who got the job and don’t understand how you lost the promotion. A careful analysis of the situation will help you identify ways to improve your chances for the next opportunity.

Stay Calm

No matter how angry or disappointed you are, it’s important to stay calm at work. Vent to your friends or family members when you get home. At work, be the picture of professionalism. Angrily denouncing the company or the person who made the decision will likely give you a reputation as a sore loser unable to handle your emotions. Unfortunately, that reputation just might be the first thing people remember when your name comes up for the next promotion.

Ask Why

Talk to the decision maker and find out why you didn’t get the promotion. You’re more likely to get a response if you don’t put him on the defensive. Tell him you’d like to know what factors contributed to the decision and what skills you need to improve. Listen to what he says and don’t argue if you disagree with his assessment. You won’t change anything by arguing, and your reaction might be regarded as unprofessional. If the person gives you a vague answer or won’t discuss the subject, ask other people, both at your level and above, what they think will make you more promotable.

Make Changes

After you get feedback, start improving your skills. Take appropriate classes, even if you have to pay for them yourself, and volunteer to work on projects that allow you to use your new skills. If the decision maker said he doesn’t think you are aggressive enough or a self-starter, propose new ideas and offer to head projects, even if you know you’ll face challenges in accomplishing them. Keep your visibility high. Volunteer for committees and projects that allow you to interact with management. Don’t be afraid to let your boss and others know about your accomplishments.

Find a New Job

In some cases, you might have to leave your current company to get ahead. If you don’t think you’ll ever get promoted, no matter how much you improve your skills, the only option is to look for a job that will make you happy. Bloomberg Businessweek magazine cautions about making this decision hastily and recommends that you wait to see if the person who got the job is successful before you find another job. If she turns out to be the wrong person for the job, you might be promoted when she leaves.

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