Interview Questions About Not Being Promoted at Work

job interview
••• Peopleimages / E+ / Getty Images

Prospective employers will carefully review your employment history as they evaluate your application for a job. They may wonder why your current employer hasn't promoted you, especially if you’ve applied for a higher-level job than your current position. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s important to know how to answer questions about not being promoted at work.

At your interview, they will be trying to determine your strengths and weaknesses, and how they will affect your ability to do the job. You may be asked many different questions about yourself, requiring you to reflect on what kind of an employee you are. If it appears you were passed over for promotion, you should spend some time thinking through how best to address questions about not being promoted at your last company.

How to Answer Questions About Not Being Promoted at Your Previous Job

How can you present your background and job experience to an interviewer and convince them that you are now ready to take on a leadership position with their organization? Read on for tips and best answers.

Here are some tips for handling these types of questions:

  • As you prepare for your interview, it’s a good idea to make a list of the preferred and required credentials listed in the job posting.
  • One by one, go through and come up with examples of how your experiences meet or exceed the requirements of the position.
  • Be prepared to show how projects you have worked on, training you have received, and experience you have gained will allow you to excel at your desired job.
  • Make sure you research the company and review interview questions you might be asked, as well as questions to ask your interviewer

The more prepared you are, the more confident and self-assured you will appear at the interview. These are two of the key traits they will be looking for in candidates to fill higher level positions.

Best Answers to Lack of Promotion Questions

It’s fine to share any logical reasons why you didn't advance with your interviewer. For example, maybe long-tenured, well-respected colleagues occupied the only positions you were eligible to be promoted to, or perhaps budget cuts put promotions on hold. Those don’t have much to do with your qualifications.

In other cases, however, you may have lacked the skills or credentials required by your current employer to get promoted. It is a legitimate reason for not being promoted, and if the same qualifications are not required or preferred by your target employer, it shouldn’t hurt your chances of getting hired.

For example, perhaps your prior employer required a master's degree for the next level position, and a master's degree is not a key qualification for your target job. It’s possible that your years of experience have given you more in real life applications, which will allow you to bring a more grounded perspective to the position.

Also, don’t forget to mention anything you’ve done to improve yourself. If you have recently completed a degree or some other type of training which upgrades your skills or credentials, then you should mention that as a reason why you are now better positioned for a higher-level job.

Mention Responsibilities and Projects

Another approach is to mention any added responsibilities that your employer has granted you in your current role. These responsibilities may indicate that you’re ready for leadership roles.

For example, perhaps you were named project manager or team leader for a major project or asked to join an advisory committee on a key organizational issue. You may have been asked to mentor or train junior staff and excelled in that role. These types of experiences show you’re ready to move up to a higher position.

Also, whenever possible, get recommendations from past or current supervisors affirming that you were worthy of promotion and would likely have advanced if resources or open positions were available. References can also be tapped to assert that you can handle a higher-level job and why they believe this to be true.

Don't Criticize the Company

Whatever approach you take, be sure not to criticize your supervisors or management. Fair or not, prospective employers will tend to side with your past employers and may consider you a complainer. Make sure that your comments are positive, or at least neutral, regardless of the circumstances at your current or previous company.

Don’t Feel Bad – You’re Not Alone

Many times, even if you are doing a spectacular job, you will end up being passed over at promotion time. It may have absolutely nothing to do with your qualifications and may simply be company policy to hire management externally.

Sometimes the best way to get a promotion in the current business climate is to change companies. Hiring managers are aware of that, and as long as you can make a believable case for your qualifications, you should have a fair chance to ace the interview and get the job.