What to Do After You Don't Get a Promotion

stressed employee
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What’s the best way to handle a situation where you apply for a promotion, and you don’t land that new job? It’s not easy to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, regardless of whether you formally interview for a position or simply inquire during a conversation with your manager. It’s terrific if you get it, but what happens if you’re passed over and your request is declined? 

Being passed over for a promotion—particularly when you feel like you deserved it, or if someone you believe is less qualified receives one—can be demoralizing and discouraging. 

Note:

One thing to keep in mind is that this decision isn’t necessarily personal or a reflection of the level of work you’re doing for the company. Sometimes, decisions are the result of budget limitations, office politics, staffing levels, or other factors. 

It’s a gutsy, ambitious move to ask for a promotion—and although it’s not always the case, you may find yourself rewarded with valuable feedback and new opportunities that will ultimately further your career. 

6 Things to Do After You Don’t Get Promoted

Here are six things to do after you ask for, but do not receive, a promotion: 

1. Let Yourself Feel Your Feelings

If you need some time to wallow and complain, that’s understandable. Your feelings are legitimate, and totally justifiable. Being passed over for a promotion is disappointing. And, if you had to interview for a position, it’s also time-consuming. 

Give yourself some time to process all of your emotions. Tell a friend, perhaps, and let that person buy you a drink and listen to your story. 

2. Assess Your Own Request for a Promotion  

You may also want to think through what's behind your feelings, whatever they may be. Would this promotion have been your dream job, or just a better title? Or is your disappointment due to not getting a salary bump or positive feedback? 

 Self-assessment can help you think through your next steps:

  • If you’re happy with the type of work you’re doing, but want more money, it may make more sense for you to switch companies. 
  • If the promotion would have required you to have new, different skills that you want to develop, you might look for ways to add those skills to your toolbox. 

Finally, try to look at the situation from an outsider’s point of view. Did you deserve the promotion? If you’re doing the work that’s in your current job description—but aren’t going above and beyond—it may make sense why you didn’t get promoted. And, if you asked in an entitled way and did not provide a solid case for why you merit a promotion, that might be a clue as to why you did not get it. 

3. Be Professional at Work

If you want to complain, cry, or whine, do it with your friends and family. At work, and in conversations with your manager, do your best to keep things professional. 

If you have an in-person conversation with a manager where you hear the news, be polite in response. You might want to say, "Thank you for considering me." 

Tip:

This situation has the potential to be awkward for everyone, and your graceful response will be appreciated.

4. Request Feedback From Your Manager

In the days following the news, try to reach out to your manager or other higher-ups involved in the decision to see if they can offer feedback about why you didn’t get the promotion. Find out what you can do to make yourself eligible for one in the future. 

It’s possible that you’ll just receive unhelpful platitudes in response. Often, people are uncomfortable sharing critiques. But, it’s also possible you’ll get actionable insight. Maybe you’re missing a core skill that you can get through taking a class or volunteering for a new project. Or perhaps your work in one particular area needs improvement. 

Tip:

If you find that the feedback is vague, you may try asking specific questions, such as, “Is there a specific skill you’d like me to work on?”

5. Resist the Urge to Make Comparisons

If you don’t get the promotion and a colleague does, it can be particularly hard to cope. Resist urges to make comparisons to others around you. This won’t get you any closer to a promotion and will make you seem petty if you bring it up to your manager. 

6. Plan Your Career Strategy

Do you get the sense that a promotion might be in the cards for you at a future date, or does it seem more likely that you’ll always be passed over at this company? If it’s the latter, it might make sense to refresh your resume and begin a job search

Even if it’s the former, you might want to establish a time frame for making changes that will make a promotion more likely, then set a date for when you want to meet with your manager again and make the request.