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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Ask an Honest HR Professional: Why Did My Less-Experienced Co-worker Get Promoted Over Me?

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Dear HR Professional,

I've been at my company for over two years, and while things are good for the most part, there’s one issue bothering me. One of my colleagues (different boss, but same team) just got promoted and he hasn't even been here a year!

I believe I work just as hard as him, yet my boss hasn't even mentioned next steps for me. It doesn't seem like we're being judged by the same standards and I hate to sound whiny, but it just feels unfair. What should I do?

Feeling Slighted

Dear Feeling Slighted,

It’s such a disheartening feeling to know that you were passed over for a promotion, especially when it feels like there’s unfair treatment. The good news: This is an opportunity to have an honest career growth discussion with your manager—one in which you can clarify how your performance will be measured and then set goals for the future.

Here’s a simple script you can use to start that conversation:

“Hi [Manager Name], I would love to work together to set some goals for how I can grow and progress in my career. I would really like to [goal] and I’d like your thoughts on what I’ll need to get there. Can we set some time to discuss in our next meeting?”

Before you meet though, make sure you reflect on where you are right now and where you want to go. It’s important to think about only you and your performance. This is your career growth conversation, not your co-worker’s. As hard as it is, you’ll have to remove him from the conversation entirely.

To reflect on your performance, ask yourself the following:

  • What contributions have you made?
  • What are your major accomplishments?
  • What areas do you need to improve in?
  • Have you grown in those areas?

And to think about the future, ask yourself the following:

  • What does your ideal role look like?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What have you enjoyed working on the most?
  • What would you give up, if you could?

From there, you can work backwards and see if there are any skills or experiences you would need first in order to get to where you want to be. In discussing with your manager, he or she should be able to articulate any gaps in performance and areas where you’d need to grow.

I recommend setting goals with your manager that you can track over time (and then actually tracking them together).

Everyone progresses differently and there are multiple factors taken into account when making promotion decisions—not just length of time at a company. So while it seems unfair, there may be clear rationale as to why your co-worker was promoted. Try to avoid assumptions and comparisons with others and instead focus on creating your own plan with your boss.

And if after those frank conversations, you still feel there’s unfair treatment, you can always reach out to your internal HR department to share your concerns or think about if this company is the right place to grow your career.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Honest HR Professional in the subject line.

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