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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Realistic Way to Bounce Back When You're Passed Over for a Promotion

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Being passed over for a promotion that you really wanted stings. Your first reaction may be to hit the job boards and start shooting your resume over to friends, hatching a plan to get out of there as soon as you can. But just because you suffered this (major) setback doesn’t mean you need to jump ship.

Nearly everyone has been overlooked for a job they deserved, and many have come back stronger and more successful. These four steps will help you get over the rejection you’re facing so you can continue kicking butt at your job:

1. Redirect Your Negative Emotions

If you don’t feel at least a bit emotional after losing out on a promotion, then you have better composure than most. But for many of us, that moment can be tough to swallow, and it’s perfectly normal to feel flustered.

Although you might be fuming, it’s important that you take a step back from the situation and give yourself the opportunity to cool off before doing anything else. You certainly wouldn’t want to lose control and torpedo the professional reputation you’ve strived so hard to build before you’ve had to the chance to gather all the facts.

A couple years ago, I was passed over for a promotion when—in my mind—I should have been a shoe-in. I was so infuriated that I just wanted to walk out and never come back, but after grabbing drinks with my friends and venting out that frustration, I realized that giving up and leaving the company wasn’t what I wanted. I came back into the office the next week with a renewed focus and intensity, eager to not let this setback distract or damage my performance.

2. Be Proactive and Seek Direct Feedback

After checking those feelings of anger and hurt at the door, it’s time to take control and transform a negative experience into a potentially positive learning opportunity. There’s no need to play detective by slyly dropping hints to co-workers to get the scoop on what happened; the professional move is to go straight to the source and ask your boss.

You’re likely to get some insight into the areas you can improve upon, as well as how leadership decisions are made at your company. Plus, you might gain some newfound respect from your manager for your professionalism and desire to grow your career with the company.

When I missed out on that promotion, I needed concrete feedback from my boss so I could stop running the scenario over-and-over again in my head—comparing myself to the other candidates without actually knowing what my company was looking for.

3. Use it as a Learning Opportunity

Now that you have the answers, it’s time to get real with yourself. Knowing the criticism and what your bosses were looking for, do you still believe you deserved to be promoted? Was there something more that you could’ve done, or were there factors completely out of your control?

As much as we all wish promotions would go to the most talented, hardworking, and dedicated people, decades of office politics tells us that’s not always the case. But in order to determine whether the feedback you received was reliable or just some crap to cover up a nonbusiness motivated decision, you actually need to listen to it and be candid with yourself about your performance.

There’s usually some combination of factors at play when you’re passed over for a promotion. In my case, I found that there were some things going on behind-the-scenes that I wasn’t aware of, as well as discovering that there were some specific areas I could still improve to have a better shot next time.

4. Figure Out Your Next Step

Not getting promoted isn’t the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean now is the time to become complacent either.

If it wasn’t a matter of inevitable office politics, start thinking about the things you need to do to make it a reality next time and set a time frame for yourself (or your company) to make that happen. If you’ve set a reasonable timeline or feel like you’re being manipulated or taken advantage of, then it might be time to consider an exit plan.

Trust your gut, if you sought feedback and something smells fishy or doesn’t add up, then you’re probably right in considering outside options. That’s why it’s so important to go to the source to get to the bottom of it.

For me, I took the feedback to heart and worked on some areas I was lacking so that I wouldn’t be denied a second time. The same position opened up four months later, and I got it. But I also had a contingency plan in place in case I was denied the promotion a second time. I’d already thought about my next career move.

At first, getting passed over for a promotion can feel like an impossible-to-overcome roadblock in your career path. But by learning as much as you can from went wrong and staying resilient, you can turn a negative into a positive that’ll help you land the next one.