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How to deal with being overlooked for a promotion

So this happened? That really sucks. Especially if you thought you had it in the bag. Even more so if you’ve been working extra hours and putting in all that extra effort. Unfortunately this happens all the time. It’s one of those really annoying yet unavoidable parts of modern working life. Who knows why you didn’t get it. Maybe you have a suspicion. Maybe you are genuinely confused. Either way, it is a hard thing to deal with. But it’s not the end of the world! In fact, it can often be a great lesson and either push you harder or entice you to explore a different avenue. Here’s how to deal.  

Remember that life isn’t always great

Let’s get this useful cliché out of the way. Life is indeed full of disappointment — a fact most of us are intimately familiar with by the time we reach adulthood. Knowing this is how we learn to move on from failed relationships, and it’s how we can rise above a failed bid for a promotion.

Failure is a part of life, but this little piece of folksy wisdom will come in handy more often than you think. It’ll be tempting to feel sorry for yourself if that corner office goes to somebody else, but keeping things in perspective is hugely important if you want to stay focused on the road ahead.

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.

Ask how you can improve in the future

It’s tough to tell sometimes, but humans, by and large, are rational beings. You don’t make important decisions lightly, and neither do the people you work for.

In some cases, your employer may even have an explicit set of criteria laid out to help determine who’s rising to the occasion and who’s not. If they value transparency, they should have no qualms about sharing these criterion with the curious.

I’ll make it even simpler: Just come right out and ask your boss why you didn’t make the cut. See if he or she can help you put together a set of actionable, plainly stated objectives to help you reach that milestone the next time around.

Be proactive and seek 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.

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 tell 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.

Don’t burn bridges

I think the single most important thing to remember after you’ve been passed over for a promotion is to keep every door open that you possibly can. It’s not always possible to improve your situation right away, which makes it much more likely that you’ll make things worse by taking rash action.

You’re going to be tempted to lash out, get discouraged, or look at other job opportunities across town. I’m going to recommend caution. Sleep on it. Ask for advice from friends and loved ones. When you wake up tomorrow, you want to have every option on the table that you have today. And in some cases, that includes the worst-case scenario: letting go of your current job.

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.

Know when to move on

Although we’ve talked a lot about turning failure into success and making lemonade out of life’s plentiful stock of lemons, there may come a time when you’ve simply exhausted your other options. If you sense that’s going to be the case, or your employer hasn’t shown much interest in helping you prepare for the next promotion opportunity, or you have the sinking feeling that you’ve risen as far as you can go, it might be time to think about making a change.

Still, stay on good terms with your boss and the people in the office, even as you start mining your network of contacts for leads that might offer a better chance for advancement.

In other words, you sometimes reach the top of the ladder you’re on and need to look for a taller one. Changing jobs or careers is not a badge of failure, and it’s not something to dread. It’s the closing of one door and the opening of another.

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.