What to do when you’re passed over for a promotion at work

Snubbed for that promotion? This is what you should do to move forward with your career.

What to do when you’re passed over for a promotion at work

So you didn’t get the promotion, and now your job feels like it’s plateaued. You aren’t being challenged or learning any new skills, and your boss wants to keep you right where you are—at the bottom of the org chart. How can you climb the corporate ladder, if someone keeps holding you down?

It happens all the time—just look to your favorite actors and actresses during awards season, or even to the person sitting in the cubicle next to you. As a 2017 Monster poll of more than 3,000 U.S. respondents found, 61% of workers said they had been snubbed for a promotion or award at work.

So, what should you do? Stick it out and try again next year, or pack up and take your talents elsewhere? Follow these three steps to help you move on after you didn't get to move up.

Be gracious

"You have to be great and professional when this happens," says Deborah Brown-Volkman, a Long Island, New York–based career coach. Even if a much-loathed co-worker receives a promotion you'd coveted, extend congratulations. Also, offer sincere assurances that you're going to be the same team player you've always been.

Doing your best to support all of your colleagues will only help your professional reputation. A stalwart attitude will deflect any passing pity people may be tempted to feel for you.

Get answers

"When you're trying to find out what happened, first look inward," Brown-Volkman counsels her clients. "Many times people know why they didn't get a promotion."

After your emotions have settled, set up a meeting with the powers that be to discover why you didn't get the promotion.

"People don't like to tell other people the cold hard truth, so you have to give them permission to tell the truth," Brown-Volkman says. She suggests assuring your supervisor and colleagues that there won't be any consequences for being honest. "Tell them, 'this is just for me,’" she says.

Bring questions to your meeting, so you can learn how to overcome any professional shortcomings or lack of specific skills, and try to get your employer to recommend and help subsidize some professional-development courses that might improve your skills on the job. Request specific situations that made your superiors doubt your ability to handle the new position. And finally, ask for suggestions as to how you can better improve your performance.

And then, Brown-Volkman says to “start making changes.”

Make your move

After you learn why you didn't get a promotion, you may come to understand that you're not perceived as management material, and even the best in-office PR campaign would be futile. To climb to the next notch, you may need to start a job search so you can move on to a new employer.

"If you've given it your best shot, and it's going nowhere, it may be that you're just not a fit for that organization," Brown-Volkman says. "Find a place where you do fit."

Employees who have worked for only one company often face a similar predicament. Diversifying your employment experience is a plus, and Brown-Volkman says other companies will value your talents.

"People get stuck in failure," she says. "But you didn't fail. It was a learning experience."

Take the first step

Trying to get ahead in your career, but could use some help moving up the ladder? A great first step is to join Monster today. As a member, you’ll get practical career advice and job alerts for top companies emailed right to your inbox.