Didn’t get promoted? You can bounce back

Take these steps to steer your career in a promising direction.

Didn’t get promoted? You can bounce back

Shake it off and focus on your professional development.

Your boss calls you into his office, where you eagerly expect to be told that the promotion you’ve been working toward will finally be yours. Except you didn’t get promoted. Something about how it wasn’t your time, but keep up the good work. Um, what gives?

You thought for sure you were a shoe-in, and you can’t help but feel that you were passed over for that promotion. You’re understandably hurt, but after you shake that off, what you do next is going to have a big impact on your career future. Here’s what career experts say you should do to bounce back.

Step 1: Give yourself time to grieve

Your emotions might be running wild, from anger to sadness to envy, and you need to process it all without judging yourself, says Brenda Stanton, vice president of Keystone Partners, a career-management and executive-coaching firm in Burlington, Massachusetts. “Grab a notebook, journal or laptop and take inventory of all the ways you feel: resentful, passed over, slighted, unappreciated, misunderstood,” she says. 

Just as important, don’t beat yourself up. “Acknowledge for yourself that there are circumstances that are beyond your control that went into management’s decision-making process,” says Alexandra Phillips, founder of Alexandra Phillips Consulting, a New York-based business-coaching and consulting firm. “This may give you a little headspace to get yourself in the right place to ask your boss for a post-mortem on the selection process.”

Shifting your mindset from negative to positive can also help you move forward. When that promotion you eagerly anticipated doesn't happen in the way you expected, it’s often a learning opportunity in disguise—if you choose to look at it this way,” says Stanton. Perhaps it might provide a wake-up call that there is more that you can be doing for your professional development, or that maybe you need to find a better career fit.

Step 2: Talk to your boss

After you’ve had some time to decompress and self-reflect, it’s time to get to the heart of why things didn’t go your way. The best way to do that is to ask for a sit down with your boss. “During this conversation, it's critical to be in listening mode versus defensive mode,” says Stanton. By choosing to listen carefully to absorb any feedback you’re hearing, you can discover things about yourself that wouldn’t be possible if your emotions were still running wild. 

Adopting a non-defensive attitude will also illustrate that you are able to pivot well after experiencing a perceived failure or misstep. “Listening closely to feedback from your boss and understanding why he/she made another choice provides objectivity, allowing you to see where you may need to grow and evolve to experience the up-level you want,” says Stanton. 

As for the conversation itself, start by taking the high road. “Thank him or her for the opportunity to be considered for the promotion,” says Phillips. Then you can acknowledge your disappointment and quickly move past it—“this is not the time to campaign for the job you did not get,” she adds.

Remember, your end goal is to get some closure, but it’s also to find out how you might best position yourself for the next promotion that comes along.  Ask your boss for help creating a plan to get promoted in the near future. “Then you truly are working jointly toward your professional development and creating a pathway to a future promotion,” Phillips says.

Your new game plan may include action items that address any shortcomings you might have: adding new skills

  • increasing industry knowledge
  • being more assertive when collaborating
  • getting involved in new projects
  • setting (and shattering) some short- and long-term goals

In other words, take the feedback you get and run with it.

Step 3: Look for other job opportunities

Ultimately, if after going through this entire process you still feel like you were passed over because of office politics, you may want to consider making a job change. “Knowing how to be humble and open to feedback is an invaluable tool to have in your career toolkit,” says Stanton, “but so is knowing your worth and value and all that you have to offer to any employer.” Being your own career advocate requires that you’re making yourself and your career a priority, she adds. 

Another reason to leave is if your boss is not at all receptive to a conversation about your missed promotion, or does not want to engage with you in creating a development plan for the next possible opportunity to get promoted, says Phillips. In that case, you may want to consider moving on. “If you want to continue your professional growth,” says Phillips, “it’s necessary for you to be part of a working environment that actively promotes your professional development.”

Could you use some help taking the first step? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. When you end up landing a new position elsewhere, not getting that old promotion might prove to be the best thing that happened to your career. “You may find it pushed you to evaluate where you are and where you want to go,” says Stanton, “and your new employer may be thanking their lucky stars that you decided to move on.”