How to Respond when a Promotion Is Rejected

Have you ever applied for a promotion, but didn't get it? It can be tough, but it is possible to get through the experience with your ego intact, as well as garnering respect from others for your calm and considered attitude.


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    Calm down to begin with. While you may feel a raging torrent of anger and perhaps a sense of unfairness at being passed over "after all you've done", this won't endear you to anyone witnessing a meltdown and it won't make things easier for you. You cannot change what has happened. And while feeling disappointed is natural and expected, making it known that you're upset and devastated about missing out will make others feel uncomfortable and could reach the ears of those in a position to promote you next time, causing them to wonder if you're able to handle difficult situations. Most of all, don't sulk, behave petulantly or act as if something you were entitled to has been "stolen" away from you. All of the responses will cause others to think less of you.
    • People won't mind you saying "This is disappointing, I really wanted it." That's expected. What they will mind is hearing you complain and whine about the rejected promotion endlessly, dissecting the interview process and insisting that you were hard done by.
    • Distract yourself from harboring and focusing on negative thoughts. Indulge yourself in things you enjoy.
    • Spend time with those who love you. They'll reassure you of all your good points!
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    Assume nothing conspiratorial. You don't know the often mundane reasons behind why one person is chosen over another for a promotion; many are very close decisions based on someone else having slightly more knowledge or experience of a particular area than you may have, rather than this being about your personality traits. Assuming favoritism or lack of liking you may or may not have any basis in fact but once you start thinking in such a negative manner, you'll present a very negative attitude that can harm your future chances.
    • As much as you may not want to, try standing in the shoes of the interviewer. It isn't easy making the right choices for positions in an organization; a lot of things have to be taken into consideration. And it's even harder for an interviewer who knows you but thinks you could do with a bit more experience; they know you will be ready some time soon but not just yet and they also know that the decision will be disappointing.
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    Focus on the future. This time you didn't get what you aimed for but you can surely make things better in the future and increase your chances of getting a promotion next time. See this as a learning opportunity to help you get over the disappointment. Think back over the interview and application process. You'll know deep down where things could have been improved, where elements that could have been better were highlighted during the process. Start focusing on the things that you need to do to improve your chances and take action.
    • Believe in yourself. You have it in you and you can change the way things are. If there is any one who can make a difference to your situation it's you!
    • Tell yourself that you need to take steps so that things improve in the future and you get what you deserve. Prepare yourself for action.
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    Do a thorough analysis of all the work you did during the year. What were highlights of your performance and, in particular, focus on areas where you felt you couldn't achieve what was expected out of you. Did you have a clear list of goals you were expected to achieve? Did you have the resources, expertise and training you needed? These are all things that can be actively improved upon.
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    Request your supervisor and/or interviewer for a detailed discussion on your performance. Listen openly to what they have to say and avoid being defensive. Find out the key parameters on which your performance was judged in the interview and get your supervisor's appraisal of where you're at now. Try to know what you could have done differently so that you would have surely got promoted. Also ask your manager what you need to do in the coming year so that you do not face rejection again.
    • Be aware that perception of your performance matters, even if you feel that their perception carries no substance. If there is a perception from senior management that you're not promotion material for whatever reason, listen and learn how you can turn around that perception. You may disagree, but seek advice from various people as to what you need to do. Even asking for this impresses people and helps them to realize that you're serious about making the needed changes.
    • If you suspect you're not getting a straight answer (quite possible if the person delivering the information is worried about upsetting you or isn't comfortable expressing the real reasons), then seek out someone whom you can trust to talk to and is likely to know the reasons and what to do next, such as a mentor or another supervisor or trusted senior colleague.
    • There is no harm asking an outsider for your prospects either. Talk to recruitment agencies or specialists about your current set of skills and have them assess where they think you should be and are headed and what you need to do to improve your chances. Their neutral assessment can be very helpful and emotionally detached from your current workplace, helping you to see the issues more clearly and be more accepting on them.
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    Start preparing yourself for moving up in a more focused and directed manner. Relate your talent, ability and interest with what is expected out of you for promotion in this role. Are there any additional skills you need to acquire in order to excel in your role? If yes, then immediately take steps to get these skills. Often these can be acquired at company expense, in company time, so see this as a great opportunity.
    • Start working with a clear focus on what you have to achieve.
    • Keep taking regular feedback from your supervisor. Be an active listener and even when you feel defensive, stop yourself from back chat and focus on doing what is needed to overcome the weaker areas of your skills.
    • Don't be afraid to ask for advice from coworkers and others at work. People are generally willing to share their insights about skill improvement from their own experience, provided you ask nicely.
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    Keep highlighting your good work. Make sure those above you and those who decide on your promotion know that you are working hard and you are effective in what you do. Talk to people who make a difference and let them know how keen you are to keep improving, so that they know you are serious about moving up.
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    Be true to yourself. If striving harder to get higher turns out not to be the rosy picture you'd painted, you have a great opportunity now to start reassessing your direction. If you do try hard to change your skill set and attitude but feel that what is required to get promoted in your current role is not what interests you or what you can do, then it may be time to try to find a job which suits you better, or even to be contented within the role you have now. There is also no harm in asking for expanded duties within a current role without having to go for a promotion. Keep all of your options open.


  • Is promotion right for you? If you're fixated on getting promoted just because it seems to be the done thing or is a way of "proving yourself", then your priorities are skewed. You must want promotion for such reasons as taking on a more challenging role, being able to make broader use of your skill set and being ready to guide people underneath you to bring out their best skills (in other words, a focus on others, not yourself).
  • Sometimes a situation is toxic to certain types of personalities. Being passed over may mean you would be happier doing similar work for another outfit. Consider that and look into it.
  • It is not uncommon to think others will notice right along that you are the reason things are going well; that you are accomplishing good things on behalf of the organization and are having daily successes. Generally, they won't unless you give them opportunities to see it. There is an art to making people aware of your achievements without bragging. Having people sit down with you at appropriate times to share and review progress and ask their advice can not only be helpful, but let peers and management see your work. If it is notable they will note it.
  • Often complacency lies at the heart of not getting something you dearly want. It may seem "a dead cert", only to have that over-confidence cause you to relax too much and to not do the work needed to achieve the goal. Seriously question whether you put in the effort to get the promotion or if you were actually quite complacent and relied simply on being where you are at the time and feeling entitled to move up.


  • There are times when a promotional opportunity is rigged. That's a fact of life in some places. In such a case, where this clear to you and where a brick wall against ascending is well and truly cemented before you, you may want to think about moving out rather than moving up. Polish your resume, start looking elsewhere and be open to new opportunities. However, don't use this as a tactic to "get back" at your current workplace when you're not promoted; this is really only a response where it's clear that your time at the current workplace has come to an end, judged within a broader context.
  • Avoid being snarky, mean or dismissive of the person who did get the promotion. That will increase the perception that the right decision was made and will likely backfire on you. Be considerate and graceful. It is best to befriend them (if you haven't already) and learn what you can from them.
  • Resentment and entitlement can be spotted a mile away. These attitudes gnaw away at a person and embitter them, causing them to assume the worst, badmouth others and become a defensive victim. Don't go down this path; it's your life, do the best by yourself.

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