You've Been Passed Over for Promotion, Now What?

You've been passed over for the promotion you believe you deserved. You are in a spin. You want to go and tell your boss what you think of her or him. However, now is a best spent in reflection and evaluating your goals. This article sets out a plan of action to turn the setback into a net gain, leading to better things in the future.

By Ramon Greenwood


You sincerely believe you are the best qualified among the candidates for the promotion to manager of your department. You believe you deserve it. Your friends agree.

But, wham! The rug has been pulled out from under you. The position you would have given an eyetooth for goes to someone else. Your ego is trampled underfoot. You are mad and disappointed. You want to march in, tell the boss where to go and leave the place.

But hold on. Apply a little common sense before you go off the deep end. You've still got your job and this is a good time to consider where you want to go with your career. Force your chin up. Congratulate the winner right away. This will be painful, but it will actually help you regain your balance. Moreover, it will strengthen your position as a team player.

This is a dangerous time for you. Simmer awhile before you act. Brood and grieve a little in private if it makes you feel better. Reject bitterness – it's poison. Look beyond your ego. Sure, your feelings have been bruised. No need to be ashamed of that.

But, really, has all of this been damaging to your long-term career goals?

Time to Be Objective

Your greatest need at this moment is to understand the “why” behind the situation. Start with a discussion with your boss. Remember, you are there to gain information, not to argue your case. Don’t beat around the bush. Admit you are sorely disappointed. Assure your boss you are not bitter or resentful. Pledge one hundred percent allegiance to the team. Admit, however, that you are concerned about what has happened and what it may mean for your future.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself

Focus on the critical questions about what happened and why. Has your past performance and your preparation for the next step been at least up to par? Are you as qualified or better than the competitors? What might you have done to improve your chances to win a promotion?

Did you miss some signals from your boss, telling you to improve your performance? Were there any bona-fide indicators saying that you were a candidate for promotion? Or have you been engaged in wishful thinking?

What qualification did you not have? Will there be other chances to win promotions? What can you do to improve your qualifications for advancement?

You must listen as you have never listened before to both what is said as well as what is implied between the lines. Be aware that you will be strongly inclined to hear the best side of the story. And don’t forget, it is the most natural thing in the world for the boss to try to soften the message. Besides, if you have been doing an adequate job in your present slot he will want to keep you around. Or he may simply be testing you for a bigger assignment.

Now you are ready to get to the bottom-line. Review all the facts. Do you agree with what you learned from your review with the boss? Have you been treated fairly? Were there legitimate reasons you were passed over?

Do you care enough to take the necessary action to win the next time? Do you have a reasonably secure future in the organisation? Can you be happy where you are? What are the acceptable alternatives? Do you want to find a more rewarding situation elsewhere?

Being passed over may be a blessing: although if it is, it appears to be quite well disguised. You have an opportunity to gain a more realistic view of where you are, where you want to go and what you have to do to get there. Or you may conclude you are satisfied with your present position, so you can relax with more time to smell the roses.

Ramon Greenwood, senior career counsellor for common sense at work, is a former senior vice president of American Express. To subscribe to his free semi-monthly newsletter and blog please go to

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