So You Didn’t Get That Cool Promotion. Now What?

It sucks to get passed over for a promotion that you really wanted. At best, the news is disheartening and at worst, devastating. Unless you have one of those amazing bosses, the follow-up conversation you have with him or her is probably not good. Bosses are people too and many of them are as uncomfortable giving bad news as you are receiving it. More often than not, you’re just left with a bruised ego and no idea what to do next. After taking a night of pity where you eat or drink to excess and then take one day of recovery, it’s time to take a hard look at yourself to see why you got passed over.

Here’s what bosses are trying to tell you in those awkward follow-up meetings:

  1. You didn’t have the technical skills for the job

One of the most common misconceptions employees have about promotion decisions is that they’re based solely on performance in their current role. While that’s certainly a consideration, success in one area doesn’t always translate to success in another. For instance, someone who excels at data entry may need additional education or training to become a data analyst, a job that requires strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The secret to getting ahead? Become familiar with the requirements of the job you want, and determine what skills you need to improve on if you’re going to succeed in it. Then, talk to your boss. Let them know you’re interested in moving up, and ask for advice on how to get there.

  1. Your soft skills aren’t up to snuff

On the other hand, you may be a whiz at the technical side of the job you wanted. Unfortunately, you might be lacking in the so-called soft skills needed, especially if you want to move into management. You need to demonstrate a mastery of soft skills. In particular, things such as conflict negotiation, diplomacy and business communication—and coming up short might very well be a deal breaker.

To develop the soft skills you need, get involved in programs that are important to management, such as becoming a mentor to new employees … volunteer to give a presentation or deliver job training … or even become more involved socially in the company. If your company is over 75 employees or more, you probably have community outreach things you can take charge of and polish the image of your company brand. Whatever you choose, it will show management you’re ready to move up.

  1. You don’t take constructive criticism or feedback well

I get it … if criticism is delivered correctly, it’s much easier not to get defensive. Unfortunately, many people need work on THEIR soft skills and make feedback sound like a personal attack. But remember—feedback is not always a bad thing. Is it possible that your boss has some valid points? She’s telling you how to improve your performance—and this is good information to have when you’re gunning for a promotion.

When you receive feedback, whether in your review or in the hallway, resist the urge to defend yourself. Try to take it in and see what you can learn from it, instead. And, by all means ask questions if you don’t understand what she is telling you.

  1. You lack professionalism

It’s not unreasonable to expect that, as you move up the career ladder, you’ll begin to conduct yourself more professionally—and not just when the boss is looking. From an inability to maintain confidentiality to participation in office gossip—unprofessionalism is often identified by executives as the most difficult challenge for employees to overcome.

This may seem obvious, but how you behave in the company of co-workers is just as important, if not more so, as how you behave around management. For example, you can and should identify problems within your department and company, but you should not pontificate about those problems in the break room—which gives the impression that you’re looking for an audience, instead of a solution.

And for goodness sake’s, really, really, really, really, REALLY think about what you’re posting on social media. It might not hurt to go back and delete your Instagram history of that trip to Cabo last year unless you’re trying to get a job at Hawaiian Tropic or Patron tequila. I’m just sayin’ …

  1. You don’t take initiative to be a problem solver

Becoming a problem solver shows that you care—not only about your own career, but about the long-term health of the business as well. Don’t just document the problems you see, analyze the issues and find ways to get involved in developing the solutions. Collaborating with others to create positive change will identify you as a leader in your organization. Remember, anyone can drop a complaint into the suggestion box. If you’re having difficulty coming up with a solution, let your boss know that you at least tried. Often, it’s the effort bosses appreciate even when it doesn’t come with a result.

  1. You think and act like an employee and not a manager

Even if the job you wanted was not in management, promotions are often given to those that show they could become managers someday. If you’re giving them the impression you’re only showing up for a paycheck, it’s not likely that you’ll be high on their list of candidates. No … you don’t have to become a workaholic or start hanging out long past five o’clock just to be seen, but it’s a good idea to express interest in the things that happen when the meter isn’t running. Keep an eye on social media for news items about your company and, when appropriate, bring them up to your bosses. Ask them questions about what is going on. Chances are, they may not be able to tell you anything, but the fact you’re showing interest will stick in their minds.

  1. And finally, you act like you expect a promotion whether you earned one or not

In today’s workplace, tenure is no longer the primary factor in promotion decisions, and is best left out of any arguments you make on your own behalf. These days, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been there six months or six years—it’s all about your contribution.

Being passed over for a promotion doesn’t need to be the end of the world. In fact, it can be a huge learning opportunity—and sometimes, it can also be just the kick in the pants you need to get you started down the right path. So take these lessons, learn from the past, keep your spirits up and keep that promotion in your sights.

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