Bouncing Back and Learning From a Missed Promotion

Missed a promotion you thought you deserved? Here’s what to do about it.

August 19, 2010
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Getting passed over for a promotion may not be as serious as some career setbacks, such as being laid off, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. Most accounting professionals envision their careers on a steadily advancing, upward trajectory. When a coveted promotion that you felt you deserved is awarded to someone else, it’s natural to feel disappointed. It may even seem that your career has been knocked off course.

But by keeping things in perspective and taking appropriate action, you can regain a feeling of control and confidence. The key is to develop a strategy that enables you to cope, revise your course accordingly and move on with renewed enthusiasm.

Allow Time to Process Your Feelings

After missing out on a promotion, it’s common to feel a sense of rejection or defeat. You may also feel embarrassed or ashamed of your “failure.” Rather than isolate yourself, reach out to members of your professional network, such as former colleagues and mentors. It’s likely they’ve undergone a similar experience in the past and could offer their support and advice for overcoming negative feelings.

Another normal reaction is the urge to lash out against your manager or the employee who did get the promotion. Rest assured, this would be a disastrous move. Resist the urge to complain to your coworkers. If you need to vent, speak to a trusted family member or friend when you’re not in the office.

Objectively Assess the Setback

After you’ve recovered from the initial disappointment, consider all of the factors that may have influenced the promotion decision. For example, the other candidate might have experience you’re unaware of, making him or her more qualified for the role. Or perhaps your manager did not know that you had expected to be considered for the promotion. Perhaps there are other considerations you don’t know about; for example, the other employee may have been promised the role long ago.
Find Out the Facts

Request a meeting with your boss (or the person responsible for granting the promotion) to ask for a frank explanation of the decision. In doing so, however, make absolutely certain that you approach your request and the meeting itself with objectivity, working to avoid any perception that you are being defensive or confrontational about the decision. This is a good time to leave your emotions at home. Some questions to ask: How close was I to receiving the promotion? What were the deciding factors? What could I do to improve my chances of being selected for a promotion in the future?

You may gain useful insights from the conversation about your job performance and how others at the firm perceive you. On the other hand, it’s possible that your supervisor's explanation will be arbitrary or too vague (e.g., “It just seemed like a better fit.”). If that’s the case, it usually means there are factors beyond your control that determined the decision.
Plan Your Next Steps

Use the feedback you receive from the conversation to re-assess your strengths and shortcomings. If you were passed over because you lacked a key skill for the position, for example, develop a strategy for growing professionally. This may include additional training or certification, working with a career coach or requesting more challenging assignments that require you to stretch your talents.

It’s also possible your accounting and technical skills are up-to-date, but your people management skills are underdeveloped. Build these skills by asking your manager if you could mentor more junior staff members, lead a project team or help train staff on the firm’s new accounting software.

Aim for the broadest range of skills possible so that you become more versatile and valuable to the firm. By concentrating on building your skills, you’ll also gain a sense of purpose and fresh energy. The most damaging aspect of a missed promotion is that it can drain you of enthusiasm for your work. You can combat this feeling by looking toward the future instead of dwelling on the past.

In addition, you need to look at your broader career goals. Again, take into account the likelihood that you will be a candidate for promotions in the future. If you intend to stay with your current firm, work with your manager to ensure that the next time a promotion arises, you're first in line for it. Set performance benchmarks and goals to meet and get your boss’s input about ways you can strengthen your prospects.

On the other hand, this experience may make you suspect that you will not be able to achieve your long-term career goals at your current firm. If that’s the case, it may be time to seek employment elsewhere rather than waiting and hoping for a promotion that may never come.

Taking action immediately to get back on track after a missed promotion turns the setback into a learning opportunity. You may find that what seems like a step backwards is, in fact, a catalyst that helps you move ahead. It could serve as a wake-up call that pushes you to seek new challenges and break old habits that have been holding you back. This will ensure you emerge from the experience with a clearer sense of your professional goals, as well as how to achieve them.

For more career tips, follow Robert Half Finance & Accounting on Twitter at @RobertHalfFA.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.roberthalffinance.com.