How to React When You've Been Turned Down for a Promotion — Plus, 4 Steps to Take Next Time

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Connie Chaffins117
May 26, 2024 at 3:13AM UTC

So, it’s happened. You put yourself out there, took a risk, and went for that big new job you've been dreaming about. And you weren't selected. Rejection of any kind, even at work can be deeply painful and make you question your value to the firm, or maybe even your value as an employee, a leader, or a co-worker. Rest assured that all of these feelings are perfectly normal, and a range of reactions are likely. You may challenge the process (the interview was too difficult), the selected candidate (everyone knows she is the favorite), or your standing with your advocates (my boss said she had my back, but did she?). 

When faced with these emotions, it's necessary to take a few moments alone or with a trusted friend to work through the immediate sting, but equally important to remember that your very best opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, your ability to grow and even your value is happening right now.

Make no mistake; the days and weeks after being turned down for your dream job, you are under a bit of a microscope. Those who know that you landed on the ‘no’ list are looking for your reaction, and - fair or not - they are making an assessment of your ability to process, pivot and rebound. So, it will be critical that your public reaction represents your best, most promotable self. Be thoughtful about your posture and your presence. Continue to deliver on the expectations of your role, and present yourself as nothing less than happy for the selected candidate and ready to get back to your current role. You may not really be feeling that way, I get it. But even a small amount of resentment or bitterness can damage your chance of promotion way more than the temporary setback of not being selected for one opportunity.

Once the shock begins to subside and you are ready to dust off your plans for world domination, these 4 simple steps will move you into the next phase of your journey. They aren't easy, but I promise they are totally worth the effort. 

1. Ask for feedback. 

Schedule time with the interviewer and/or any relevant decision makers to ask for feedback on your interview and your overall quality as a candidate. Ask for specific feedback on your responses and/or preparation. Ask about any gaps in your experience or education that impacted the decision. 

2. Have a meaningful meeting with your immediate leader.

Ask directly about your brand, how others perceive you, and any performance gaps you need to close. (Yes, all of these are things that our leaders should share with us proactively and regularly, but when that doesn't happen you will benefit from driving the conversation)

3. Talk to the selected candidate.

You might be thinking- Now you’ve gone too far! But you can gain an understanding of your competition without necessarily revealing that you were in the race. Asking them how they prepared for the opportunity, what skills they are using most in the new role and what advice they might give to someone who’s preparing for more responsibility can provide you with a gold mine of wisdom that can be applied to next steps. 

4. Do the work!

Hearing candid feedback is NOT easy. Don’t let your discomfort go to waste. If you want to do more in your organization, put in the work. Even if your exploration only netted a few small nuggets of actionable feedback, focus on those.  Improve your skill sets, get that extra degree, build your brand, or practice your best interview answers with a trusted friend or mentor

I've hired hundreds of people in my career, and for every yes there are several nos. The difference between the successful candidate and the 2nd and 3rd choices is often incredibly minor. Don’t let a small nuance or gap in experience hold you back. Small adjustments or investments in yourself will help you get to that yes and land the job you've been dreaming of!

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Connie is an operations leader for Verizon with a strong foundation in customer service leadership. She is experienced in customer journey work, go-to-channel strategy and field operations support and execution. She has led teams of all sizes for 25+ years and her heart has always been in coaching for improved performance and engagement. She loves leading teams to new heights of momentum and productivity and invests time mentoring emerging leaders. Connie lives in the Nashville area, is a mom to 3 amazing kids, and loves reading, gardening and cooking. When not working, you can find her with friends and family on the lake in Maine.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for coming back stronger after being turned down from a promotion? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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