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Turned down for a promotion - what do I do now?
February 8, 2010 6:11 AM   Subscribe

My boss strongly and repeatedly encouraged me to apply for a promotion, then gave the job to one of my coworkers. What do I do now? If I try to find another job how do I explain why I am looking?

A few weeks after our department manager left, the department director asked me if I was going to apply for the manager position. I hadn't planned to apply (I didn't think I was qualified), but the director told me she thought I would be a great fit and would bring a lot of valuable skills and talents to the position. She also mentioned that other leaders in the organization that had worked with me thought I was a good choice for the promotion.

I thought about it and continued to discuss it with her over the next few weeks (always receiving strong encouragement), and then applied for the position. She never promised the position to me, but made it clear that I was her preferred candidate for the position.

The selection process involved three interviews with various groups over a couple of months. After the "team" interview with my colleagues, the director shared that my colleagues preferred the other coworker. Her discussions with me about the manager position shifted from "you'll be fantastic" to "the team is looking for a more relational leader." The more "relational" coworker was selected for the position.

I feel blindsided and taken advantage of in this process. I have taken on several high-profile, large projects since our manager left, and I feel that all my hard work and good reputation in the organization have not been recognized. The director is telling me there will be other opportunities to move into a leadership role, and that I should just keep working hard and good things will happen. But there really isn't anything else in sight right now.

What is the best way to handle this disappointment? I have been careful to be professional and gracious, but I am really angry and hurt. Moving into a leadership position is an important part of my career goals. I like my current job, but I don't want to keep working like crazy (nights, weekends) in the hope that "something" will come up eventually. What can I do to make this situation as good as possible for me? Should I just be making an escape plan?

Bonus question: If I do apply for other jobs, how should I explain why I am looking? I have been in this job a year (the coworker who was selected has worked here 10 months). Before that I was in a job that was way too simple for my background and education, and I got out in 5 months. The rest of my work history is pretty stable - 4 years each at 2 different places.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The selection didn't say who was qualified for the position, but who was most qualified. They decided in the process that someone brought something to the table that would be of benefit, and that person did it better than you did.

There's no reason to take this as a slight, or to look elsewhere. Someday, you'll be on the other side of the deal.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:26 AM on February 8, 2010


It's totally legitimate to feel disappointed, but it really doesn't sound like you've been "taken advantage of." This may have awakened in you a sense that you're capable of bigger things, and it's fine to pursue such bigger things wherever they might be available to you. I think it's a mistake to frame this in an 'I got screwed / this is so wrong' sort of way.
posted by jon1270 at 6:32 AM on February 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


It sounds to me like your director wanted you, but was out voted in one way or another. That is probably of small comfort.

The explanation I would use when applying elsewhere is that the job itself was fine, but it lacked room for growth. I'm not sure I'd kill myself for this legendary something that might come up, but don't burn any bridges.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:32 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was in a similar situation once, having all but been promised the promotion. Six years later, I am in a much higher paid position with more responsibility at another place while the person who got the job I thought I wanted still slogs through each day. Everything happens for a reason.
posted by tamitang at 6:38 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't let the director off the hook so easily. She was likely obliged to have a open promotion process and could have scammed you into applying in order to be the credible competition who validated the choice to promote the other person.

I am also with Tamitang - things work out for a reason, and I can't imagine how dysfunctional an organization would be that permits subordinates to choose their managers (at all, really, but especially on the grounds of who is "relational".)
posted by MattD at 6:44 AM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't want to keep working like crazy (nights, weekends) in the hope that "something" will come up eventually.

In my experience, working for carrots (promises of promotions, etc., with nothing concrete and in writing) never really works. Or rather, never works for the worker, but works tremendously well for the company. I recommend not working like crazy; instead, do work industriously but only during normal work hours.
posted by Houstonian at 6:45 AM on February 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


I have been in the department director's position before. In some settings (such as governmental) where promising a job to someone is verboten, one of the ways a manager can let people know that they are being groomed for leadership is by suggesting they apply for certain positions (even though they may not get the job.) You should treat this as the department director sitting you down and saying, "I see a great future for you here in a leadership position. However, you need to work on your relational style. Once you get that tweaked a bit, you can go far." Take the advice to heart, get to know the other people who participated in the "team" interview so that you can maybe solicit advice on your leadership style and groom yourself for future success. Others see the potential in you even if you don't.
posted by eleslie at 6:48 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been in both those spots before - yours and your director's. Based on my experience of having been NOT chosen in the end, I never suggest more than once or twice that a person apply to a competition. I tell them that they have something to offer. I tell them that a lot depends on who else has applied. I tell them that at the very least, they will have a chance to sell themselves to a number of other senior people who may not have had a chance to see them in action. If you had three interviews, I'm guessing that the rest of interview panel now has their eye on you for whatever comes up next. And just because you don't see anything on the horizon just now, doesn't mean that there isn't something.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:14 AM on February 8, 2010


What eleslie said is pretty much what I was going to suggest; my experience is in HR and what she said has often the case in scenarios similar to yours.
posted by _paegan_ at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2010


I don't want to keep working like crazy (nights, weekends) in the hope that "something" will come up eventually.

In my experience, working for carrots (promises of promotions, etc., with nothing concrete and in writing) never really works. Or rather, never works for the worker, but works tremendously well for the company.


Seconded. Consider this - if you're working all this extra time hoping it will get you promoted, what do you envision happening after a promotion? You suddenly step back to 40 hours a week? Further, are you promoted out of doing any or all of those tasks at that point? If so, who steps in and starts doing those 60 hours of work a week?

Your boss may or may not have been blowing sunshine up your pantleg; I'd suggest you schedule a meeting with him to talk about the experience and your future job goals. There's nothing wrong with that; if this person was really your advocate then he likely has some worthwhile insights to add about what your strong and weak points are. If he's not, well, he's still your boss and his opinions and insights are pertinent. Demonstrating to him that you're still motivated and interested in self-improvement is a good career tactic and perhaps it can turn into some company-sponsored training.

I'd also take some time to think to yourself what you really want in your career. You hadn't thought you were qualified for this position - why? Your boss said he thought you were qualified in other ways, either ones where you didn't agree or didn't see. Why? What are they?

It's okay to be disappointed, but if you really are happy in the company where you work and you have someone who believes in you that's pretty important. Leverage that. And I reiterate, at the risk of being tiresome, that you think about how you can get feedback from this man who advocated for you. At worst you make yourself look motivated. At best perhaps this person becomes a mentor for you.
posted by phearlez at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously none of us can say for sure, how they actually selected the final candidate.

I can say however, I have seen situations where the decision was made in advance - the decider(s) have already arrived at a particular person. However, procedures state that more than one candidate must be considered.

Perhaps that's what happened here - they needed, for procedure's sake, to consider several candidates rather than coronate the actual candidate.

I have difficulty believing that the boss would let his underlings make a decision for him, IF he had already in advance, felt a particular course of action was clearly the best.

I feel blindsided and taken advantage of in this process. I have taken on several high-profile, large projects since our manager left, and I feel that all my hard work and good reputation in the organization have not been recognized. The director is telling me there will be other opportunities to move into a leadership role, and that I should just keep working hard and good things will happen. But there really isn't anything else in sight right now.

What is the best way to handle this disappointment?


Tell the director you've been working hard, you've given (and continue to give) extra effort, and you were expecting the promotion. Say that, in lieu of not getting the promotion, you feel unappreciated. Ask bluntly but professionally, for compensation for this extra effort you are giving.

If asked, 'what do you have in mind', state you want a raise in salary. If asked, 'how much' you can say that the salary of the management position you failed to get, is a good guideline for generally what you were thinking. And let him work with that.

If he can't do anything for you, the next move is yours. But don't necessarily automatically quit - if you tough it out further, you may very well shame this boss into giving you the compensation and recognition you seek. I've seen it happen.

If you really are a key employee, as seems to be the case, he'll want to take care of you if he's smart. It's in his own self-interest...

The director is telling me there will be other opportunities to move into a leadership role, and that I should just keep working hard and good things will happen. But there really isn't anything else in sight right now.

"Your qualifications are interesting but right now we have no positions suitable for a person with your experience. We will nevertheless keep your resume on file for 6 months. In the event a suitable position arises we will contact you. We thank you for your interest."

FTFY.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 9:04 AM on February 8, 2010


Don't overthink this, or take it to a place of emotion. Your director favored you and wanted you in the race, but the decision was not theirs alone to make. Happens all the time. Take encouragement from the fact that your director thinks highly of you and other opportunities will likely present with someone like that in your corner.
posted by Billegible at 9:55 AM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would go back to your manager and ask if she can help you with specific feedback or direction that will help you grow into the type of manager they are looking for. Tell her that you were disappointed but (as you said above) moving into a leadership position is an important part of your career goals, that you appreciated her endorsement, and would like to make sure that when the next opportunity comes around, that you are ready for it. Be calm and measured about it, as friendly and pleasant as you can be. Most people don't ask for feedback. Most people don't want it. Asking for feedback will show that you are serious about advancement and improvement.

And then hold your breath and do not react to the feedback that you get. Write it all down. I would advise you to just listen and write it all down and then go away and think about it for a few days, and then come back in a week or two with your questions. The reason I suggest this is that if you start asking questions at that moment, you will sound defensive (even if you're not), and this will prevent your manager from offering any other feedback that might be CRITICAL for further development.

Moving to another job will not do any of that for you. Asking for compensation for the extra time you put in won't do that either.
posted by micawber at 10:12 AM on February 8, 2010


I was in your position before. My boss told me to take it as experience and exposure as a potential leader. She knew that I would probably not get the job this time around, but wanted me to go through the process to put me on a list of "usual suspects" considered for future promotions.

Now, don't miss the opportunity in this. Go back and get some coaching feedback. Ask what, within the bounds of confidentiality, counted for you and against you in the deliberations? Or what factors were the differentiators in the selection? What could you most do to improve your chances next time?
posted by cross_impact at 10:26 AM on February 8, 2010


You said yourself that you weren't even going to apply for the job, until your manager talked to you. Yet now you feel gypped that someone else got it? In a short period of time you have switched from not believing you even have a shot, to having feelings that you were the only person who had a shot.

I don't bring this up to highlight the inconsistency, but rather to show how malleable emotional states and status can be. Were you on the verge of quitting for something else before this interview came up? If not, perhaps reconsider.

Also, do yourself a favour and stop working nights and weekends. Man, no wonder why there's some resentment about work building up - that'll do it every time.
posted by smoke at 3:01 PM on February 8, 2010


If you're still keen for the job, offer to be stand-in manager if your co-worker is off sick or on leave... that will offer another opportunity to prove yourself as the next in line. I know it's not the same but it will keep you in the eyes of management.
posted by indienial at 3:47 AM on February 9, 2010


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