The promotion I deserve went to an external candidate. How do I cope?
September 13, 2015 9:45 PM   Subscribe

After a long recruitment process, the promotion I worked so hard for, and was expecting, was offered to someone external to the organization. I didn't expect this, as I had been receiving a lot of feedback that I was doing very well from a lot of people on the interview team. Importantly, the one person I was not receiving that feedback from was the person who ultimately had the final say in the decision (the head of our organization). So, it's pretty clear that I was pretty much given a no confidence vote by the person who makes all the important decisions around here, and in whose hands my professional fate rests.

This organization is pretty important to me, and I don't have any plans (at the moment) to leave. So how do I recover from this professionally? What do I say to this person when we talk about this? What do I say to my immediate boss, who up until now I've had a good working relationship with (but who does not seem to have gone to the mat for me)? What do I say to people who are undoubtedly going to give me their opinions about this whole situation? How do I continue to give 110% to my job when I still care about it, but don't really feel very positively toward management right now?

Bonus question: I was actually always secretly conflicted about whether I even wanted the promotion or not, and there is a part of me that is somewhat relieved to not take on extra responsibility/stress/pressure... but right now that's eclipsed by what feels like betrayal. But I do not want to be like, "great, then, I'll just keep on keepin' on!" because there's no personal or professional growth in what I'm doing right now and I don't feel like that's really the right attitude either -- because I DO have ambition, and DO eventually want to climb higher here. So how do I continue trying to be great at what I do, when I can't really grow in my current role, AND I also can't just get comfortable with the status quo again, no matter how much I may secretly want to right now?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If something is right, it happens. If not, the universe has a nifty way of keeping you from it so you stay on track towards the good stuff instead. Rather than viewing this as a personal failure, maybe reframe this as dodging an unknown bullet on your way to something greater. Sounds like this experience has revealed just how deeply you want to excel beyond your current situation. Use that information to your advantage and start looking for a new job that will fulfill your need to grow, and make your current position just dust in the wind.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:52 PM on September 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

This organization is pretty important to me, and I don't have any plans (at the moment) to leave.

Consider that you may not be as important to them. If you truly feel that they have undervalued you, your best option is to start looking elsewhere.

What do I say to this person when we talk about this?

Nothing. Do your job. Be a pro. They had nothing to do with the decision.

What do I say to my immediate boss, who up until now I've had a good working relationship with (but who does not seem to have gone to the mat for me)?

Nothing. Do your job. Be a pro. Nothing you say can change the decision now.

What do I say to people who are undoubtedly going to give me their opinions about this whole situation?

Smile, nod, change the subject. It's very disappointing, life goes on. Hey what about project X? No possible good can come of you complaining to your colleagues about how you were robbed. If you need to vent, vent to your non-work friends.

How do I continue to give 110% to my job when I still care about it, but don't really feel very positively toward management right now?

It sucks that this happened. But you still have a job to do. Do your job.

Start think about your next steps, including your possible exit plan.

It is still in your self-interest to do your job well. If you are leaving, continuing to do your job well is a critical step for ensuring that you have a good reference when the time comes, and that you don't burn bridges when you depart.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:16 PM on September 13, 2015 [44 favorites]

One last point, based on your commitment to this organisation. Lots of people get promotions on their second try. Just because you didn't get this one, doesn't mean that there won't be other opportunities.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:19 PM on September 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you can't win, the next best thing is to lose with grace and dignity. Accept the situation graciously by saying (to your boss and the decision maker in particular as well as to the newbie) that you're looking forward to learning a lot from this new person when they come in. This allows you to look like the bigger person and also positions you in people's minds as this person's potential successor if they leave in future.
posted by hazyjane at 10:28 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you could potentially find an appropriate time to ask "of course, I was disappointed not to be selected. Are there any areas where I should focus my personal development so that I'll be more competitive in the future?"
posted by salvia at 10:57 PM on September 13, 2015 [29 favorites]

I think you should give yourself a few weeks to let your ego recover and then set up check ins with your boss and, if possible, the head of the org, and ask them what you can do to grow professionally within your role and what feedback they have for you on your candidacy. They may give you some useful feedback (they also may not.) How you recover from this may make a difference in the future.

I also know people for whom this happened and the external candidate wasn't sucessful and the internal person was in the role in less than a year. Good luck!
posted by vunder at 11:00 PM on September 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

To hopefully illustrate that there can indeed be light at the end of the tunnel in this type of situation, twice in the past year circumstances arose at my company where it felt like the logical step was for me to be promoted to a larger role, only to have those responsibilities taken over by the very people who could have pulled the trigger in promoting me. It felt like the ultimate vote of no confidence, so I figured I should start looking around for other opportunities since it didn't appear there was any chance of growing past my current position and I am at the point in my career where I can't afford to be stagnant.

In my case fate stepped in with the departure of some senior management folks, which finally opened the door for my role to be greatly expanded. In hindsight I'm glad I stuck around after my initial disappointments, but I still think I did the right thing by looking around just in case since you can't depend on fate always working out in your favor and it's good to have a backup plan (I definitely do not buy into the "Things happen for a reason" philosophy championed earlier in this thread). So I would definitely recommend you make sure your resume is up to date and look at other opportunities in your field just in case this is indeed a dead end role.

Without complaining about not getting the promotion, I would also highly recommend continuing to let your immediate management know that you are willing to step up to an expanded role should it be needed by the company (I definitely think being a polite, but persistent squeaky wheel helped me land my current position).
posted by The Gooch at 11:24 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know that this isn't the specific advice you're looking for right now but I think it's worth mentioning. I'd keep doing your current job, look into more opportunities within the organization, and what not. But I'd also look into expanding your life outside of work: devoting more time and energy to a favorite hobby, spending more time with friends or family, etc. It need not be permanent but will likely help you relax and refocus right now. It's such a bitter disappointment to find something you were giving 110% to did not pay off as you had hoped and planned. It really, really sucks for many reasons. Things at work will change or get better (maybe get worse but there are other options should that happen); they just won't be the same because they can't be the same but that doesn't mean they'll be awful, even if it feels that way right now. Doing more for the other people and places in your life will help you recharge so you're happier in general as well as see more clarity at work as time goes on. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:28 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry this is the disappointing outcome you're dealing with. One thing I noticed in your post is that you didn't mention anything about the external candidate who got the role. Sometimes, a candidate rolls up who is so qualified it actually is a tough organisational decision, and isn't a vote of no-confidence or lack of management support.

so while I think the above advice on how to address teh situation with your managers and bosses is super, I would also advise you to be very politic and circumspect about not having been selected. "Of course I'm disappointed but Jane is an outstanding candidate and I'm really looking forward to her starting" etc cast you in the best possible public and professional light. There's no shame in being beaten out by a candidate who's "outstanding."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:40 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

Gosh, I'm sorry about this. The exact same thing happened to me. I thought the promotion was about to happen after working for years at a level above what was required (I work in an industry where this is easily quantifiable) and the role went to an external candidate (who had far less experience than me). My direct boss didn't go to bat for me at all, it turns out.

How do you move on? I'm not sure you can with any great success. Being professional and losing with dignity helps in the short term, but this move should be a big red flag to you. It certainly was to me! Do they really want you there? Can you grow there? Will you be satisfied working there?

I stuck it out for another two months and then politely resigned to take a similar position to the one I didn't get at another company. I really never thought I would do this - I had invested a lot to work there - even moved continents to work there. But I couldn't be happier in my new role at my new company. Feel free to message me. Good luck!
posted by meerkatty at 12:59 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm sorry you didn't get the promotion, but I think you're blowing this a bit out of proportion. Not being chosen is a "no confidence vote" from the head of the organization"? No, actually it's not: not being chosen merely means they chose someone else, either because that person is even MORE qualified than you or because the chosen candidate is the boss's brother-in-law.

There's no need to look for a new job because you are just fine, and they have total confidence in your skills, but bad luck for you: someone with an even greater skill-set came along.
posted by easily confused at 1:08 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hm. You're drawing some conclusions here that aren't necessarily correct, at least based on the information you've provided. And they seem to be, I think, the most negative possible interpretation of what might have happened.

You seem to have concluded that your CEO kiboshed a promotion for you against the wishes of everyone else on the hiring committee, and that as a result of that, your prospects at your org are dim. And you are using strong language -- feeling "betrayed" -- and couching things in a really adversarial way -- your boss didn't "go to the mat" for you. But there are other ways to read this.

First off, nobody is ever entitled to a promotion, no matter how hard they worked or how well they were doing. A company has an obligation to hire the absolute best people it can: if there was a candidate with more skills and/or more experience than you, they need to hire that person. It's not personal.

But also: I've seen plenty of situations in which an organization really liked somebody and thought they had promise, but for whatever reason didn't promote them on their first try. Maybe they felt they just weren't ready, or maybe they were missing some key thing the new role needed, or maybe some external candidate was just much better. In those situations, it was common for the hiring committee to send all kinds of positive signals to the internal candidate. That was intended to cushion the blow of not getting the promotion, and to reassure the candidate that they would get another shot. The CEO wouldn't normally be part of that, because he or she is ordinarily just too busy, and would expect others to take care of it.

I think that's likelier to be what happened here, rather than your boss and the rest of the hiring committee all wanting you for the job, and being stymied/thwarted by a CEO who for some reason didn't.

Only you can decide how you feel about what happened here. And if you're really furious and feel blocked, then of course you should look for another job. But I'd say you sound more hurt and embarrassed, and if so that may recede over the next week or two. (I'll note you said you felt ambivalent about the opportunity anyway. So I don't feel like "blocked" is really where you're at.)

So I would consider chilling out. Consider what it would feel like to be happy you had the opportunity to apply, happy you got a chance to get on the radar of the higher-ups (and successfully impress them), and eager to work with your boss to figure out what would position you for success next time. I wouldn't read this as failure; I'd read it as a step towards success.
posted by Susan PG at 1:18 AM on September 14, 2015 [21 favorites]

It could well be that in looking for someone who complements your skills well, it was easier to find that from above rather than below.

I think you get around it by licking your wounds for a few weeks and then working well with the new person, determining what skills they have that you can gain to become a stronger candidate the next time an opportunity appears.

(In a not-too-dissimilar position, I did an internal transfer to a group With my same job title, but to folks who seemed to see me in a management position from the start.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:02 AM on September 14, 2015

This is the time to start looking for a new job. You have just received a strong signal that there is no future for you in this one.
posted by 256 at 4:59 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is the time to start looking for a new job. You have just received a strong signal that there is no future for you in this one.


You're reading this as "they think I'm bad," when you should be reading this as "someone else was better." If that's the case, then you weren't betrayed. It's life. It happens. And if you are really super dedicate to this organization and it's mission, you should want the best candidate to be selected.

What you're feeling - disappointment, the sting of loss, etc. - are all valid feelings, and anyone in your position would feel them. But you need to separate the emotional response from the logical response.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:37 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

it's pretty clear that I was pretty much given a no confidence vote

Either that or this is the first time you've ever seen the CEO's Nephew Effect in operation, up close and personal.
posted by flabdablet at 5:37 AM on September 14, 2015

It may be a blessing in disguise. I applied for a position which was a lateral move. I received feedback that I was the top choice of everyone on the interview team except the person I would be reporting to. Even though I had worked for this company for over 5 years, had worked at the same level in the same function, and had been a top performer (enough so that the company paid for my MBA), I was required to fly 4 hours to meet with an organizational psychologist in an airport conference room to determine whether or not I was "BigCo Management Material." [My new boss's last ditch effort to disqualify me and select the candidate she really wanted and to whom she had promised this position.] Unfortunately for both me and my new boss, I was deemed acceptable and got the job.

Six months later, my boss told me I was not meeting expectations (a first for me). A month later, she told me that I would be replaced. Fortunately, I was able to stay on the payroll for the next 5 months it took me to find another position in another company.

Not getting a promotion or a position you want and feel you deserve is awful, but I think it is worse to get the position and not have the full support of your management team.

As to where you go from here, I think that depends on the feedback you get from this interview. If it is the case that they really liked you but don't think you're quite ready and give you specifics you can work on for your development -- and even better if they support your development with classes, increased responsibility, mentoring, etc... -- then you are probably in a good position for "next time". If, however, you don't get useful feedback and/or they don't seem very interested in helping you grow professionally, it may be time to look elsewhere. If this is a big company you work for, you may want to look for a position in a different organization -- I worked for a Fortune 100 company for 20 years, and moving from one division to another was like working for a different company in terms of the management team and politics.

Best of luck -- you've been dealt a tough blow and it may take some time to recover but it will get better.
posted by elmay at 6:26 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've been in your position and I've been in the position of the person making the decision. I think you have a few phases to go through:

(1) Handle the immediate negative internal feelings. For you personally, it's totally natural to feel that you were judged and found wanting and to feel betrayed. Promotions are powerful things in our lives. Don't be afraid to mourn privately.

(2) However for your external professional life, you must accept that the decision is made and will not be changed. Just in like sports, there is no point in raging at the referee after the call has been made. Hold yourself with dignity and grace as best you can, and when people ask about it say you are disappointed but there are great challenges ahead and you're looking forward to project X and Y. If this phase goes well, you come out looking like a person who can handle setbacks confidently, knowing they are part of life. If it goes badly you could look entitled or whiny.

(3) Once the dust is settled you need to find out why the decision went against you, if possible. These kinds of decisions are not ideal formulations of data, logic and reason - they're partly (or often largely) based on intuition, feeling and poorly-formed impressions. Ideally you would sit down with the overall boss who you think made the decision and tell him honestly you were disappointed and would appreciate it if there was any insight he could give you into the process that would help you grow in the future. If you don't have that kind of relationship, have the conversation with the person you know who was closest to the final decision. You want to find out how the decision was *actually* made.

(4) Finally, you need to get your overall strategy right, which will help you be happy with your day to day life in the company. What are your overall goals and aims, and how do they balance with other life aims like family or travel or whatever is important to you? As part of this you want to do some recon around the company over a few weeks or months. Who's thinking about leaving? What projects are likely to start up or shut down? Where will the next set of opportunities be, and how could you position yourself to take advantage of them? Do you even want to? It depends on your overall strategy, e.g. if for the next X years you are focused on family or work or something else entirely.

One last thought: when you're in a company it's easy to think it's a ladder and there are steps, and if you do well and meet the criteria you should get to go up to the next step. But that's at best only partially true. If we look at a company from a distance there are broadly two groups of people, a large and a small. The large group is the majority of employees who do their jobs well within the constructs of the company and want to move up the ladder. The small group are the people who set up the constructs in the first place - the managers, VPs, directors, or whatever they're called in your neck of the woods. And though they might not be directly accessible to you depending on your current level, they are trying to achieve certain things for the company in terms of growth, development, market share and so on. If you can be one of the people who is able to understand and help with that - help deliver the things the company needs to grow and survive - you will be very valuable, and it will be much easier to rise within the organisation. If, of course, that is really what you want and is best for you.

Anyway, good luck. Feel free to MeMail if you want to discuss further; I deal with these kinds of things a lot.
posted by StephenF at 6:49 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've seen this a few times. In some cases, you're right, there was some decision made that the incumbent wasn't ready for the promotion. But in some cases, the stronger motivator was that the external candidate was someone they really, really wanted to add to the org, and if they'd given the incumbent the job it would have been a lost opportunity to bring in the external person. There can be other factors behind the scenes as well -- planned reorgs, other vacancies coming up, that you don't know about yet.

Just take a deep breath, do your job well, and wait and see. It is perfectly reasonable to ask your manager what happened, but give it a few weeks to shake out before you do -- both so you can be calmer about it, and also so whatever other factors may be in play have had a chance to materialize. Don't vent your frustration to anyone yet; but do keep your ears open.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sorry this happened.

What other people are saying is technically correct, but I'm not sure it's terribly helpful. Feelings like that are hard to ignore, and telling yourself "well, maybe the other person was just more qualified" probably won't make them go away. It's going to be hard to approach your organization and this particular hiring manager the same way going forward.

What I would suggest is to take a step back, mentally. I think you should always keep your resume updated and send it out occasionally, even if you're not looking for another job, just to see what the market is like. Send out a few resumes, interview a couple of places, and just see if there are other opportunities. You don't have to actually quit your job. In fact, a couple of times when I've tried this, it actually reinforced my commitment to the job I already had. Kind of a "well, my current job isn't great, but it's better than this" situation.

I also think it would be helpful to remember why you work at this place. You say that this organization is "very important" to you. Ask yourself why. Go back to when you first started working there, and remember how excited you were. Hopefully, that will rekindle the passion.

And if those suggestions don't work, find another job. As an employee, your only bargaining power is your willingness to work somewhere else. If your employer knows you're not going to leave, they hold all the power, and you won't ever get anything from them.

Best of luck!
posted by kevinbelt at 9:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and to answer your specific questions, here's what you should aim to say:

To your colleagues: "Yeah, I'm disappointed. On the other hand, it was a super-interesting experience and it's not like it will be my only shot. [New person] looks really interesting, and I'm looking forward to working with them."

To your boss: "I'm disappointed, but I understand that you don't always win these things on your first try. And I can see why you guys chose [new person]. What I'd like to do is talk with you about what I can do to improve my odds of success next time. Can you talk with me about what the committee saw as my shortcomings or drawbacks, and what I can do to have a better shot next time? I really love this organization, and I'd really like a chance to move up next time there's an opening."

To the new person: "Welcome! I am really looking forward to working with you."

Don't underestimate the upside of being welcoming and friendly with the person they hired. I was in a similar situation as you once. I met the new guy and told him how enthusiastic I was about him. He was obviously startled, because he expected me to be bitter and foot-draggy. Four months later he made me his deputy, and two years after that, he left and I got his job. During those two years I learned a ton from him, and our organization benefited hugely from the combination of my internal expertise and the expertise he brought from outside. A decade later we've both left that company, and we're still good friends and help each other out professionally and personally.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 10:07 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

You keep doing your job. When you have your next 1:1 with your boss, you ask "How could I have been a stronger candidate?"

You really don't know what went into the decision process. It may well have been that the external candidate has a ton of experience in developing some type of program that no one else in the agency has. I may also be that they brought the candidate in on that job but plan to move him/her somewhere else soon and reopen the position fairly soon.

A career is a marathon, not a sprint. You didn't get this one. That doesn't mean they don't value you. It means someone else was a better fit for that job today. You stay positive and keep training yourself for the promotion.
posted by 26.2 at 10:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

The external candidate may have been the Boss's nephew or he might have been a stronger candidate. But not necessarily so.

Given evenly matched candidates, the internal candidate has known weaknesses. And a grass is greener mentality can take hold. Result: external candidate wins.
Or a conscious decision is made to avoid inbreeding and hire externally.
Perhaps the external candidate has different clients, customers, contacts, methods etc.

There can also be less disruption with an external candidate: If you get promoted, who replaces you? Who takes over your job?

So don't take it too much as a reflection on your abilities.
You may be equal.
Suck it up for now.
And consider what your resume looks like to a competitor.
posted by yyz at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2015

When this happened to me, I sucked it up, trained my new boss (who turned out to be a great guy), and quietly started looking for another job. When I gave notice, the executive VP called me into his office and basically told me I could name my salary and any other perks I'd like if I would stay. I left anyway, because I was still pissed and I'd lost faith in the company and its executives' judgment and sense of fairness. I fucking deserved that promotion, and they knew it. I would have been the first woman in the position, and that surely had a lot to do with it.

The company went into decline and folded not long after that (après moi, le déluge), and my new boss was treated very shabbily, just as I would have been if I'd stayed. We are still friends. I'm glad I left when I did.
posted by caryatid at 6:08 PM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

« Older Advice for LED light installation   |   How to help students with ADD/ADHD in higher... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.