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Are you being passed over for a promotion? Here’s what to do

October 13, 2022 - 13 min read


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Recovering from rejection

9 reasons you were overlooked for a promotion

Signs your boss wants to promote you

The answer is within you

Being passed over for a promotion hurts. 

According to data from LinkedIn, Promotions among professional workers shot up by 9% from 2020 to 2021. But if you’re reading this article, you probably weren’t one of them.

You’ve been working hard to show your worth, trying to stand out from your peers. You put in extra hours, deliver consistently strong work, and get along well with your colleagues. In your eyes, there’s no reason for your boss not to promote you.

But unfortunately, promotions (or the lack thereof) aren’t always about the person who wants the job. It’s possible the company can’t afford your salary, so they chose someone they can pay less. Alternatively, the role may no longer be considered necessary, meaning they merged it with a lateral position that does similar work. These and other situations make promotions less common than they used to be

This can all feel quite discouraging. But this is also an opportunity for you to look inward and learn what you can do to maximize your next promotion opportunity.

You could be a strong internal candidate but don’t have the management skills necessary for the job yet. You might also be too modest — you’re so silent about your achievements that your boss doesn’t think of you when promotions come up. 

Thankfully, with some hard work (and self-promotion), you can address these barriers. Here’s how you can recover from rejection and get a promotion at work.


Recovering from rejection

Rejection isn’t a good feeling, and you wouldn’t be the first to quit your job because of it. As many as 40% of departing employees say they left their jobs due to a lack of career development. Simultaneously, almost 30% of workers are actively trying to leave their jobs, and 42% remain passively open to other opportunities.

But before you commit to quitting, here’s what you should do.

1. Process the pass-over

It’s okay to feel sad. You’ve probably been overachieving for a while, which makes the sting of rejection particularly acute. Strong emotions can lead to poor decisions, so take some time to process your feelings before making any decisions.

2. Find out why you weren’t chosen

Once you feel better, you can ask key decision-makers why they didn’t select you. Make sure you approach the conversation with curiosity instead of hostility. They may cite areas for improvement and offer opportunities to expand your skills.

3. Set new goals for yourself

If they suggest specific areas for improvement, create a plan to continue your career growth. This could mean looking for more leadership opportunities, earning new certifications, or job shadowing.

Alternatively, if you decide to leave your current role, make sure you do your research about the next step. Identify where you want to work, network with people there, and find out if they’re looking for external hires. This can help save you from future disappointment.

4. Reframe disappointment as an opportunity

Sometimes the greatest gifts are those we never receive. While losing a promotion can hurt, you’re now available for even better opportunities in the future. This is your chance to rethink your career path, gain new skills, and manifest positive changes. You might be happier at another company or using your time at this level to learn new skills.

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9 reasons you were overlooked for a promotion

The best way to identify areas for improvement is to ask your employer directly. But if they refuse to give a straight answer, you’ll have to dig deeper into yourself.

Here are 9 signs you’re not getting promoted unless you change your approach.

1. You don’t have the hard skills for the job

Yes, fortune often favors the bold — you’re free to take risks and apply to leadership roles. But if you blindly apply to new positions without the minimum prerequisites, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Read the job description and ask yourself: do you have the required expertise for this new role? You can’t be a head chef if you’ve never been a line cook, and you can’t be a manager if you’ve never led a team before. Learn your dues and see if you’ve paid them.


2. You need to develop your soft skills

You could be a fantastic coder. But if you work in isolation and rarely interact with your colleagues, you’re not showing the skills of a team player — let alone those of a manager. 

Some higher positions require more than technical prowess. You need to demonstrate leadership skills like active listening, communication, mentorship, and emotional intelligence.

3. You need more organizational knowledge

If you focus only on your daily tasks, you risk missing the big picture. Your boss wants someone who doesn’t just execute the role but is a good fit for the organization and company culture

Read the job description closely and ask if you can help the new hire with some of their new responsibilities. This will give you a sense of the role and help you prepare for similar vacancies in the future.

4. You tend to follow instead of lead

To be a leader, you’ll have to stop waiting for marching orders and start taking the initiative. This means creating your report before your boss asks for it, showing up to meetings with solutions instead of problems, and volunteering to manage projects. These are good ways to expand your leadership skill set while also showing you care.

5. You’re overeager

Enthusiasm about your job is generally a good thing. But if you constantly talk about wanting a promotion, you’re not communicating enthusiasm — you’re telling others that you dislike your current position. 

You can schedule one-on-one meetings with your manager to express interest in a new job. But aside from that, focus on excelling in the job you have.

6. You’ve never communicated your goals before

Your supervisor should never be surprised to see your name on the shortlist. Ideally, you would have told them about career goals and aspirations in previous meetings. This helps them understand what motivates you so they can help you land opportunities aligned with your goals.

7. Your employee performance reviews weren’t great

Employers will look at your entire human resources record when considering you for a promotion. If you had a rocky start at the company, discuss with your supervisor how you improved on those weaknesses. You should also highlight your plan for continual growth in those areas. 

If you can knock the next performance evaluations out of the park, you’ll be more appealing for a management role.


8. You need to adapt your communication style

Do you swear too much, make too many jokes, or come off as rude or abrasive? If so, you’re not exactly exuding “leadership material.”

How you communicate with your colleagues indicates how you would lead. If you can strike a more professional tone, delegate tasks, set goals, and create deadlines, you’ll appear more capable as a leader.

9. You need to be more open to constructive criticism

A victim mentality will get you nowhere by way of employee promotions. Pay attention to the feedback you receive from your superiors and your colleagues, and make an earnest effort to address it. An honest desire for improvement demonstrates maturity and professionalism.


Signs your boss wants to promote you

After working on yourself for a while, a good supervisor will start to notice. When your boss is eyeing you for an internal promotion, they:

  • Pay attention to yourself. Managers are busy people. If they’re checking in on you, inviting you for coffee, and bouncing ideas off you, it could be a good sign.
  • Give you new responsibilities. When your boss is overwhelmed, they need reliable help. Turning to you shows that they trust you.
  • Invite you to management meetings. In most organizations, your boss isn’t the only one making promotion decisions — senior management needs to weigh in, too. If your boss wants you to contribute in higher-level meetings, it’s a sign they want you at that table.


  • Give constructive feedback related to your career. Regular reviews of your day-to-day tasks are normal. But it’s a good sign when they give pointers on your management skills and invest in your professional development. Compliments about your performance are nice, too.
  • Ask you about your goals for career advancement. Savvy supervisors know that employee retention depends on treating them well. That means they’ll want to promote you ASAP. When they ask about your future, they want to know your plans so they can devise their own plot to keep you.

It’s important not to make major decisions based on loose signals from your boss. Some will string you along if they can, making you feel special without any concrete action. You should also avoid letting the attention go to your head — it’ll quickly disappear if you make arrogant mistakes.

The answer is within you

Our advice on how to move up in a company is best summarized like this: focus on self-improvement. Most of the skills we outlined above, from communication styles to teamwork, come down to being a well-rounded person and employee.

Being passed over for a promotion feels bad, but don’t let it take the wind out of your sails. This could be a catalyst for honest conversations with your boss where you set goals for your professional development and work toward being a better you.

If your job is truly a dead end, you can look for opportunities elsewhere. As long as you continue doing your research, setting goals, and developing your skills, you’ll take your career to the next level.

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Published October 13, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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