What to Do if You Don’t Get That Promotion

Being passed over for a promotion can be disappointing — especially when you feel that you deserved it. Even if you thought you were a perfect match for a position, organizations pass on qualified candidates for a number of reasons. For example, companies tend not to promote when they’re not doing well financially. Additionally, managers may pass over employees who don’t take initiative or don’t take credit for their work.

Getting passed over for a promotion can sting, but it shouldn’t be a roadblock to your career goals. Below are just a few steps you can take to help improve your chances in the future.

Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You

If you’re passed over for a promotion, feeling sad, disappointed, or even jealous is natural, but avoid airing your negative emotions in the workplace. Refrain from saying or doing anything you might later regret. Take a moment, breathe deeply, and sit with your feelings. This can help you approach the situation from a rational, less emotionally charged place.

a female employee faces a review board

Be kind to yourself and try not to allow negative self-talk to run rampant in your mind. Questioning whether you’re good enough, smart enough, or talented enough can affect your work. If you find yourself swimming in negative thoughts, examine whether those thoughts are rooted in fact or emotion.

Thank Your Supervisor and Ask for Feedback

Once your feelings are in check, be sure to thank your supervisor for considering you for the position. This is also a great time to ask for feedback for self-improvement. For example, perhaps your supervisor can identify specific hard or soft skills you could work on to improve your future chances. Other tips include:

  • Take notes throughout the conversation. Ask your supervisor to provide actionable steps you can take to achieve your goals. Writing them down will help you map out a plan.
  • Identify areas for improvement and make a list of proactive steps to achieve goals. Steps may include becoming more organized, continuing your education, or cross-training in new areas. Giving yourself a timeline to achieve each goal can be especially helpful during future performance reviews — which may occur quarterly, bi-annually, or annually — to tangibly demonstrate progress to your employer. It also demonstrates that you took the feedback seriously and are willing to work to advance your skills.
  • Ask for feedback outside of annual or semiannual reviews. Regular feedback offers the chance to learn about weak spots, opportunities, and progress, and seeking it expresses your commitment to growth to your employer.

Create a Brag Book

A brag book is a portfolio that can include awards, letters of reference, and other markers of professional achievement. While brag books are often a recommended component of preparation for job interviews, they can be valuable tools when seeking a promotion. A brag book can also include the following items:

  • Copies of professional certificates
  • Documentation of foreign language fluency
  • Professional licenses
  • Writing samples
  • Work samples, such as your contributions to projects or proposals
  • Professional accolades from both your peers and leadership

Organize professional accolades by creating a dedicated folder in your email inbox. Every time someone emails you with positive feedback, save a copy. This can help you build a library of samples to use when interviewing for a promotion, applying for another job, or undergoing a performance review.

Remember to tweak your brag book when you’re applying for a specific position. For example, you can include a strategic plan for what you’d accomplish in the first three months in the position. If you were passed over for a promotion in the past, write down each question you remember from the interview. Use your notes to identify gaps in your brag book that could use additional development.

Evaluate Your Career Strategy

Take some time to evaluate your career strategies and whether you can see yourself growing with your current company. Will you have future chances to advance in your organization, or do you work for a small company where advancement opportunities are few and far between?

If you don’t think a promotion is likely, you may want to brush up your resume (and brag book) and start searching for a new job. Although you shouldn’t quit simply because you were denied a raise or promotion, the experience can help you decide whether you’d be more likely to thrive in an alternate environment.

Focus on the Future

Being passed over for a raise or promotion can sting, but remember that pain is temporary. Instead of focusing on the past, refocus your efforts on the future. Can you take specific steps to improve your knowledge and skills? Would completing a professional certificate program or earning a new degree improve your chances in the future? Not getting a promotion doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Instead, let your disappointment motivate you to take action to improve your marketability.

Recommended Reading

Halfway to the Top: Career Advancement for Mid-level Employees

What Is Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Harmony?

Importance of Entrepreneurship: Types, Benefits, and Styles


The Balance Careers, “What to Do After You Don’t Get a Promotion”

Fast Company, “Passed Over for a Promotion? Here’s How to Recover”

Five Strengths, Developing a Brag Book

Forbes, “Didn’t Get That Promotion? Here’s How to Handle It the Next Day at Work”

Inc., “Didn’t Get Promoted? Here Are 5 Ways to Recuperate”

Primer Magazine, “You Didn’t Get the Promotion: Now What?”

Top Resume, “8 Proactive Steps to Take After Being Denied a Promotion or Raise”

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