rejected for an internal promotion

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A reader writes:

I am an aspiring manager in the organization I work for. I have been there for three years and have repeatedly acted as the deputy manager within my section (my boss was on the verge of retirement, so was out a lot) and have handled some very stressful and high-profile situations. Basically, I feel like I have proven myself and have become an invaluable member of the organization.

Recently, my supervisor’s position came open and I applied for it. After two interviews, I was informed that I was the first choice but because I had never had a formal management position before (I’m relatively young), I could not be placed in the position. The hiring manager expressed a desire the help me move toward that goal, but now I feel as if I am essentially stuck unless I somehow get my job description changed and become a manager of some temporary employees (albeit, for less pay and less benefits that the job I was up for).

So basically, how can I handle this gracefully? My new supervisor has way less experience than I do and I have been asked to still perform the duties, however he would have the pay increase and benefits. I feel like I should basically take this as a sign to move on to greener pastures. Should I believe the hiring manager when they say they want to keep me and help develop my professional experience, or are they just telling me that to soften the blow? Truthfully, I’ve never been rejected for a promotion before (I’ve had three within this organization) and it’s hard to put aside my disappointment!

Any advice would help! I plan on working within the same industry for awhile, so I don’t want to burn any bridges or make myself seem unprofessional!

You should ask for specific help in formulating a professional development plan that will allow you to get the sort of experience they’ve said you’d need. Ask what you need to do to get a management position the next time one is open, and what they can do to help you get that experience. Whether and how they follow through will tell you a ton.

At the same time, there’s no reason you shouldn’t also explore what opportunities might be available to you outside your company. Identify and apply for jobs that seem like the right next step for you. There’s nothing that says you have to take a new job if offered, but you might as well know what your options are.

You can pursue these two tracks simultaneously; you don’t need to pick one over the other.

There’s one thing in your letter that’s potentially troubling, although I’m not positive what you mean by it. You wrote: “I have been asked to still perform the duties, however he would have the pay increase and benefits.” Do you mean that you’re being asked to perform the duties of a manager without the pay or title?  Are you talking about mundane administrative tasks like scheduling employees or signing time cards, or real management fundamentals — like setting expectations, giving feedback, and addressing performance problems?  If you’re being asked to do the latter, that worries me — not just because of fairness but because it is difficult to manage people without actual authority to set consequences, and you’d be being put in a very hard position if that’s the case.

Again, I’m not sure if that’s the case here or not. If it is, it might be something you want to address, by pointing out that you’re being asked to do the work of a manager without any of the rewards, or even credit for the experience when seeking a promotion. Of course, if you point that out, their reaction may be to stop having you serve those functions, which may not be the outcome you want (particularly if you want to parlay that experience into a management role somewhere else), so you want to assess risks and likely outcomes as you proceed. Good luck!

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeff Hunter

    They've obviously made their decision and didn't feel like they could take the risk on promoting from within. I think that tells you more about your future with that company more than anything else.

  2. Jamie

    One of the recent posts here was about how much to trust your gut regarding hiring. I think this applies on the other side as well.

    The offer of the hiring manager to work with you toward management could be lip service or it could be a genuine offer to mentor you in the areas you need the experience.

    If you take him/her up on it as AAM said their follow through will tell you what you need to know.

  3. Jamie

    There is one more thing I would do, if it were me. I would sit down with my manager (informally) and see if my perception of being an invaluable employee is shared by the company.

    There are definitely top performers who, for various reasons, might not get a particular promotion – but they generally want to keep those people happy as they fit into the company's long range plans.

    On the other hand I think we all work with people whose honest assessment of their performance/value differs radically from that of management.

    Can't hurt to make sure you're on the same page as your manager.

  4. Ask a Manager

    Jamie, that's SUCH a good point. Always check your premises in cases like this — have a candid, straightforward conversation so that you're sure that you're very clear on how everyone involved sees things, which increases your chances of making the best decisions for yourself.

  5. David Sherman

    After reading the first paragraph, I arrived at the same conclusion as the author of this website.

    I believe you should half-heartedly looked for new job. You are not being challenged, as you desire.

    You are probably very loyal to your company, working your way up through 3 promotions. That is an admirable, rare trait for a Gen Y'er (coming from another:)

    Update your linked in, with your recent experience managing people and projects. You will most likely receive inquiries from Recruiters. You can decline them.

    Believe it or not being an employed or "passive" candidate makes you more attractive to companies and recruiters. You knowledge is up to date, instead of 6 months old, for a 6 month long unemployed person.

    You may receive an offer for a dream job. And you'll interview with more confidence, as "it doesn't matter if you get this job or not." You will be more bold and more of yourself.

    If you move to a new employer, do not say its because you were passed over. Tell them, truthfully so, that you are looking for a new challenge, and did not find it within the organization.

    And then roll up your sleeves to wrestle that dream job! :)

  6. Anonymous

    It sounds like the same-old "can't get experience without experience" double bind to me.

    I think it's also harder to move within a company since you've pretty much assigned a place in the ranks and someone would have to think about you in a different way.

    It took me a long time to move from one department to another for that reason, I think.

    Ask your supervisor if you could help with something they do on a regular basis to make their job easier. You'll get some experience as well as get some inside scoop on up-coming jobs, or have a real reason for other people to see you in a new light.

    Jamie said …"Keep those people happy…" Management doesn't really care if you're happy as long as you can do the job and are relatively easy to manage. Companies pay a lot of lip service to "development plans" but in the end it's up to you to make it happen whether it's internally or with another company.

  7. Kimberlee Stiens

    I would see if you can't get that title! If you ACT as a deputy manager, and the only reason you didn't get hired was because you'd never had a "formal" position, it seems like all you're missing is the title, and maybe they'd be willing to give it to you, given that you're clearly serving as the deputy to the new guy?

    And I'd go ahead and see if you can manage temp employees. Even if its not the job you wanted, if it will help you get the job you want, its worth it!

    And for the record, in my experience if the company says you're good, and they want to develop you, and especially since they were so honest with you in the first place, I think they really are telling the truth. It never helps to look for greener pastures, but definitely continue to water your own yard!

  8. Anonymous

    Let me get this straight. Three years with the company. Three promotions in that time. That sounds like an extremely supportive and rewarding company to work for, to me. Perhaps OP is a bit too overeager and impatient. It's not reasonable to expect a promotion every year. A year is barely enough time to master the responsibilities of the new job, let alone to the extent necessary to take on more responsibility.

    Also, I don't think it's fair of OP to compare merely years of experience with the candidate chosen. There are more factors to consider than simply 'number of years of experience'. Each person has natural aptitudes and talents. And each person has unique experience that no one else has, the result of both chance and opportunity.

    The OP sounds like they are feeling a bit wounded and emotional, and that's normal in this situation, I think. But making a professional move with that mindset may not be wise. Perhaps it would be better to cool down first, and see how things shake out. The new guy may not work out. Or maybe the new guy will turn out to be OP's champion and help them get a promotion next time around. Perhaps OP is wrong about the new guy's level of experience and their deserving of the position. Let the dust settle before you make a decision about your career.

  9. Byron J.

    I think the approach of keeping your options open, both outside and within the company, is best in this type of situation.

    If you feel as if they have passed you over without solid reasoning, it may be best to look for another job without stepping on too many toes on the way out (never know when you may need a reference from one of them).

    However, if they are truly sincere when they say they would like to help you build your level of managerial experience up and commit to giving you the things needed to get the next promotion that becomes available to you, then waiting around a little longer may not be such a bad idea.

    I think having several options is what's best here. That way you can do what you feel is best for you, and not have the company pulling all the strings when it comes to your career and your future.

  10. Steve

    I was shocked way back when, the first time I got rejected for a position I had applied for. Eventually, though, I realized that it just wasn’t reasonable to expect to win every single thing. The numbers are against it.

    I would work with the manager who offered to help you work towards the next opportunity. If he actually follows through with that, great. And if not you know the company just gives lip service to employee development, and you can move on.

  11. AJ

    I applied for an internal postion recently and was denied for an interview. I know it could because they’ve had many applicants and i could have gotten lost in the shuffle. They’ve had candidates with direct experience. My question is how can I postion myself as the best candidate for this postion? I am currently a Customer Service/Collections Rep trying to become a Loss Mitigation Specialist. The Loss Mit Specialist opostion postion requires a degree, analytical skills, good commincation skills, time management, team player. I have a degree and I feel that I’ve developed these skills in my current position even if I don’t have hands on expeirence.

    There really is no way to get expeirence without doing the job.

    My question is, how can I postion myself as the best candidate? How can I found out how I’m perceived by peres as well as managers?

    I’d appreciate any advice.

  12. g

    hi. i was reading these and found them all quite interesting. however, i have been with my company for 3 years. there have been 3 different promotions available, but i have been not selected for any. so i applied and was promoted at different location within the same company. however, due to location, pay, an degrading atmosphere, i left the position to take a better paying job elsewhere. however, i was able to return to my former position at the location and team i loved to work with while at the other job. i was let go from the other new better paying job due to discrimination, i reported a coworker flashing me.amung other things.
    i very much would like to be promoted at this location. however, i was not chosen for a promotion 5 months ago. an the younger inexperienced person who it was offered to has quit. and now it is available again. i have my name in once again. any suggestions???

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