I wasn’t even considered for my manager’s job when she left

A reader writes:

A few months ago, my supervisor was fired. I really had my hopes up that I would be appointed temporary supervisor, but I was not; another coworker was. The VP who made the decision has never interacted with any of us and she even admitted that she has no idea what we do. The decision appears to be based on seniority. The VP said that the position will be posted, but it is common at my company to promote whoever is temporary or to hire an external candidate.

Since then, I have realized that I am very bitter and angry over not being appointed temporary. I am constantly comparing myself to the coworker who was appointed. Although she has more seniority than I do, I have more skills and leadership experience, including years of activity in our professional association (she has none), taking graduate level courses in our field on my own time (she does not), and better technical skills (I usually train her).

Of course, the VP does not know this as she does not interact with us, not then and not now. She only interacts with the person in the supervisor role. Several people have suggested that I talk to the VP about this. But I wouldn’t know what to say. Everything I can come up with just seems like whining. Someone advised that I should tell the VP that I want an opportunity or that I’m interested in leadership, but I really wouldn’t know how to start the conversation, or if it’s even appropriate.

Furthermore, there is only one supervisor position for my job type. If I truly want more responsibility or leadership, I suspect the VP will suggest I transfer to a different job type with more opportunities. Since I know what she’ll say, is it even worth meeting with her? And if so, what do I say without coming off as a whiner?

Well, first, realize that this sounds like it has nothing to do with you — it sounds like the decision was made based on seniority, which means that it’s no slam against your skills or capabilities. It’s not a particularly good way of making this kind of decision, but it’s also not terribly unusual either. When someone needs to be temporarily appointed to run things, people often look to the person who’s been there longest, as long as that person isn’t a complete disaster. The managers who make decisions this way generally do it because they assume that the most senior person has a handle on how things work, and it can be an appealing shortcut in a situation where they don’t have tons of familiarity with the team involved.

Again, this isn’t a great way to do things, but it happens a lot, especially when the decision is being made several levels above you by someone who just needs a temporary problem taken care of — which might be a relatively small problem compared to other issues they’re dealing with — so that they can focus on other things.

That means that you should try not to be bitter and angry, because — assuming that you’re right that the decision was based on seniority — it isn’t about you. It’s not about a decision-making system that looked at you and found you wanting. It’s about a decision-making system that steered clear of those kinds of judgments at all.

Being bitter and angry about it will get you nowhere good … but it will lower your quality of life, mess with your head, and potentially impact your performance at work, and might lead you to make poorer decisions for yourself.

However … if you’re interested in being considered for the non-temporary version of the position, tell your VP that! Go in and make a case for yourself, just like you would if you were applying as an external candidate. It sounds like you’re convinced that you’re a better candidate for the job than your coworkers, so demonstrate it. Write a cover letter that emphasizes why you’d be great at the job. Put together a resume that shows that too. Go meet with her and explain how you’d run the department and why you’d do well at it. If you want the job, make yourself a real candidate for it.

When you do this, you definitely don’t want to complain that you weren’t made interim supervisor; in fact, don’t even mention it. Focus on what you actually want, which is the non-interim position, and ignore the rest of it.

And if, as you suspect might happen, the VP suggests that you transfer to a different job with more opportunities because there aren’t many where you are, why not listen to that? That’s not terrible advice if you do indeed want to advance.

But either way, tell her that you’d like to be considered for the job — don’t be bitter that she doesn’t know.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Matthew Soffen*

    I can FULLY understand that frustration.

    Sometimes it may just be their perception of you (That you’re a “technical” person and not a “management” person). That had been my issue in the past (former managers had a skewed perception that I was only a technically minded person (and NOT management oriented).

    Its frustrating but until you let them know (as suggested) that you really are interested in being the permanent supervisor for the group. Explain what you bring (and NEVER anything the other person DOESN’T bring).

    Good Luck !

  2. moe*

    This caught my eye:

    “Several people have suggested…” “Someone advised…”

    If you’re talking to people at work about this, OP, please be super careful with whom and what you’re saying, especially about the temporary supervisor’s qualifications. It would be awful for it to get around that you consider the temp supervisor to be so poorly suited for the role, regardless of what happens with the permanent position.

  3. OP*

    Thanks for answering my question Alison. You’re right that I need to get over the bitterness and I will take your advice. Currently, the job is not posted. Should I wait for the job posting before I make a case for myself for the position?

    (And yes, I will also look into other job types as well.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No need to wait — in fact, you might be safer not waiting, in case they decide not to post the job and move forward with someone already known to them. Speak up now/soon!

      1. OP*

        Got it. Thank you for the advice! I appreciate all your help, as well as all of the commenters sharing their own stories. It helps knowing I’m not alone.

        1. Jamie*

          When I read the original letter I was screaming in my head for you to put yourself in the running …but of course Alison told you that.

          Seriously, this is a prime opportunity and I would seize it. Definitely don’t wait for it to be posted – get in before the general public (even company wide).

          You have a HUGE advantage in that you know the position and even more importantly you know you’re strengths. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t really see what they bring to the table. As long as you focus on what you do have it doesn’t matter what anyone else does or doesn’t have.

          And definitely don’t reject out of hand suggestions from the VP regarding different paths – should they arise. My career took a lot of weird turns to get here and you never know until you consider all your options.

          Good luck – and I really hope you post once you’ve applied for an update.

        2. Amber*

          When you go to talk to the VP, definitely don’t compare yourself to the person who currently has the position. If you actually are qualified and are a good fit then the VP will come to that conclusion based on your resume and discussions. However if you say how you are better at X compared to Jane and have more education in Y than Jane, it will only make you look immature.

      2. Laura*

        I have a question–

        So based on “internal politics” wouldn’t it be very difficult for the manager to hire OP for the job? If the temporary candidate is doing a good job (or even not bad job) in her temporary position, wouldnt it be office politics suicide to pull one person out to swap for another internal person?

        Of course–supervisor should not worry about such things, but she obviously went the easy route to begin with by going with “most seniority”. Thoughts?

        1. Long Time Admin*

          All the more reason for the OP to meet with her manager. If “internal politics” really wanted the co-worker in the manager role, it wouldn’t be “temporary”. It sounds like they want to find someone permanently, either the temporary manager (if she works out and doesn’t screw things up) or possibly the OP. A meeting with her Manager would at least put all of her qualifications in the hands of the right people.

          1. Laura*

            Good thoughts, but I think you misunderstood what I meant.

            Supervisor put the co worker in temporary position because of seniority. I am speaking about GOING FORWARD…wouldn’t it be odd to then pull her out to put another co worker? If they hired externally, they could say they always wanted to hire externally…but swapping one co worker for another one will ruffle feathers, and the supervisor may not want to do that. How would a good supervisor handle that scenario?

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Laura, I’ve seen this done successfully. The VP (or whoever is doing the hiring) would need to be very clear with the coworker about the reasons they ultimately picked the OP rather than her. Ideally they also made it clear to the coworker at the outset of the interim manager job that it truly was interim and not a guarantee of a permanent promotion at the end of it.

    2. Joy*

      Just an addendum – when you talk about your own skills to your VP (and in your cover letter) don’t compare/contrast them with the temporary supervisor’s skills. Just let them speak for themselves.

  4. Lisa*

    Hey, try having your supervisor leave, another voluntary resignation, and several layoffs in your department and being asked to take over as much of ALL of their work as possible, including the supervisor’s level of “buck-stops-here” responsibility, for no promotion and no extra pay!

    That’s where I’ve been most of this year, and I WAS bitter and angry. Operative term: Was. I was justified in being bitter and angry, and certainly my company has not rewarded my labors in a way that is conducive to my choosing them over other opportunities in the long term, but it’s a big company, it’s not personal, and they’re dealing with much larger crises. After I let the resentment go, it seems like almost instantaneously the new responsibilities started opening doors for me. I’ve achieved two long-term goals in the last three months that I never thought I’d reach in 2012, maybe 2014 would have been my guess.

    If you think that the VP might suggest another area with more opportunities… maybe this is life telling you that you need to be in another job area where there are more opportunities. You’re doing things voluntarily (graduate courses, professional association, etc.) that demonstrate you have a work ethic, pride in yourself as a professional, and desire to network. Those are traits that will stand you in better stead in an area with many opportunities than in an area with few, because where there are few opportunities, it becomes very important to have seniority and, how shall I say, select personal friendships.

  5. EngineerGirl*

    This is just bizzarre. OP, no one can read your mind. Did you ever tell anyone in leadership that you wanted that career path? How then are they to know? It isn’t “leadership” to sulk about stuff. It **is** leadership to go to your VP and make a case for something you want. Alisons advice is spot on.

    I hate to say it, but it seems as though you are making up stories in your mind based on partial data. That is bad, bad, bad. Instead, seek understanding with the person you are having conflicts with. If you don’t do that with leadership, I feel for anyone you will supervise. You’ll make assumptions about them that may not be true and manage them wrongly.

    1. OP*

      Wow. I’m not quite sure what brought out so much hositility towards me. I asked my question in good faith and am receptive to constructive criticism, so I’m not quite sure how to respond.

      1. Josh S*

        No need to respond to this, OP. You did nothing to provoke the response (though I’m not sure it’s quite as hostile as you perceive it to be). EngineerGirl clearly responded without reading your other comments.

        You’re in a good place. You’re (hopefully!) listening to this good advice people are sharing. And with a little proactive action (redundant much?) you’re going to put your best foot forward for the position. It’s no guarantee that you’ll get the promotion, but it at least lets the VP know of your desires.

        And if you get ‘passed over’, remember that it’s most likely not personal. There may have simply been a better candidate out there. Lord knows the market is flooded right now. But regardless, use it as a learning opportunity — 1) how to ask for and position yourself for the things you want, 2) to sharpen your skills for job hunting/interviewing, and 3) how to keep good attitude/perspective on life.

        Best of luck!

      2. EngineerGirl*

        I am worried about the following behaviors that are harmful in leadership:
        * Not communicating your wishes and then getting bitter over not getting what you didn’t ask for
        * Telling yourself stories based on assumptions and then reacting to them as if they were true.
        * Not going to the leadership to clarify the situation and then making decisions based on that.
        * One way thinking on solutions – this is the only way to achieve leadership.
        These need to be growth areas for you or it will quickly kill your career path. You’ll create conflicts when there is no need for it, alienate potential allies, and lose opportunities.

        1. Amouse*

          The fact that the OP hasn’t acted out in hostility and has sought constructive advice that she is receptive to shows me that although her letter may have expressed frustration, she has actually a very good sense of professional behaviour and, like most people, just needs guidance on how to go forward. If the letter had read: “I have yelled at my VP many times about this and she isn’t listening” then you might have a basis for your criticisms, but I think you’re assuming her thoughts expressed in a purposefully anonymous letter translate into external qualities she may express in the workplace and that seems a bit unfair. People write these letters (usually, mostly) because they recognize that they need advice before they act out in a manner that may reflect poorly on them. To me that shows great judgment.

          1. OP*

            Thank you Amouse. You are correct: I wrote to Alison because I recognized I had a problem and I needed advice on how to solve it. And I greatly appreciate that advice and all of the advice from others that I received.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            But OP already got bitter over it. OP also stsrted comparing thenselves against the temporary leadership and in essence started to “slam” leadership for have less skills. So the issue already went too far down the slippery slope.
            It’s great that it is being corrected now but should be watched for in the future.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The reaction is because the tone sounded harsher than you probably intended/realized. Not unusual when people are writing rather than talking!

              1. Amouse*

                I’ll give EngineerGirl the benefit of the doubt as you’re doing, but all of her comments here have had the same “harsh” tone so I’m not entirely certain she doesn’t feel as strongly as she’s coming across. In any case, good to give people the benefit of the doubt when writing.

              2. EngineerGirl*

                I do struggle with it. But I also admit I became upset at the OPs slams against the co-worker whose only “sin” was to accept the temp position when it was offered. I was also bothered by the OP getting upset when no desires had been voiced. It seems so… Passive-agressive.

              3. EngineerGirl*

                Also I’ve had some really bad managers that expected me to read their minds. Have you ever been slammed in a performance review for things you were supposed to do but didn’t know about? So maybe I’m strongly reacting to the lack of communication and the desire to be in leadership.

                1. Steve G*

                  I am one to make up stories and act like they are true:-). Usually about stuff other people at my job are doing that is none of my business, so it would be rude of me to inquire about it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In fairness to the OP, I think many people are stymied about how to handle this stuff, especially when they’re feeling they may have already been overlooked, the VP is making it clear she doesn’t plan to get to know them, etc. It can be intimidating if it’s a new situation for you.

      1. Rob Bird*

        That happens a lot in life; you don’t know (or even think to ask) how to handle a problem until a problem comes up. But now she is asking for help so from this point forward so can try to correct this situation and to keep it from happening again.

        I am not sure why there is such hostility towards someone asking a question, but to me it seems unwarrented.

  6. Seal*

    Been there, done that, so I feel your pain. In my case, my outgoing supervisor actually promised I would be the one given the interim position. Imagine my surprise when not only did it not go to me, but as far as the organization was concerned I had never even been considered. Although I almost quit on the spot, instead I hung in there and redoubled my efforts to find a new job. Putting up with the buffoon they put in charge wasn’t easy, but it quickly became clear to everyone who dealt with our department that I was the only one there with a clue. I kept my mouth shut and worked my butt off since I was now doing the work of 3 people, and people noticed; my already good reputation amongst my colleagues soared. When I finally got another job a few months down the road, I gave as little notice as possible and left with my head held high. Best of all, within months of my leaving, my now former department imploded, the interim supervisor was fired for poor performance and my former supervisor demoted. Meanwhile, I’ve been fortunate enough to have great success and many opportunities for advancement at my new job, which I took initially because it was almost identical to the position I was passed over for at my previous employer. Living well really IS the best revenge!

    1. Anonymous*

      I think OP should start looking for another job. I noticed in your missive OP you stated you were the one who trained the one who is now in authority over you. In addition why would you want to work at a company in which those in higher authority take no notice to others in management other than promoting an individual based not on experience but seniority? From the way I see it you want a dead end supervisor position and that what it is-after this promotion there’s no where else to go for you. Trust me your coworkers know your bitter after all they watched you train her as well. I’d like to recommend a book , Corporate Confidential because it does touch on situations like this. You should look for a supervisory position that has a ladder that meets your ambitious promotional desires. In addition, you don’t know if management is doing this to test you. Sometimes the senior person gets promoted so as to not offend them with the person who is qualified but doesn’t have longevity becoming their boss. You also don’t know if someone in corporate or the VP is asking your new boss how you’re cooperating with her. You could shut yourself out completely from any future promotions if you’re not giving this new but temporary boss the support you would have wanted if you were in the position.

  7. Betts*

    I had something similar happen to me early on in my career. Co-workers who had less experience than I did were seemingly getting hand picked for plum assignments and I felt that I was being ignored. I sulked and pouted about the issue for about a month. It was so bad that my supervisor asked one of my work friends what was wrong with me.

    I got up the nerve to request a meeting with my supervisor and his response was “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. It wasn’t that my colleagues were being hand picked out of the blue, they had just communicated their career goals with their managers. Something that I hadn’t thought to do. Once I identified and communicated my goals to my supervisor, I started moving forward. But… my supervisor told me that all the stewing and pouting would have hurt me if it had gone on for too much longer.

    As Elizabeth said, if this is something that you want, you need to speak up. And get your ducks in a row before you go in and make your case.

    Hopefully no one has taken notice of the fact that you’ve been bitter over the fact that someone else was chosen to sit in for your previous supervisor.

      1. Amouse*

        Sure but the OP is just asked advice so that she can move on to the communication stage. She recognizes she’s been being bitter and that it isn’t constructive. I’m having difficulty seeing the basis for your tone to her.

  8. TP*

    I went through something similar recently. In an ideal setting, we would all get recognized for working hard, doing great work and bringing lots of value and ideas to the table. The hard lesson I learned was that this is not enough and especially if you work at a place with sub-par management (like I do), it’s even more important to be your own promoter and advocate. Go in there and tell them why you think you deserve the job because no one else will be doing for you.

    1. Jamie*

      Funny story – but ties in with being your own promoter.

      My boss came to me about a month ago and told me that our external accountants mentioned I do a great job with XYZ and they were happy they didn’t have to worry about it anymore…no idea how it came up.

      He said he had no idea I was doing XYZ and how long had I been doing it – well going on 3 years. He asked how I started and I reminded him that he assigned it to me low those many years ago and I’ve just been doing it ever since.

      Well – he was impressed at the bang up job I’ve been doing. Sure – for three years a routine part of my job. Kind of like being complimented on how well you tie your shoes or get yourself to work each day – but that’s fine.

      So the lesson is sometimes, even with a good relationship, you need to remind people of what you do…because like the magnet on my fridge says “No one notices what I do until I don’t do it.”

      And the magnet has a cartoon cat sitting on a pile of laundry – combining adorableness with a valid point.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Things that go along smoothly do not get noticed- OFTEN.

        Funny story. At one point a boss gave me X task to do. The task was a major pain- numerous steps, requiring patience. And, okay, the boss basically dumped it in my lap. The first time I did it took 40 minutes and involved lots of snarling. I caught on. Years later she saw me do X and the task was complete in 4 minutes flat. (If you knew what to do, it was easy.)
        “How did you learn to do that?”, the boss said.
        “You told me to figure it out”, I said. (I tried not to laugh.)

        The boss did not even remember telling me to learn it. All she knew was X always got done.

        1. TP*

          Funny thing is people never take notice when things get done well and efficiently. It’s only when they don’t. I always found it odd that you have to tell people you did X, as if you’re boasting or looking for a pat on the back. Good managers I believe notice both, but I have yet to come across any! Har har. The working world is surely an odd one.

  9. Jen in RO*

    I’m more experienced than my coworkers, I study aspects of my job in my spare time, I’m the designated ‘tech support’ for our specific applications and I have seniority… but I do *not * want a management position! Tell your boss what you’re interested in. Just because you’re good at your job doesn’t automatically mean you’re interested in managing. I told my boss that I would hate to lead people, so he’s making sure I get to only deal with the techy stuff I enjoy :-)

  10. PPK*

    I echo that you should tell them you are interested in the position. It may be customary to promote the coworker — but that’s a not a guarantee. What if coworker finds that they don’t like the supervisor role? I know more than one person who has tried management and gone back to technical. It’s not for everyone. And if the coworker likes it, but isn’t doing a great job, they might turn to you next before making the temp position permanent.

  11. fposte*

    I once got a similar promotion-type thing; when I met with my supervisor to ask to be considered, he said that they’d been wondering why I hadn’t asked.


  12. COT*

    I have a great boss. We’ve worked together quite closely for the past three years, and she’s always been invested in my career growth. I thought I had been clear all this time about the area that I eventually wanted to move into. I asked for these new duties once a couple of years ago, was turned down (they already had another internal candidate in mind), and never got the courage to ask again. I assumed that she’d never see me as qualified for that line of work. My mistake.

    A couple of weeks ago at my performance review, we both came in to the meeting with the belief that it was time for me to take on a new area of work… but her proposal was the complete opposite of what I dream of doing. She thought I’d be excited about the offer, but I was just surprised. Fortunately she’s open to helping me move more into what I actually want to do, but she was surprised to hear that’s what I wanted.

    If my boss somehow didn’t know what I wanted to do (when I thought it was crystal clear), it’s no surprise that your VP has not the slightest clue. Don’t make the mistake I did. Speak with her right now and make your case as to why you should be considered–before they make other plans to fill the role. Use your insider knowledge to present a plan of how to address your department’s weaknesses and how you’ll continue to grow on your strengths.

    Good luck!

  13. Ashley*

    The one thing I always tell employees when they ask me “How do I get that job?” is that they have to let it be known that they want it! Very rarely is someone going to say “I want you to be in this role” unless you put the idea in their head first. You are your own biggest advocate! I’ve seen to often people get bitter over not being considered for an opportunity when they never applied for it in the first place. Be a cheerleader for yourself and let it be known to the VP what you want. Sometimes it’s not an easy conversation, but at the very least, it might give you some good ideas on what steps you need to take to get there.

  14. Lanya*

    OP, I once did exactly what Alison has suggested in your case, and it worked out very well. I wish you the same good luck!

  15. Hooptie*

    Does the VP have your updated resume? If not, I would put it in front of her whether you can request a face to face meeting to discuss your career development or if you just have to leave it on her desk with a note.

    For me, plum projects and promotions go to those who show that they want and are hungry for it. Sometimes you have to toot your own horn to get noticed – and if I were in the position of your VP I’d be disappointed if I found out later that you hadn’t done so.

  16. OP*

    There seems to be a mis perception that I wanted a promotion but never told anyone. I’m not sure where in my original letter that was miscommunicated, so I would like to point out that I did share with my supervisor my career goals on numerous occasions. She supported my goals and even appointed me to serve on a panel and gave me other tasks that would help me achieve my goals.

    Then she was fired. She was let go on a Friday after hours and the interim was appointed over the weekend. When I showed up on Monday I was told my boss was gone and co-worker was the new boss. I was never given an opportunity to meet with VP and share with her my goals.

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