how do I get over losing out on a promotion?

A reader writes:

I’m struggling to deal with my emotions after my teammate was chosen for a promotion ahead of me, and I was given vague feedback.

I’ve worked for my company for two years. I’m on a team of two, and recently we both interviewed to become the lead of our team, because our manager is moving up. At the same time, a similar lead role opened up in a parallel team, where I have work experience. So I essentially had one interview for both roles, but didn’t get either.

On my team, my teammate was chosen for the team lead role. And on the other team, someone who started less than a year ago was chosen, because they have prior experience as a manager, whereas I don’t. My manager told me there was no question that the newer person would get that role. And for my team, my teammate apparently came across as more motivated than me.

I feel upset that I wasn’t chosen in either case because both of these people will benefit from manager training and get to develop their careers at the company. It feels like the bubble has been burst: I’ve stayed late many times, I’ve often been the person who people come to when they have questions, I’ve happily accepted new challenges in my role when it took on new directions during my time so far, and including change, in the past year I’ve had four team leads due to people leaving or moving up.

Something like this hasn’t happened to me before and I don’t know how to deal with the emotional reaction I’m having. Unfortunately I cried when my manager told me. It’s her first time as a manager, and I think she handled it clumsily as well, telling me I shouldn’t focus on things I can’t change (when I asked if there are things I could improve on). I was flummoxed when I heard this and didn’t know how to ask more questions. I did say out loud that I didn’t feel any leadership from my colleague. I know I shouldn’t have said this. I have often felt that I’m pointing things out and explaining things to her, and it just bothers me so much now that I will have to take direction from her.

I feel depressed and as if the floor has dropped from underneath my feet. I am normally quite cheerful and happy to chat to everyone at work but I just can’t bring myself out of this slump. it’s been three weeks since I found out. I am trying really hard to be professional but I fear I’m creating a bad atmosphere and I don’t want that either.

I believe I performed badly during my interview and wonder if the decision was based on this instead of my work record. I was nervous because one of our C-level executives was present, I was meeting them for the first time, and they asked most of the questions.

After the decision was made, my senior manager sent me a private message offering to explore different growth opportunities and support me, so all is not lost. I haven’t taken her up on this yet. But I’m finding it so hard to recover.

There are two basic possibilities here: You were passed over unfairly … or, well, you weren’t.

But that second possibility doesn’t mean that you suck at your job or anything like that! It just means that your colleagues might have been stronger matches with these particular positions. You’ve got to remember that your employer isn’t just assessing whether you could do the job well; they’re assessing whether you would be the best person for the job out of all the people they’re considering. So they might think you’re quite capable, but your colleagues were just stronger matches with what they were seeking for those roles.

The fact that the position on the other team went to someone with management experience makes that possibility particularly likely. First-time managers have a huge learning curve, generally require a ton of training, and can be hard to work for. So it makes sense that your co-worker’s management experience would be a significant point in her favor.

The situation is a little murkier with the position on your team, especially since it sounds like you feel like you’re a stronger worker than your promoted co-worker. But it’s very possible that the hiring team was prioritizing different factors than you realized (or than you yourself would have prioritized). For example, they might have been looking less for subject matter knowledge and instead for qualities like a strong drive to get things done (which might be what they were getting at when they told you she seemed more motivated), skill at identifying and communicating ways the team could perform better, willingness to make hard decisions and have awkward or difficult conversations, finesse when dealing with other departments or upper management, and so forth. Those things are all crucial for a manager, and they might not be the same things you weigh when you assess your co-worker.

And of course, you might have all those skills too! But your co-worker might have more of them (or has demonstrated more of them in front of decision-makers). Hiring always means grading on a curve — so you could be great, but not necessarily the person who appeared to be the most strongly matched with that particular role.

None of this means you failed or that you’re not appreciated. When there are multiple good candidates and only one or two slots, the reality of the math is that some of those good candidates won’t get the job. That math can be painful, but it’s not a personal reflection on you.

Or, of course, there’s the other possibility: that you were indeed passed over unfairly. It’s really hard to know from the outside if that’s actually the case — and it might be equally hard to know from where you’re standing, too, unless your co-worker who’s becoming your team lead is truly and egregiously terrible.

It really doesn’t help that your manager fumbled the conversation when she told you the news. Telling you not to focus on things you can’t change isn’t exactly a message designed to make you feel invested in your future there, nor does it give you any insight into what you could do to get promoted down the road. (See above re: first-time managers being tough to work for.)

What she should have done is talk to you about what a path to promotion might look like for you, even though this one didn’t work out, and what things you can work on to better position yourself when opportunities come up in the future. If she had done that, I suspect you wouldn’t be feeling quite as crushed. Disappointed, yes — that’s normal. But hopefully not as dejected as you’re feeling right now.

But there’s really good news buried in your letter: your more senior manager did offer to talk with you about other growth opportunities! That’s exactly what you should want in a situation like this, and you should take her up on it. Thank her for offering to give you feedback, say you’d really like to take on more responsibility, and ask her for advice about what you can start doing now to make a promotion more likely in the future.

If she also gives you vague answers with no specifics, that’s a red flag suggesting you might need to leave the company in order to move up. But it would be really premature to conclude that now.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    a lesson my dad taught me as a kid is that sometimes it’s not necessarily that I *lost* or *failed*, it’s just that there was someone else slightly better, and that’s okay. Continue to work hard and build your skills and your time will come, one way or another.

      1. AC*

        I have definitely been through something similar. With a family motto like “life is a competition meant to be won,” you can imagine how hard I take loss/”failure.” When I was passed over a promotion, it was a little difficult to deal with for me personally. I sat down with my boss and discussed my job responsibilities and to see if there was anything I can do to better position myself for future promotions. Turns out, she preferred the “excessive amount of check-ins” approach to work which I started doing. It opened dialogue between the both of us for future promotions and made her far happier with my work performance in my current position. Although it hasn’t fully panned out yet, she did talk to me last week because she thinks that someone in a higher position is going to be leaving soon and wanted to see if I would be interested in the position. I guess what I am trying to say is that although it does suck and sometimes it can make you feel a bit doom and gloom, the best thing you can do is be proactive right now and keep chugging along. Sooner or later, it will work out in your favor.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      This, although it sounds like OP has the double burden of believing that the coworker who was promoted does not have better skills or experience. I have been there a couple times, and somehow it feels worse than being fairly bested.

      1. JSPA*

        If OP has just one metric for leadership / one definition of what leadership looks and feels like, that may come across in all kinds of ways, and hamper their development. Doing support and answering questions for people can be lovely. It can make a good leader into a great one. But in itself, it doesn’t define leadership. Maybe OP should explicitly bring up the issue of, “what most defines ‘good leadership’ here” with the boss. Could be that helping out and chatting and being likeable are actually seen as liabilities, not strong points, e.g. if they prioritize excellent boundaries over collegiality and helpfulness. Or any of a dozen other possibilities. I can also see not wanting to tell someone outgoing and helpful by nature that they should dial it back! Basically, weakening your strengths to fit that company’s current leadership needs or style preferences is probably not going to be a winning strategy. However, gaining awareness of what leadership means to various people should be broadly valuable. Even if the take – home ends up being that your best fit for promotion might be a move to a different company or group.

  2. anna green*

    “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.” -Captain Picard

    1. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

      I’ve heard this quote before, but can’t help but read it in a different way than intended…to me, it sounds like “you can try as hard as you want, but you will still fail, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

      1. Engineer Woman*

        Sure – this is a valid interpretation. Maybe preface with “There are times that…”. But it’s a source of comfort somewhat (at least to me) that the fail isn’t because you could have done better.

      2. MK*

        Fail and lose are not synonymous. If X is something that anyone who acheives Y will receive, then if you have not acheived Y, you have failed. But if there is only one X and who gets it depends on 10 different factors, you can lose without having made any specific mistakes.

      3. Lumen*

        I don’t think that’s a misread of the quote. It just depends on how you take it.

        To me, it’s sort of like the phrase “it’s not about you”. Hearing that used to feel like a slap in the face, an invalidation, a dismissal – and I’m sure in some cases, whoever was saying it to me meant it that way, because they were a jerk. But I also learned that it can be a gift to hear those words, a release and a relief.

        Hearing that I can try my absolute best and do everything perfectly and still not get what I want can, depending on how I choose to take it, make me feel depressed and hopeless about my chances of ever succeeding at anything. Or it can be a release: sometimes it’s just not about me, or how hard I tried, or if I’m ‘good enough’, or if I’m ‘enough’, full stop.

        So yes. Sometimes you will try as hard as you want, and still fail, and there is nothing you can do (or could have done) about it. That doesn’t say anything about you as a person, or about your abilities. It’s not weakness. It’s just life. And a big part of life is learning how we can live with the knowledge that our best efforts may not get us the desired results – is that going to drag us down, or can we move on from it and keep trying?

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah my parents always used to say “life isn’t fair” and I think this is a similar point. Hearing “life isn’t fair” doesn’t really make you feel better, but – it is true. You have to take it into account sometimes.

      4. knitcrazybooknut*

        That’s what I learned from playing basketball in high school. Three years and didn’t win a single game. I loved playing basketball. The rest of my team(s) were not as laissez faire.

        1. A tester, not a developer*

          My son is in a similar situation right now – but he’s the frustrated one. He’s on a team that is… not strong. Like, they have a tendency to shoot on their own basket levels of skill. I’ve been reminding him that he can find things within the game to be proud of/enjoy.

      5. Airy*

        Picard said that it’s possible, not that it’s inevitable, and in context he said it to comfort and encourage Data, who was confused and concerned that he’d lost a game he thought he was playing correctly. It’s definitely not a put-down or a “so stop wasting your effort.”

      6. Basia, also a Fed*

        Yes, that’s the context in which Picard said it on the show. That is the point. (For time to get that arranged marriage)

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I read JokeyJules comment and was going to put this as my reply. I try to keep it in mind and heart when things don’t go the way I’d worked for and hoped for.

    3. JM in England*

      I’ve heard a different version with an Olympics slant “It’s possible to do everything right and still not get the gold”….

      1. voyager1*

        That wasn’t the meaning of the espisode Tapestery…

        Tapestery is about Q showing Picard that his life choices made him the man he is, especially the bad choices. Those bad choices that Picard cringes about as a mature adult were necessary for him to grow and mature.

  3. Autumnheart*

    Also, don’t forget that your accomplishments in your role don’t go away. If you are ready to move up into a role like the ones you applied for, maybe it’s time to look outside the company for similar roles.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Also keep in mind that you will continue to develop as an employee and person. Your management may not have considered you as the best ccandidate TODAY, but as you grow and develop, you may very well be the best candidate TOMORROW. So please accept your senior manager’s offer for growth opportunities. I know it’s hard, but far better to push forward than stay lay!

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    I like the advice to not leave yet… but do keep in mind that maybe you just are not going to move up at this company no matter what you do. If that’s the case, then it’s helpful to look for something else before you get too mired in bitterness.

    But blowing the interview is reason enough to be passed over if your colleague wowed the C-suite exec. Your manager gave you deeply unhelpful feedback here, but with the data you have so far, it seems “other team candidate had more relevant experience” and “this team candidate came across better in the interview” are both viable explanations. And the more senior boss offering training is potentially a line to better things in future–at least, grab onto it and treat it like it could be. If not at this company, then at a new one if you decide to start looking elsewhere for ways to move up.

    1. MK*

      The problem with “don’t focus on things you cannot change” is that it can mean “the other person had more expierience and there was nothing you could have done about that” or “you don’t have X quality and I don’t think there is anything you can do about it”. In either case, it’s wrong advice, you can try to get expierience or become more qualified.

    2. chi type*

      Yeah, I thought she buried the lede a bit about blowing the interview. I understand she thought that her work history would make up for that but…it’s still going to be a pretty big factor. If they were going solely on past performance they wouldn’t have even bothered doing interviews.

  5. Judy Johnsen*

    One suggestion I saw, that we do not use enough: keep a success journal of things you have done at work. This way, when you need to say what you have done, say , in an interview, you may have an answer instead of going in cold.

    1. NotPromoted_Yet*

      Yep, I admit I wasn’t fully prepared to have ‘success’ examples to provide, the first interview focussed on problems, whereas the second interview asked about certain specific successes and it caught me off guard.

    2. Raining in DC*

      Yes! Every Friday I spend 5 minutes documenting the bigger things I accomplished during the week. This is invaluable when it is time to fill out my performance review at the end of the year.

      1. I'd Rather not Say*

        I second the success journal. It’s also helpful to have a running list of these sorts of things to use during annual performance reviews. Do make sure people know you’re doing these extra things (staying late, helping others, etc.). That doesn’t mean you have to go around bragging, but if there’s a relevant way to bring it up, make sure you take advantage of this. I’m sure there are lots of scripts for doing this on the AAM site. I’ve been the “reliable person” like you, and I think people sometimes take things for granted, while we end up feeling resentful at not getting the credit (or promotion) we feel we deserve. I hope your manager’s offer for development works out and you get the promotion you want. Good luck OP!

      2. uranus wars*

        This is a great idea! I need to start doing this weekly. I struggle with year-end reviews and generally referencing/remembering accomplishments – work or personal.

      3. AC*

        I do a lot of personal casework throughout the week and I also keep record of the cases that I really went above and beyond and really helped someone. We don’t have performance reviews at work, but it is always easy to feel bogged down some days so I keep them all in my “For When I Hate My Job” folder.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Yes, this. And don’t just save them in your email. Have them available in a form you can access outside of work, in case you need them for an outside job opportunity.

    3. Butter Makes Things Better*

      What a great idea, Judy! OP says selling themselves doesn’t come easy, but this would definitely provide a solid starting script.

      I also love that you can do this no matter what job you’re in. I’m writing a novel, and boy howdy do I not enjoy plugging away with no feedback for months and months on end. A success journal would go a long way towards mitigating my abiding sense of loserdom. Many, many thanks for this.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I agree. This is a great idea for those of us who are not good at blowing our own trumpet. And I agree with forwarding complimentary emails to your personal email.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      So much this! I save certain emails that come from other departments or high level people that my boss wouldn’t be included on in a separate email folder for review time.

  6. Murphy*

    I had this happen to me, and it sucked. I got over it by getting a new job and quitting a few months later. (That wasn’t the only reason, but it sure was motivating!)

      1. Green*

        I’m young-ish and ambitious, so I’ve been the runner-up now for THREE competitive roles in my organization. It sucks. But the people who got it were more experienced/senior, (which is also something I can’t do anything about) but the feedback I’ve gotten has been very encouraging. Also, since I’ve been a finalist for each position, I think it positively raises my profile …

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, I do respect Alison’s advice, but I also think if you dislike your upcoming boss and you have reason to dread working for them, it’s not wrong to start looking around for an option you may like better.

    2. Kittyfish 76*

      This sorta happened to me as well. Only there were no interviews. I was at oldjob for almost 4 years, and was often told that I would be manager of the dept. Then someone else came along. Story is too long, but she was given the promotion instead. I was even told after the fact, by other managers, that they made a mistake in promoting her, but what was done was done. Anyway, I left that place. But that was a toxic place, this may not be. I understand how you feel. It’s worth weighing your options as to staying or going. Good luck to you.

  7. giraffe*

    I also think it might be a good idea to sit down with your coworker-turned-manager — if she doesn’t initiate it first — and say something like, “Hey, I know this is probably going to be awkward as we figure out how our working relationship is going to evolve, but I hope we can keep the lines of communication open and I’m really committed to this job and making this work.” Even if you don’t quite feel like it’s true yet, hopefully it will become true. Sometimes just acknowledging the awkwardness can go a long way toward alleviating it.

    And definitely take your big boss up on her offer! You can do a version of the above with her, too — like “I know I had an emotional reaction when I heard the news, but I’ve processed it now and feel better about everything.”

    1. DaffyDuck*

      Yes! Contact the big boss TODAY and take her up on that offer for growth! It will show you are interested in learning new things and will make a positive impression. You might not have gotten this job but it will position you well for another one in the future (or be an asset if you move on).

  8. Anon for this*

    I’ve been in your shoes OP, and it’s rough. I was also up for a promotion with another internal candidate and the other person got it. They are now my boss. I feel like I was the stronger candidate, and still think I could do a better job than who was chosen. Unfortunately as I work in academia and am not mobile, there are very few options other than to suck it up and make it work. So, here’s what worked for me. One is to continue to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. I’d reach out to the senior manager and ask about those other opportunities. Continue to look for projects and leadership roles where you can demonstrate commitment and initiative. These will be great resume builders either at your current job or in the future. You’ll be seen as a team player and invested in the success of the group. And give yourself a break. You’re allowed to grieve a bit for a missed opportunity. After a year, I still can get worked up over it if I think about it too much so I know this is hard, but you really need to not let resentment take hold and affect your attitude too much at work. Good luck!

  9. Butter Makes Things Better*

    Very much relate to this, though the situation was slightly different for me: colleague & I weren’t competing for the same role; her or anyone else’s getting bumped up didn’t preclude me from getting promoted.

    My senior manager (definitely *not* a first-time manager) botched the aftermath as well, telling me that particular track (breaking news) didn’t seem like a good fit for me, while keeping me in the position for years afterward anyway. So I was managing an entire department and shouldering a much heavier workload than my colleague without the title and salary increase, and without my senior manager or my assigned mentor (one of her bosses) able to articulate why I wouldn’t get the promotion — no matter how I asked, and no matter how many work-related bonuses I was awarded for great work. Talk about a recipe for burnout. Ugh.

    OP, Alison is totally right that your senior manager’s willingness to discuss different tracks with you is a terrific sign. I hope she offers you concrete, actionable steps towards tangible title/responsibility goals. I wish that my bosses had taken me out of breaking news altogether because I loved the company and thrived once I left and returned to freelance for them on non-breaking news stories. By not spending a little time looking at the aerial view, they lost a diehard loyal workhorse who understood the brand deeply enough that they had me leading brainstorming sessions with the top editors.

    The best part was that my senior manager actually came to me some time later when her colleague got promoted instead of her — and cried to me about it! I handled the situation well enough that she said she finally understood how I felt in my own non-promotion situation, and appreciated that I was helping her process hers. Sigh.

    1. InfoSec SemiPro*

      I was in a similar situation until very recently. Several years of no useable feedback (“You’re doing everything right! I [as your boss] have to do a few things behind the scenes.”) Its extremely frustrating and demotivating.

      I finally went to my grandboss and said that while I loved the department and the team I’ve built here, that I was on a short clock before I went looking for a position I could grow more in, ideally within the company, but outside if necessary. It was terrifying – because I do love my department and my work here and I’m basically anti ultimatum. But I have to make choices for what’s best for me at some point. I’m pretty happy that my promotion was announced a handful of weeks later.

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        Wow! That’s terrific, InfoSec. There are many things I wish I had done differently, and laying what you needed out for them the way you did would be one of them. In fact, it would probably be No. 1 on the list. Congratulations!

        In case OP finds any of these useful, here are other things I wished I’d done:
        1) Not seen my career path as a series of promotions on a ladder. By framing my job as a means to another job and focusing on missed promotions, I failed to ask myself whether I was happy or whether the work situation was sustainable. It wasn’t, and I only found out when I was so fried I couldn’t do the job anymore vs. a measured decision.
        2) Tried taking the aerial view (like InfoSec did) for my own career and mapped out possible paths within the organization. I was so focused on the supposed next rung that I didn’t even consider that I could switch departments.
        3) Talked to the people in the organization who had jobs that fit those possible paths.
        4) Asked my senior manager if breaking news wasn’t the right track, what would be. This is a convo OP can have with their senior manager.
        5) Not compared and despaired. It was a recipe for resentment that sped up my burnout.

    2. newsy*

      hi! newsroom person here. I suspect you may know this already, but one of the reasons you had trouble moving on from breaking news, despite doing it well, is because it’s extremely hard to find people who do it capably. It’s extremely difficult to do it well, but in the infrastructure of news, it’s also not especially well respected in a lot of newsrooms. So they probably wanted to keep you there, and didn’t much care if you were happy being there, because no one is happy doing breaking news long-term. it’s just about finding a body who can do it.

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        +1 about finding a body and keeping them there whether they’re happy or not. I may have had the opposite problem though; breaking news was the most valued (it wasn’t a newsroom) as well as the key to moving up, so I think everyone had blinders on, like “Why would we ever think of placing her elsewhere?” Me especially because I was so overly focused on my failure to get promoted.

        I guess that would be my top suggestion to OP: don’t put all your eggs in the “potential promotion at this one company” basket. Doesn’t seem like OP is in danger of this, but it’s something to keep in mind as your career unfolds, because at least for me, it led to me discounting all my accomplishments (including previous promotions) and walking around feeling less than, then working even harder (but not smarter) in a blind effort to catch up.

  10. Madeleine Matilda*

    A couple of things in your letter jumped out at me. First you said about the hiring of the other position “on the other team, someone who started less than a year ago was chosen, because they have prior experience as a manager.” Although this person is newer to your company it doesn’t mean she has less experience than you. Second thing that I noted in your letter was that you had four team leads in a year. That is a lot of change and perhaps an indication that turn over in your company is so frequent that there will be more opportunities for you, particularly if you follow up with your senior manager about what you can do to prepare yourself to be promoted.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      I think people get distracted a lot by “newer at the company”. My immediate superior has worked here 1/4 as long as I have but she also has more education and more experience overall. Beyond the getting-your-sea-legs period, length of time with the company should be pretty irrelevant.

    2. iglwif*

      Agreed. At ExJob we had ructions at one point because someone with less time at the company got promoted to a supervisory position at the same level as someone (on a parallel team) with more time there, and like … why exactly is this relevant?

  11. Laura*

    One thing I noticed in you letter was your comment that you are the one people go to for help and questions, and also that you often work late to get things done. These two things together struck me when you said your manager commented that your coworker was more motivated, parhaps meaning getting things done. From my own personal struggles with getting promoted, I may have some insight and suggestions. I was the same type of coworker, always helping with other peoples tasks, working long hours and answering questions, thinking that this was ADDING to my growth potential when infact it had the opposite affect. I while I always completed tasks on time, I struggled to gwt my own assigned tasks done in a standard work week due to all the extra work I had taken on. After 2 years of getting promoted and continued comments about taking too long to complete tasks, I had a very frank conversation with my manager regarding just how much I was doing, listed it all out in a spreadsheet and tracked just how much time I spent on each task, question and general help, and it really showed her how much I was doing, some of which she agreed were mine to do but many she felt I should not be doing. I took problem solving training that helped me identify what was not “my problem” to fix personally. We also worked closely together, weekly one on ones to flush out my job description and create a promotion plan. This resulted in my company realizing I had too much to do for one person, they hired me an assistant I got to supervise day to day thereby getting management experience and I had an agreed to path to promotion. At the end of which, I got the promotion I wanted, though it took 3 years longer than I had wanted or hoped. You should accept the offer of assistance, I personally learned a lot and my company learned a lot about what I did. When I moved on years later, they were able to affectively hire my replacement.

    1. Jenn*

      This is a great comment. Reminds me of an article I just read in the HBR – “Why women volunteer for tasks that don’t lead to promotions”, linked in my name.

      1. Butter Makes Things Better*

        THIS, so much this, Laura and Jenn! When my bosses couldn’t tell me why I wasn’t getting promoted, I doubled down on volunteering for things that, looking back, were just dumb time sucks and meant I was eroding my bandwidth for the core job and upping my stress factor for no reason. Thanks for the link, will definitely read!

    2. NotPromoted_Yet*

      Yes, so the motivation comment was about my colleague’s motivation during the interview, not in general. My recollection is that I felt pretty motivated to be there, if also quite nervous…and I think my manager was just searching for a reason to give me, to be honest. Some people zoom out of their chairs when the clock strikes 6pm, which is fine! If I’ve stayed late it’s not because it’s taking me longer to do a task, but because of incoming tasks that arrive late in the day but need to be taken care of. Now I feel I should just be more mindful of my own team, and leave on time.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Honestly, you might want to be more selectively helpful. Helpful is nice, but it can go too far and bog you down. Be careful not to fill up your time with helpful busywork that you should be passing off or insisting that people solve on their own.

      2. Chopsignton*

        Something that can take a while to realize that after a point career advancement isn’t about doing *more* of the same as before, but starting to do things differently. Especially if you want to move into management, because simply doing more would imply that to keep growing you need more and more time in a day, which doesn’t scale.

        Eg, constantly helping others finish their work aspect which at one point I was doing as well, and it took me a while to realize it really wasn’t good for anyone. All it does it help give a crutch to folks who maybe are under performing, prevent you from showing your own abilities and overload your time, and mask to your lead the true capability of the team. It wasn’t until I eventually grew to a lead (and made many newbie mistakes in the process) that I realized I absolutely do not want someone doing this on the team, and especially no one who is in a lead capacity.

        If you want to be in driver seat its more steering and being able to fix the car when it’s broken, not just pushing it from behind. The later may feel like it’s leadership because your doing something immediately helpful, but it’s actually not.

    3. Lexi Kate*

      I did this too, and one night I was working late after a botched promotion again and my husband quoted me the office where Michael was talking to someone about Jim and told them Jim is not a hard worker, because he will work on something all day and Jim will do it in an hour. It made me cry, but it was a great point that me taking so long to get things done even though I was doing the harder stuff to other people (management) it made it look like I was slow and that everyone else was working smarter than me. After that I started not taking all of the hard projects and got an award from my boss for improving and we had to have a talk that I had not improved that I was no longer taking the hard projects.

    4. Chaordic One*

      Not to be rude, but it does kind of suck that it took 3 years longer than you wanted to get promoted. I don’t think I could have held out that long and would have left to work somewhere else by then.

  12. Doug Judy*

    Another thing to consider is that while you might be an excellent Tea Pot Maker, that doesn’t automatically mean you’d be a great Tea Pot Maker Manager. Soft skills on emotional intelligence, conflict management, etc. often can be what tips the scales to one candidate over another. Since you have been offered help on career progression, I would take that opportunity to sharpen those skills as well as technical skills.

    1. KHB*

      It also doesn’t necessarily mean you’d enjoy being a Teapot Maker Manager. Leadership roles can come with a lot of headaches – either you’re in one of those “team lead” type positions where you’re responsible for the team’s output but have no authority to enforce any consequences, or else you DO have authority over hiring and firing and salaries, which brings its own set of difficulties.

      I realize that sour grapes might not be what you’re looking for right now. But one perspective you can take on this is that you have the opportunity to spend some more time being the best you can be at your individual-contributor role, without being encumbered by the responsibilities of leadership.

  13. Jenn*

    I’m sorry, OP. Not getting a promotion (or a job offer!) is a special kind of disappointment. If you can take long weekend to re-calibrate, please do so. Pick your favorite activity – spa weekend? Golfing trip? Yoga retreat? – and take some time to focus on yourself.

  14. Lucille2*

    Keep in mind that being a team lead or manager requires a different skill set than an individual contributor. I naively felt at one time I could ease into the role because, as you’ve stated as well, people saw me as a go to person on the team and a natural leader among peers. But, boy, is actually being in a position of power so different than being the go-to peer. I don’t say this to discourage you from your career ambitions, but to keep a broad perspective. You mentioned you are having a hard time swallowing this rejection, and are taking it very personally. For that reason, perhaps you aren’t ready for the position yet, though I think your current manager failed you in not providing good, honest feedback. That doesn’t mean you won’t be ready in the future, but it might be something to work on. It’s important in a leadership position to maintain an even keel when decisions are not in your favor or to your liking. Sometimes, those decisions are worth finding a new job over, but that’s not often the case. Part of the skillset is knowing the difference and acting appropriately.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this was me in Former Job. I was the reliable, well-trained, adult (in a veterinary hospital, a field that employs a lot of very young women) . . . which was great until they promoted me to supervisor. I *loathed* it. Now it was my job to, well, manage all these people instead of doing the work, which was the part I liked.

  15. Loopy*

    I’ve been in your shoes OP! While this may not be what you’re looking for, I found a silver lining in being able to take another, much bigger opportunity outside the company since I hadn’t just accepted a new position. In the big picture scheme, I’m glad I had the flexibility to jump on it because, well, I didn’t have to stick with a brand new job!

    You may want to stay with this company ling term, but if not, it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of having a few years in your role IF you want to have a look around for other opportunities.

  16. AnonAnonymouses*

    I feel so much for you, because this was close to my situation earlier this year! And it sucks.

    It’s ok to grieve, but do remember that you need to remain professional, even if it’s with a vengeance!

    Take up the offer for guidance, because that’s more than the BS I got from my VP and “WTF, not cool” that was all my direct boss could give (the position would have taken me out of her department).

    And start looking around, because you may not be able to move up in your current organization. Sometimes it’s possible for people to – unfairly – get pigeonholed, and it’s even harder to showcase all the other great stuff you can do.

  17. Fall Mums*

    I don’t want this to come out mean and I am not pointing this out to bring you down only to give you an idea for the future of what you need to look at as a package. These points in your letter stood out to me that would indicate that you are not ready for a management role:
    – you performed badly in the interview, fumbled when talking with upper management: Most likely being a manager you would be dealing directly with upper leadership and not being able to communicate effectively with them would be a deal breaker.
    – you have no management experience: If someone else has this, it is a huge step up for them, and a drop for you, and you said both candidates have the experience.
    – When they let you know you were not chosen, your response was to cry and proclaim that their choice has shown no leadership: Your emotional intelligence is not at a point that most companies want their management to be at.

    None of these alone would be a dealbreaker for the future but together In my opinion if your senior management doesn’t have a position (most likely its not going to be a manager role) for you to move to then you need to consider finding a new job. The crying you could get over but the quickness to teardown the person that got the position won’t be forgotten, and that is going to make it hard for you to get management experience in this job.

    1. NotPromoted_Yet*

      Thanks for your comment, the person who became my manager doesn’t have previous managing experience. I agree with you about my reaction, I should have prepared more for the possibility of being told no but I felt confident, despite thinking that I could have done better in the interview. I’m not naturally a show off and could learn to sell myself better. Thanks for taking the time. I 100% regret my comment about my colleague, even if it’s true, it was a kneejerk reaction and wasn’t appropriate for me to say.

      1. RG2*

        I’d really encourage you to avoid thinking that being straightforward about your strengths is showing off. In an interview context, it’s not virtuous to avoid talking about your strengths. Being direct gives interviewers a better ability to evaluate whether you match their needs.

        I do a lot of interviews and one thing I’ve learned from it is that, generally, it’s easier to believe what people tell you about themselves than what you might infer if you read carefully between the lines (unless they offer up evidence to the contrary). I’m not listening from the point of view that they’re showing off or trying to snow me, unless those examples don’t make sense. I’m very likely to believe what you tell me about your skills (e.g, you are good at project management) , especially if you can provide examples (e.g., how you deployed those skills on X project). But if they just give examples of successful projects, I might not necessarily follow the line of reasoning they’re hoping I’ll infer about their project management skills. This is especially true when the interviewers don’t have a lot of context in your day-to-day work, and it can be really, really easy to forget in an interview what context is required to understand what completing X project meant in terms of the skills you had to demonstrate. So lead them to water as much as you can :) It’s not showing off, it’s being a clear communicator, and you should give yourself the space to do it.

        1. Gloucesterina*

          Yes, consider how you can ask for feedback from a friend or colleague you trust about how effectively you’re communicating your strengths and contributions (whether that’s in a cover letter, resume, or in a mock interview).

      2. Kaaaaaren*

        Eh… I think you’re within your rights to feel your feelings about this. You have to be professional at work, treat everyone well, and with respect, etc., but you’re allowed to be bitter and you’re allowed to think you’re more qualified or do better work than your colleague who got the promotion. You’re even allowed to feel like you got screwed over, if you want. Having those feelings doesn’t mean you’re inherently unprepared for a promotion because you haven’t reached some kind of hyper-objective Enlightened State of Managementhood… They mean you’re human.

        Anyway, no real ADVICE here except let yourself feel how you feel. Just keep it professional (or… get yourself back to acting professional).

        1. Courageous cat*

          Yeah, honestly, I agree. I’ve been an upper-level manager (and even offered a VP-level promotion that I turned down) for a pretty good amount of time, like many many years, and I… could definitely see myself feeling this way. Being a manager does not entail being a total beacon of professional maturity at all times. People have feelings and objective thoughts about other people’s leadership, and that’s normal, and does not *necessarily* preclude you from being manager material. It can, but it doesn’t always.

          I think what your individual contributions show is that you have potential to be a good new manager, and I think it’s BS to say that they don’t have enough to do with it to be worth promoting you. They absolutely do, but you have to be in the industry and in the position where people feel comfortable doing that. Retail is one of those industries where you’ll see a lot of that. But if they have the ability to hire experienced managers, it may just be easier for them to go with it.

          I’m not really proofreading any of what I’m saying tonight because I’m particularly tired but I hope this is coherent and reasonable, haha.

    2. EmilyAnn*

      I think these are all great points. You made the case that they made the right decision with your reaction to the bad news. I’ve been there, passed over for a promotion with a crappy reaction. I ended up leaving that job and moving up elsewhere. It took time, but I could look back and see I wasn’t suited for the work environment and wasn’t mature enough to understand the dynamics of that workplace.

    3. Doug Judy*

      I agree with your last point for sure. I had a coworker, she was excellent at her job, top performer in the department, and was the go to person for questions. But she’d make a terrible manager because while she was happy to answer questions, after said person left she’d moan, groan, say they were idiots under their breath, and would fall apart any time things did not go the way she wanted or thought they should. NOT saying this is OP at all for the record, but to make the point that leadership roles need to consider more than just technical ability.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Except it kinda wasn’t. Not getting promotions is pretty routine in jobs, which makes losing one’s cool even less . . . cool.

          It’s fine and normal to be disappointed, but managers are going to be responsible for a lot of stuff that could lead to difficult situations, and taking a verbal swing at a coworker when things don’t go as wished doesn’t look like leadership potential.

    4. TSG*

      Oof, this was my initial reaction as well. I’ve been the person on both ends of this exact kind of situation – as the passed-over employee, I had reported long before the position became available that I was being harassed and bullied by my coworker, who was also leaving for large chunks of time during our shift and leaving me to do both of work when she was MIA. So when a new job opened up and she got it instead for “being there longer,” I was pretty upset. But, I thanked my manager anyway for interviewing me and continued to do my work really well and took some extra trainings. Another job opened up in a different department I had been training with and I got that job, which was much better than the promotion I was passed over for. I moved up in the company twice more over a couple years before I left for something else. Mean coworker stayed in the same position for several more years before being fired when they finally decided to address her many, many issues.

      As a manager, I had an employee ask me about new opportunities in a 1:1 meeting, and so I worked with him on extra training and feedback and when he made some really great improvements I recommended him for a promotion. Another employee found out and told me that she too was interested in a title like that, and what did she need to do to get it? So I started working with her as well.

      Another employee, though, had never indicated to me she wanted to do anything else, despite me asking her career goals, so even though she was a good employee, I hadn’t been giving her the same advice. Well, when she found out her coworker had a new position, she angrily confronted me with XYZ reason she deserved it and he didn’t, and then her attitude at work noticeably shifted. She didn’t do any of the things I suggested she do if she wanted to move up as well.

      So when the time came for another promotion, I recommended the other employee who asked for training. I lost pretty much all my faith in the angry employee, especially since she didn’t seem to understand that what she did was pretty egregious.

      OP, you say you feel terrible about how you responded to your manager – did you ever let your manager know that? Honestly, trying to throw your coworker under the bus for not “showing leadership” is going to be a big thing to overcome and may be making them question how you’d handle disappointment or frustration when it inevitably comes up again from a higher position. Also, keep in mind that you may only know part of what your coworker is doing/capable of – they may ask you a lot of questions, but they may excel at other skills or take initiative in other ways that may not be known or obvious to you. It’s a hard, sucky feeling, but try to let go of the idea that your coworker won’t be good at this job, because maybe they will be. And if they’re not, you working graciously and supportively and excelling at your work in the meantime will only benefit you in the long run either way.

  18. Cheesehead*

    I was at a job once where there was another person there who was the squeaky wheel. She talked a good talk, but some of what she said was outright wrong. I had the education and the relevant previous work experience and knowledge, whereas she transferred from an unrelated department and didn’t have anywhere near the relevant experience that I did. I’d been there (in my department, anyway) for longer, and I to the point where I wanted a promotion (basically a level higher, doing the same job, but with more responsibility and of course, a higher salary). So I started asking my supervisors what I needed to do to be considered for a promotion. They couldn’t really give me concrete things and would seemingly pick things out of thin air. Like, I need to concentrate on XYZ core facets of the job and not try to do side projects without approval. Then in the next meeting, they brought up how Wakeen did ABC side project, all on his own….he saw a need and ran with it and that was great; I should take more initiative. I pointed out that they had previously told me NOT to do just that, and then my boss responded with this gem: “Well you should just know what I’m thinking!” Really? I’m supposed to read your mind now? At that point, I realized that no matter what I did or didn’t do, I was never going to get promoted.

    So anyway, some time after this, I went part-time. I had sort of put in a request to do this earlier, if it ever worked out, and at that point, they told me they had someone to for me to essentially job-share with. Great! Me only being there part-time made all of the BS a LOT easier to deal with!

    And some time after THAT, I found out that the coworker who didn’t really know much? Well, SHE got the promotion that I’d wanted! But I realized that it had happened right around the time I went part time. So ultimately, I got one of the things that I wanted. But it was a big ‘ol slap in the face that my skills and experience didn’t matter to these people. They chose the coworker….she knew people (her sister was a bigwig in another dept), she could BS her way around things. That’s all that mattered. I don’t know what she had over them, but geez. One time she went to lunch with her sister and was gone for about 2 hours, without telling anyone that she was going out or would be late. We had 30 minute lunches. If anyone else had done that, our heads would have been on a platter; we had to cover for each other so this WAS. NOT. DONE. Yet when I asked the supervisor where she was, supervisor was very blase about it.

    So yeah, sometimes people just play the game better. They can impress the decision-makers and get what they want, even though their skills might not be on par with other candidates’.

  19. Engineer Woman*

    This experience has been had by lots of people, myself included. It is very disappointing but such is life. It’s not that you’re not doing a good job, but that someone else has (or perceived to have) some skill, experience, ability, etc that you don’t and the scales have tipped to their favor in this instance.

    There may truly not be anything you can do differently but that slight improvement of your newly promoted colleague. But you can ask (once you’re more calm): what can you do to make yourself the frontrunner when the next promotion opportunity comes along?

  20. Fiona*

    As Alison said, sometimes it’s not based on how well you’ve done in your role, but how they see you in a NEW role. (In this case, a managerial one). Staying late, being flexible, reporting to different managers – all of that is well & good, but it doesn’t really indicate how well you’d do in a leadership capacity. If you didn’t ask many questions in your interview, that’s not great. And to be honest, if your reaction to getting the bad news was to bad-mouth your colleague to me, it would probably cement in my mind that we had made the right decision — at least at this moment in time.

  21. OldJules*

    I’ve had a couple of experience of losing out a leadership role due to the lack of the management experience. It hard because I’ve lead big projects across the organization and they still passed me over. But on the other hand, that is a good indicator on how much they are willing to train a new leader. If they aren’t staffed/resource to train someone on how to be a leader, I’d consider it a blessing in disguised. I’ve always had outstanding performance as an individual contributor that I’d hate to be a terrible manager because my leader doesn’t have time to coach me on being a leader that the organization needs me to be. That means I’d have a full work load plus having to resource extra time outside of that to work on my management skills (however that is defined). A lot of organizations are so leanly staffed that they want to hire someone that they can just hand over the work and they’ll automatically get on it with minimal support.

    Hang in there, meanwhile, look for developmental opportunities to be a leader. Whether a project, class or internal leadership programs. Even if you don’t get promoted internally, there is always outside.

    Good luck!

  22. Noah*

    “So I essentially had one interview for both roles, but didn’t get either.”

    I think part of the problem was the expectations you took into this interview. You were only interviewing for one job, which your manager told you when she said the other person was definitely going to get the other team lead job. (Indeed, they probably hired her thinking she would be promoted into that role when it became available.) In the future, tempering your expectations and listening to what people tell you about your chances will probably help you feel better if you don’t succeed in the way you had hoped. It may also help you take advantage of the other opportunities you have, as you should do here.

  23. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

    So, OP. I’m really sorry you’re disappointed and let down. But here’s a few things you might not especially want to hear, delivered I hope gently.

    “And on the other team, someone who started less than a year ago was chosen, because they have prior experience as a manager…”

    It is a widely held misconception – among both management and hopeful individual contributors – that promotion to management is a function of seniority, experience, and tenure. It is not. There’s a guy here in his 60s who’s been here for 16 years who was not promoted to section chief when the last one moved on; the new section chief is a woman in her mid-30s. He is visibly disappointed, but he is also not appropriate for the role; his communication, organization, and performance are all not where they would need to be. It is also not a function of any of the following:

    “I’ve stayed late many times, I’ve often been the person who people come to when they have questions, I’ve happily accepted new challenges in my role when it took on new directions during my time so far, and including change,”

    All that tells me only that you’re excellent in your current role. It doesn’t make the case that you’d be a good manager. And being a good manager is about a lot of things in addition to dedication, expertise, a can-do attitude, and flexibility. Those are all great things! But they do not tell me anything about how you would manage people. And I get that it burns that you will now be accepting direction from people who you believe know less about the work than you do, but that is actually quite typical; in my office, each person is a recognized SME on certain programs, and not others.

    Now! It could be that you might be excellent potential manager material, and if you feel you are, I encourage you to pursue more training and learning about how to be one. But you are not entitled, as a matter of natural course, to be promoted managerial responsibilities based solely on your performance in the role of individual contributor. If you gave the impression that’s what you expected, I am not entirely surprised that the roles went to other people.

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      Now, please feel free to disregard any of that that doesn’t fit, because of course I’m reading between the lines – but chew it over, even the gristly chewy bits you might not want to swallow.

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            *bravely chews away on the gristle and fat, knowing the hardest pills to swallow are the most nourishing*

      1. Tassie Tiger*

        It all can seem very difficult, if not overwhelming, to move up in the world…one has to not only be skilled and positive at their current role, but must also be able to look at the the job and yourself as someone with a position above yours would. Trying on the hat of a manager, seeing what would help them, seeing what they’d want..and then making it happen, moving those projects forward, finding the strength and courage…it can be so overwhelming! Not to mention self-soothing when the thoughts of all the “wrong” things you’ve done have wasted so much effort, time and emotional labor. Sometimes I wonder how us worker bees manage it all! How overwhelming the hive can be!!

    2. NotPromoted_Yet*

      Thanks for your comment. I felt confident about my work and skills, but I don’t think I felt entitled, I think I would have been told that afterwards, if this was the case. But it’s possible and that’s good advice to remember. I answered questions about theoretical management situations thoughtfully, I felt. There are a few more details which I can’t share, other things that were said…

    3. DArcy*

      Promotion to supervisor positions at my company used to be heavily seniority based, a practice which ended after five or six extremely poor supervisors who had been decent employees but were completely over their head in a supervisor role. Now it’s more based on skills, which has worked much better.

  24. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I apologize, because I haven’t read the other comments closely, but I thought it may help to offer my perspective from the other side.

    I work with an organization that recently decided to create a Chief Development Officer position. This position was distinct from the “Development Director” position that it replaces. We had an in-house Development Director (DD) who had worked tirelessly for the organization for five years, but on the whole, was not producing great results. The DD interviewed for the CDO position, and the organization hired an outsider. Despite the DD’s hard work and clear commitment to the organization, she had become increasingly jaded and negative, and she also lacked the kind of skills we needed for a higher-level position. Ultimately the DD left in a blaze of scorched earth.

    But OP, the great news is that you have a senior manager who wants to invest in making you promotable. If our DD had received that feedback, I suspect she would have stayed with the organization and become a strong candidate to succeed other CDO. So I think you should follow up with the senior manager, even if you ultimately decide to leave. It sounds like they want to help you chart a path for upward mobility by acquiring the skills you’ll need to compete with others, and that development will make you a stronger candidate everywhere, not only at your current employer.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this. These situations can always be tough, even if they’re rational. :(

  25. NotPromoted_Yet*

    Thanks for your comment. I felt confident about my work and skills, but I don’t think I felt entitled, I think I would have been told that afterwards, if this was the case. But it’s possible and that’s good advice to remember. I answered questions about theoretical management situations thoughtfully, I felt. There are a few more details which I can’t share, other things that were said…

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      I assume this was directed to my comment – by “entitled” I don’t mean to suggest you cruised in with your nose in the air, thinking you were a shoe-in! That word has gotten a lot of freight lately that I don’t think it necessarily needs. What I was pointing at was more the possible assumptionn, because one is experienced and high-performing in the current role, that promotion would follow naturally.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I agree with your point, Artist Formerly Known As Snark, and your intentions were good (and I agree that the word “entitled” is too burdened to use). I have mentored people that employers use different criteria to choose individual contributors/team members vs. leaders. In the former, while interpersonal skills are almost always important, it’s your technical skills and knowledge that matter. As a leader, while having good technical skills and knowledge are almost always important, it’s the interpersonal skills that matter. I have had many people anticipate a promotion based on their technical skills because no one told them the criteria would be different.

        OP, what this means is that the decision factors changed on you and, most likely, no one mentored you about this. The good news is that you now know the rules of the game for being hired as a manager. I know it can be hard right now, but use your time, your senior manager, and the advice of the AAM community to build and showcase these skills.

  26. Blue*

    No advice on dealing with the disappointment, I’m afraid, just sympathy. It sucks to feel like your extra effort isn’t recognized or important. But I did have a senior manager who liked to have career development conversations, so I do have some recommendations about that. Definitely take them up on the offer, first of all! Before you meet, spend some time thinking seriously about your achievements and challenges at this and previous jobs. Think about your priorities, the things you enjoy, and where you see yourself going. As with an interview, you want to be able to talk confidently about your strengths and professional goals, though you’re obviously not trying to sell yourself in the same way. And given that this is a sensitive topic for you right now, conscious preparation may also help you mentally steady yourself ahead of time.

    My grandboss ended up tapping me for a number of projects as a direct result of these conversations about my interests and goals, which gave me really valuable experience I leveraged into a new position. Hopefully you’ll have similar results. Good luck!!

    1. AJ*

      I was just about to say all of this, but you summed it up nicely. :) I would just emphasize to continue to keep in touch with the senior manager longer term, and perhaps schedule occasional recurring meetings with them to discuss progress. You also mention working on projects with the senior manager, which is also a great idea because it gives you an opportunity to show your skillset and improvement to them directly, with an opportunity for additional feedback.

      When I was passed over for promotion in favor of a colleague of mine (largely due to favoritism in a tech bro environment where there were no women), I went to a manager several levels above and asked to be involved in some of his projects that I was specifically interested in (because of things like subject matter, project management experience, etc). I got to continue working with him long term and apply his feedback, and he eventually was able to go to bat for me when a rare promo opportunity finally came up 3 years later. It was a long wait but by that time I felt really well prepared for the position and had built really solid skills by working with the more senior folks, and my experience by that point was way more solid than my competition.

      One thing I might suggest is to get some more interview experience outside your company. I did this while waiting for the next promo opportunity and I realized how weak my interview was the first time around when I thought I was a shoo-in. I would talk specifically about the work that I did without looking at the bigger picture and overall impact to my group and to the organization. And I also found out that I didn’t sound enthusiastic or motivated in interviews, which I figured was due to my nerves. It was great experience that helped me not to blow the second chance internal interview years later.

  27. NotAnotherManager!*

    I’m sorry, OP. That stings, and it sucks. Giver yourself a set amount of time to grieve and then start planning for the future.

    If your senior manager is offering to help with your professional growth and development, I would take that as more of a sign that you were edged out rather than significantly below the other candidates. Being edged out happens even to the best candidates – truly – and is not a negative on your skills. And having someone interested in finding a path for you is a very good thing! Take them up on that, even if you decide finding a new job is the right thing for you.

    1. NotPromoted_Yet*

      Yes…I was told that they were surprised by the ‘results’ which is why I think it was decided on the interview.

  28. MsManager*

    OP I feel you so hard. I was you 18 months ago. “Different growth opportunities” and “don’t focus on things you can’t change” means they have already decided you will never get a leadership position in that company. Personally, I’d start looking for a new job. I left the company that passed me over and I’ve been exponentially happier ever since. (Especially after finding out the person they promoted over me was fired for embezzlement.)

    1. MsManager*

      I should add – I’m interpreting “different growth opportunities” as “different than leadership” which seems to be not the same interpretation as other posters. I might be projecting based on my own experience, but I got the vibe that OP’s boss wasn’t offering to make her a better candidate for future promotions but to steer her away from leadership roles.

  29. Somebody*

    Something similar to this happened to me at my last job, except that the person they chose was an outside hire who (I found out after the fact) lied about having management experience. Alison, would it be possible to explain more about this management learning curve? The girl who lied about having the experience definitely wasn’t stellar and I could have done her job just as well.

    1. Mary*

      I have done a little bit of managing and I think the thing is that it’s almost certainly a different skill set from whatever else you did. Being a great X doesn’t correlate with being a great (or even a good) manager of X. It’s pretty easy to think that if you’ve mastered everything that your team does, that you’re ready to lead that team, but I would guess that most of the time “knowing what the team does” is going to be like 30-40% of what you do and 60-70% of actually managing is going to be brand new. Some of it’s going to be brand new but you’re well able for it, but some of it’s going to be brand new and surprisingly difficult.

      I found I was good at:
      – getting people to buy into what I wanted
      – giving positive feedback
      – understanding what my senior team wanted to happen and conveying that to my team
      – identifying targets and meeting them

      I was Not Good at:
      – dealing with a report who was very defensive about feedback
      – figuring out how much detail people needed about what I wanted them to do
      – accepting that not everyone on my team was going to be 100% happy all the time

      The last three things occupied HUGE amounts of my time and worry, and they were completed unexpected to me. Then there’s also stuff which was straight-forward for me – handling leave requests, rotas, running meetings – but which just took up so much time and time-managing that stuff was a different set of challenges from other time-management stuff, for reasons that I can’t quite explain. Except I think it is a bit like parenting: you’re doing it all in a responsive way according to other people’s schedules, rather than your own.

      I’m a coach by profession, I’ve taught, I’m generally good at bossing people around (eldest sister) – I thought I’d be a pretty natural manager. But there was a whole layer of stuff that I found much more emotionally and intellectually challenging than I expected. So yeah. I’ve had two interviews for roles a small step above mine where my lack of management experience has been the barrier, and whilst it’s kind of frustrating, I do see where they are coming from, because I can see how steep that learning curve will be when I do get there.

  30. Bend & Snap*

    I’m sorry OP. This stings a lot.

    I have some advice after being in a similar position. I wasn’t up against anyone else, but my manager kept putting me up for promotion and it kept getting declined even though I met all the requirements.

    1) Definitely have that meeting with the senior manager, and have some growth projects in mind or skills you’d like to develop or stretch. If you can get her support in widening your responsibilities and making new opportunities, that will help you swallow all this a little better AND will help your resume.

    2) Start looking around at jobs to see what you’re qualified for. Maybe apply for a few. Put a toe in the water, so to speak, and see what happens so that you can gauge where you are as far as other companies go.

    I ultimately quit because I couldn’t get past it/they weren’t giving me any concrete path to promotion, and am now in a role 2 levels up from where I was, but it sounds like you might not be in that place yet. But if you are, that’s okay!

    Good luck to you.

  31. voyager1*

    I have been in your shoes. One of things I did when I applied for my promotion was start applying for jobs in other companies. Ironically that is advice I learned on this blog!

    I had worked for almost 3 yrs to learn the job since I knew it was coming open. I had my manager’s support but unfortunately I interviewed with a VP who believed in “manager privilege” basically anyone with management experience has to be better. In the end I left 3 months after the new person was hired and that person made the department into a true dumpster fire. I took a job paying 10K more and better hours. In the end I came out ahead. The VP retired a year later after I left. I every now and then run into folks from that company and they tell me horror stories… I get a good laugh.

    While losing out then really hurt in the end I ended up in a better situation.

    Hang in there LW. Keep us updated we are pulling for you.

  32. J.B.*

    I wasn’t even given an interview when my boss was promoted over me. It stung. A lot. He got the interview because he plays the game better. As a manager IMO he still plays the game more so than managing (combination of micro-managing some and ignoring others). But I’m getting along ok and think I’m happier. Looking forward to leaving soon too :)

  33. CupcakeCounter*

    This was the story of my life at OldJob (including the crying although I managed to hold out until I got to a out of the way bathroom). 5th time was the charm for me for my promotion. Left 18 months later for a way better place.
    The team lead position on the other team going to someone with previous experience makes complete sense so if possible put that one out of your mind. It sounds like it is the one on your team that is really bugging you. 2 of the 5 promotions I was up for I was asked to apply by the hiring manager and didn’t get for a variety of reasons (some good and some quite shitty). At this point there isn’t anything you can do about it so it really is in your best interest to continue to be a quality employee and expand your profile and skills. Based on the turnover you mentioned that spot may be open again soon.
    Take the senior manager up on their assistance and keep your eyes and ears open for internal and external opportunities.

  34. Meredith Brooks*

    Perhaps it’s shameful to admit, but I’ve been passed over twice in favor of other colleagues. Both scenarios had external factors at play, yet in both situations I was definitely viewed as a go-to resource at my company. What I found to be most helpful was not to focus on the flaws and faults of my colleagues. Their promotion was not a personal attack on me by them and to be honest, I owed it to them to demonstrate an ability to work with them and help them succeed. And so I congratulated them and worked with them as best I could. And no matter how I felt about the company or my boss who made the decision, I feel most proud of that reaction.

    That said, I left company #1 less than a year later because the promotion of my coworker was a precursor to things to come and indicative of a developing toxic environment. (Not because of my coworker, but because of management). I’m still at company #2, and currently working in the position I was passed over for 2 years ago. So things have a way of coming around.

  35. NW Mossy*

    As you’ve seen, OP, many people share the experience of having applied for a level-jump role and seeing a colleague chosen instead. I know the feeling, and for quite a while it felt like there was this “secret list” somewhere of people who were worthy of promotion and I either wasn’t on it or was too far down the line. It was frustrating – I couldn’t figure what I was doing wrong to keep getting passed over.

    I eventually did figure out what the problem was: I was waiting for other people to notice what I wanted instead of just telling them. Applying for leadership roles gives some clue as to your ambitions, but it doesn’t explain why you want to take that path, and why now. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate case with multiple exhibits of evidence – clarity about your goals is what’s required.

    When your superiors know your goals, you’ve done two good things for yourself: you’ve made it clear that you’re open to input and new opportunities to help you achieve those goals, and you make it easy for your superiors to say “Oh, I’ve got just the person!” when they hear about a project that lines up with your goals. My boss knows I aspire to be a director, so she steers me towards opportunities to work with and/or present to directors/senior leadership to help me get some name recognition as someone with potential.

    That’s where the “secret list” comes in. Leaders higher up in your organization talk about their staff – who’s ready for something new, who’s happy where they’re at, who’s applying out, who’s on the ropes and might be let go soon. Being clear with your boss about what you want helps make your name part of those conversations, and you start going from unknown-quantity to next-in-line.

    And finally, one other point: when you get passed over, consider that this leaves you available for the next opportunity, and that one may be an even better fit than the one you lost out on. Sometimes it’s a better fit because the job itself is better, and sometimes it’s because you yourself have gotten better. But work is funny in that doors can open where you didn’t even realize there was one, and it can be a benefit to be available when it appears.

  36. Sarah N*

    I think Alison’s advice is great, but I was surprised she didn’t say more about the interview. You say: “I believe I performed badly during my interview and wonder if the decision was based on this instead of my work record.” Having been on the hiring side of things, I do think interviews matter a lot, especially with people who may not know you in other contexts. Of course, your immediate supervisor knows your work, but it sounds like you had never met the C-level folks who conducted the interview and quite likely made the final decision of who to hire. So, those C-level interviewers wouldn’t have had the context of working with you on a day-in-day-out basis. I have definitely had the experience where someone looks great on paper — their “work record” looks like a great match, but in the interview I realize they are not going to be right for the job. Now, that might be a little less the case when you’ve been working somewhere previously, but I still think many places will weigh the interview quite heavily, rightly or wrongly.

    The good news is that interviewing is definitely something you can practice and improve at, before applying for another promotion.

    1. Mary*

      I noticed this too. I am not in HR, but I am HR-adjacent in the UK. As far as I am aware, where there is a competitive internal process, they will *only* look at the application and interview performance.

      The US might be different, but whenever I’ve been in a position where there’s a competitive process for promotion, the hiring committee can only consider what they’ve seen in the application and interview. I have been through redundancy rounds where this has been very heavily emphasised to staff, so that no-one goes into an interview thinking that their track record will speak for itself, and is as well-prepared for the actual interview as they can be.

      Someone with US experience can comment on whether this is the case in the US too, but OP, this might be your problem! If so, it is a really important takeaway for the future. Never, ever go into an internal interview thinking, “Oh well, they know my work, that’s what counts.” Always go in with the same amount of preparation as you would for an external interview: be prepared to enumerate your accomplishments, talk up your skills, describe your achievements, explain why you’re ready to take on this particular role and so on.

      Lots of luck for the future!

      1. Sarah N*

        This is a great point! We don’t have that specific regulation at my workplace (in the U.S.), but we do have a rule that internal and external candidates have to be treated as equally as possible. So, for example, if we are giving a campus tour to external candidates, we have to at least offer that to an internal candidate (even if they have worked here for years and know all the buildings)!

  37. Renee*

    You write you don’t see any leadership from your new manager and you TOLD her this. This is the problem – leaders don’t say these things. Someone made a decision that she has leadership skills you don’t, and you unfairly blamed her for taking a role you thought was yours. I wouldn’t be counting on any promotions anytime soon and would apologise to the new manager for the rude comment and wish her luck. I’ve seen many people who are too big for their shoes with the same attitude and their mourning over a loss of promotion goes into weeks and months. You can lose your job if you carry on like that. Time to find other ways to improve (consider in house programs, outside study, volunteering, online courses). If you do ever get a manager role in the company or outside, the last thing you want to hear is the same comment directed at you.

    Finally, leadership roles don’t start and end with management. You can be a leader in any role. What you said wasn’t ideal but you can learn from it and fix it.

    1. PB*

      I agree, but I believe OP made this comment to her old manager, not the new manager, so the new manager is likely unaware of it.

    2. Courageous cat*

      I think you misread that part, and it makes a significant difference because I don’t think what she did was terribly wrong or un-leadership-like.

  38. Chaordic One*

    In a situation like this it can be difficult to maintain your enthusiasm and level of performance. It’s a real kick in the gut, so be kind to yourself.

  39. Bigintodogs*

    My friend went through a similar situation in her annual review (though she wasn’t up for a promotion). She does so much extra work in her job (the team is 2 or 3 people including her), and her manager told her she needs to take on more projects. I suspect her manager has no clue that she’s doing so much extra work (mostly because of incompetent coworkers). I’m not saying to rat out a terrible coworker, but sometimes managers are truly unaware of the nitty gritty of what all of their employees are doing.

  40. EmilyAnn*

    When I was passed over for a promotion in favor of an outside hire, I left 10 months later and 9 years on, the only friend I have from that job is the person they hired instead of promoting me. I can say that I’d rather have had her as a friend and been given the kick in the pants to get out of that environment, than have that job.

  41. Orange Jello*

    This happened to me! I got passed over for two new jobs/promotions within a couple weeks of each other. It did not help that one manager told me it was such a hard decision she deferred to her team to make the decision and then, when they couldn’t decide, they rolled a dice.

    Anyway, I had a really hard time for awhile after that, and I’m not sure how I coped. A few months later, there was another opening in the department with the non-crazy boss and I got hired in that round. From that job, I’ve gotten multiple promotions, so there is hope! Definitely take your senior manager’s offer. My experience has been asking for opportunities usually leads to oppt that you couldn’t predict.

  42. buttercup*

    From an employee’s point of view, something I noticed about managers is what makes a good manager has little to do with how good they are at the job function or even how smart they are, but everything to do with how well they communicate with people. In other words, a lot of doesn’t have to do with competence. I love my job, but I would never want to become a manager of a team because I don’t think I have the skills to manage other people. I’m too shy and I would be afraid to give honest feedback. I also have trouble delegating tasks properly. Also, a lot of managerial tasks would mean I would have less time to do the parts of my job I actually like.

    In the same vein, I feel like my current manager, though accomplished, is very poor at communicating expectations, and tends to confuse and frustrate the rest of the team.

    I’m not saying the LW would make a terrible manager because they got rejected, plus I’m making a bunch of assumptions about the hiring process, but I don’t think the LW is less of a superstar employee because they didn’t become manager. It’s kind of like a separate job altogether.

  43. Courageous cat*

    I would feel exactly the same way. It can be extremely hard to take instruction from someone you know you perform better than. I would just try to keep in mind that if she’s really as not-excellent as you say she is, then that will come out soon enough. I wouldn’t go out of my way to help her with things that she, as a manager, should know. Let her figure stuff out on her own and either she’ll do a great job, or you can choose to believe that her managers might think, “damn, this was a mistake”.

    I dunno, there’s no great answer to this, but I feel for you really strongly on it because it can be SO intensely disheartening when you really care about a job, so hopefully there’s a few other angles you can take on it.

    1. Kaaaaren*

      That part about not going crazy to provide your promoted colleague with answers or info she should know, as a manager and longtime member of the team, is right on. Obviously, you need to be professional and do your job, but… Yeah, don’t go out of your way.

  44. Greg NY*

    I have a different take on this, and I’m going to be much more harsh, mostly toward the manager.

    LW, you may have flubbed the interview, but that’s one interview. Which means you may not have gotten this promotion, but that, by itself, shouldn’t take you out of the running for promotions at your company. Your manager owed you a detailed explanation of what happened and they didn’t give you one. I would sit down with them and ask for one, and ask them for your path to a promotion within your company. Ask specifically what it would take for you to land that role.

    Listen carefully to their answer, and take notes. You will either get concrete information or a bunch of vagueness. If you get vagueness, ask whether that means that they don’t see you as someone who could be seriously considered for a promotion. Listen again to their answer. If this time you get vagueness, don’t push back, just accept it as an around the bush of saying “no”. (And of course, if you get a direct “I don’t see you as well suited for that role” from either the first or the follow up question, you have your answer.)

    The simple part first: if there is no path to a promotion for you at your company, you leave. You can do nothing else aside from remain in your current role, probably indefinitely. But assuming there is a path, you do everything you need to, and you apply again the next time there is an opening. (If it doesn’t happen often, you may have to leave anyway.) If you are passed over again, your best bet is to leave unless you are given a compelling reason for losing out again after you followed your manager’s advice to a T (advice you took notes on).

  45. Also passed over...*

    I was very recently in a *very* similar situation, and was able to get feedback from the interviewers/hiring managers; my take-away was that their decision was based almost entirely on the interview! Which seemed really odd to me, given that they knew our work really well, and could speak with our direct managers who knew our work even better. But the interviewers didn’t even speak to our direct managers for reference, or consider the details of our work. It was like the interview took place in a vacuum, and it was not my strongest interview.
    BUT! I second what NotAnotherManager stated in a comment above. Except they said, “Give yourself time to grieve,” but I think you should really make a commitment to mentally move forward at this point. That doesn’t mean you can’t grieve, but from my experience, a decision to intentionally turn around my attitude at work made me actually FEEL much better and more positive. It is okay to be disappointed (!), but you need to stop letting that impact your mood and attitude at work immediately, or others may (rightly) see that as unprofessional.
    Your senior manager’s offer to help with your professional growth and development is HUGE. This is someone who has a lot of demands on her time, and she wants to invest in you because she values you and what you bring to the company. You said you haven’t taken her up on that, but you should accept her offer without delay! Make sure you thank her for reaching out to you, and then walk into your first meeting prepared with some questions, and ready to listen to any ideas she has.
    I ended up getting another promotion, an even more exciting one, a couple months later. Keep your chin up and your eyes focused ahead, and you will figure out your path. But you really do need to be your old cheerful self at work. And I say that as someone who struggles with depression, so I get it, but I fear that you are not helping yourself (nor your professional reputation) by staying in this slump. I wish you all the best.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Just to clarify, my comment (because I think we agree here!) re giving oneself a set time to grieve is in part to set the timeline on moving forward. Kind of an “okay, I’ve had a week to wallow, now it’s time to plan for the next move” sort of thing. For me, it’s a timeline for pulling myself together and making an affirmative decision to move on by X date, at the latest.

      1. Yep*

        Thanks, and in rereading your comment, you do say “set amount of time.” I thought your column was terrific and very well-put. I was just concerned that if OP had already been kind of “slumpy” or negative at work for 3 weeks, that she may start to damage her professional reputation if that continued.
        This stuff is SO hard and sucky, and get that it’s hard to move on, but rising above it as quickly as possible not only important in terms of how others see you, but I believe it helps your own well-being a ton if you can just fake it enough to help shift your own energy around the situation.
        Anyway, hope you see this response, and thank you the clarification!

  46. Vicky St. Elmo*

    OP, I feel you more than you can imagine. I was passed over for an outside hire and it has been the most painful, gut wrenching experience of my professional life. I agree with Greg NY and many others who noted that if the feedback you got from your manager about why you were not selected was weak or vague, that is not a good sign. The reason I was given by my manager was very weak (it didn’t even turn out to be true) and what I’ve found is that I am no longer able to trust my manager. Once that trust is gone, it’s extremely difficult to recover from. I think decisions like this are much easier to accept if it is clear why the decision was made and also if it is clear that the person they promoted is significantly more experienced/talented/skilled/articulate/whatever than you. But if that’s not the case, it’s going to require a LOT of goodwill on your end to get over this. I would start looking elsewhere now in case you are not able to move past it.

    Also, FWIW, I did not get the sense that you felt entitled to this promotion. It’s clear from the comments that people who haven’t experienced this situation think it’s very cut and dry (just get over it! it’s not about you! try to stay positive!) but it’s not. For many of us, this cuts to the core of who we are the same way that being dumped by a significant other would. And to make matters worse, unlike an ex, you have to see your boss and be professional for 40 hours a week. This is the hardest thing. Just know that you are not alone and you deserve to work for someone who sees your potential and wants to help you build on that.

  47. Anon for a change*

    I’m sorry you didn’t get the promotion and that you’re finding it hard to deal with, I can empathise as I’ve been in a similar situation more than once, and I think it is going to happen again in the next few months as I’m on a secondment which I hoped would be made permanent, then a few months ago someone else joined the team who is more confident, engaging and doing great at the job and if it comes down to keeping one or the other of us on or making us permanent, guess who it’s going to be. I’ve had a few weeks where I’ve felt like giving up and what’s the point now that Superstar has joined the team. The advice I would give, and that I’m trying to follow myself, is try to stay positive, ensure your work is up to scratch and as high quality as it can be, have a robust development plan in place, look for opportunities where you can contribute and make a difference, document your successes, and ensure management sees the contribution you’re making. Also look for opportunities to get the experience or skills you need, e.g. job shadowing, training courses, taking on delegated tasks to support your manager, mentoring newer colleagues etc. If all this feels impossible or like too much just now, start with what feels easiest and build up from there. Or if possible could you take a bit of time off, even just a few days, to have a bit of a break and just focus on yourself? I hope things work out and start to look a bit brighter and more positive for you. Good luck

  48. Mike*

    I was in a similiar position a couple years ago. I actually wrote to this blog about it. It’s tough. In my case, I was given vague feedback, which was insulting. Those chosen could barely write an email with coherent paragraphs in them to our customers. But the hiring official had been promoted to his position from a different office, he knew them, and my immediate supervisor could not convince him to hire me as one of the three promotions.

    It was crushing. I admit that I took an attitude of “to hell with you all, I’m leaving as soon as I can, and will not volunteer for anything else.”

    I did leave. I took a lateral move to a different office, and it’s going very well. My former direct supervisor has told me that since I have, many things have begun to fall through the cracks at the old office. And she just leans back in her chair and muses that they should have promoted me.

    I can’t say what you should do, but leaving has been very good for me, professionally and emotionally.

  49. Oaktree*

    I applied internally for a job at my work back in January. I’d been at the company, working a lower-level job in the same department, for a little under a year. When I applied, I’d been taking over some of the work for the vacant position for about a month, and continued to do so, in the absence of the person who left/no one being hired yet. I waited and waited to hear anything from the hiring manager, or from HR, but they never even acknowledge receipt of my application.

    Eventually they met with me, for about 5 minutes, to tell me they’d hired someone else. Their excuse was that the other person had more experience- this was true, but I felt at the time that since I’d already been doing about a third of the work for that job, and had the capacity to learn (and the required education for the role- I met the job description), I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t train me for it and give me a chance. Now I understand that HR felt that the higher ups in the company (C-suite, not my department bosses) wanted someone more prestigious than me. But I still felt really hard done by and disrespected. I’d taken on all that extra work because I thought I was helping, and making a good case for myself. I felt taken advantage of in the end. They could have done me the courtesy of giving me an interview, at least, I thought. In the end, they hired someone I knew socially and disliked. Now I have to work with her every day, knowing that she has the job I wanted.

    Now I’ve been aggressively applying for jobs outside the company for months, and will jump ship the first chance I get.

    My dad is in the position of doing a lot of hiring at the non-profit he manages. I asked him about this, and the many other jobs I was rejected from, despite meeting the qualifications and being (I thought) a good candidate. Sometimes it is unjust. Other times, it has more to do with unseen pressures and obligations that you can’t see from the outside… Maybe they already had the candidate in mind from the outset. Maybe there was something unrelated to the job requirements that the other candidate had that you didn’t. In any event, maybe it was fair and maybe it wasn’t, but sometimes managers are beholden to powers above them that make them do things that aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the company or department. (I believe this was the case in my experience- the person they hired is fine, but I would have been too.) Oh well.

  50. No lead-ing for me*

    If you’re like me, you’ll go all sour grapes and decide that you never actually wanted to be in a lead role. Then you’ll stick to that decision even years later at a different job.

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