Few things are more frustrating than interviewing for a new job and not getting it. But when you go for an internal promotion and don't get it, the situation can be worse and far more complicated. How do you bounce back from what can be a public failure — and get your career back on track?
It is likely that you're going to feel angry and disappointed. In the short term, you must not overreact. Do so, and you show the decision was the right choice. Instead, thank whoever tells you the news and go for a walk or a coffee if you feel that it's likely you're going to say something rash. Once you've gotten over your initial frustration, recognise that you will feel disappointed and perhaps even bitter and resentful. If you do need to vent or rant, do so to a trusted friend or spouse, not a colleague. Get it out of your system.
Your next moves, step by step
Try to make sure it doesn't happen again
Once you've had a day or two to process what has happened, speak to those who made the decision. Explain that you'd like some feedback. Do not go in saying that it's unfair. Instead, you might say, "I really wanted that promotion, and I'm keen not to miss out next time. Could you tell me how me how far off I was — and what was missing from my CV? What did the successful candidate have that I didn't?" Encourage the other person to be as honest as possible. You may have assumed that you were a shoo-in for the job when, in fact, you were miles off. In a related vein, people sometimes don't prepare properly for internal interviews because they assume the interviewer knows everything about them. If either of these scenarios applies to you, you'll want to know.
Continue working on looking promotable
Tempting as it is to be sullen and do the bare minimum, you need to bounce back and reboot yourself. So, approach your job afresh and ask yourself what you can do better. Seek out experiences that will boost your CV, and volunteer for new projects. Ask for training and even a coach. If your employer doesn't routinely provide formal coaching, consider hiring a personal coach. Take a strategic look at your career, address any weak spots, and start actively planning for the next opportunity when it comes up.
Clear the air
If you have to work with the person who did get the promotion, make it known to that person that, although you wanted the job, you recognise the need to have a good, productive working relationship. This can be difficult if the person in question is a former colleague, and doubly so if you believe you were a stronger candidate. However, being constructive and supportive will look far better than being churlish and sulky and trying to undermine the person.
Take a fresh look at your network
Both inside and outside your organisation, you want to be in contact with people who will bring interesting opportunities your way. In a large organisation, this might mean putting yourself in places that bring you into contact with other departments or involve travel to other locations. In a smaller organisation, it could involve attending conferences, joining industry associations, and generally being more outward facing.
Raise your profile online
Use social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. Show people what your skills are and make contacts, both in your industry and in related industries. Start conversations. When you post articles, you want to alert people to interesting information that will be useful for them. When you get more comfortable, offer your opinions — try to come up with fresh takes and unexpected angles, and talk a bit about yourself, too. People who use social media well often position themselves as influential experts in their fields. The very best will become known beyond their industry and may even gain mainstream media exposure. At the very least, you should ensure that anyone who does a Google search for your name will find a detailed, professional profile that conveys the message you want people to hear — and is updated regularly.
Consider leaving your organisation
Sometimes the reason you didn't get promoted is simple, if unpalatable. You may not be a good fit for the organisation. You may also decide that, having been passed over for this position, there is now nowhere for you to go — and this is a particular problem in small companies. In both cases, the solution is to start looking for opportunities elsewhere. In a large company you may be able to apply for internal positions in different business units or in different locations.
Sometimes your company chooses the wrong candidate. They might have done so for political reasons, because favouritism has come into play, or simply because they made a bad decision. In this case, you might consider hanging around for a few months to see if the decision turns out to be a disaster. Don't hang around too long, though. When you're waiting for people to come to their senses, it is easy to let weeks become months and months become years. Give yourself a hard deadline, after which you accept things aren't going to go your way and leave.
Taking a chance
Going for internal promotions is a risk. Fail to get a job elsewhere and it's likely nobody will know. Fail to get a job at your business and everyone will know. But sometimes this can be good thing, because it tells everyone that you're ambitious.
Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.