4 Ways to Recover After Getting Passed Up for a Promotion

man feeling disappointed

Michelle was thrilled when the HR director asked if she wanted to apply for a position in the company’s sustainability department. It was a big step up from her current job as an associate analyst to a corporate social responsibility officer, a role that would challenge him to apply her finance skills to the company’s environmental and risk management initiatives. Despite feeling nervous, Michelle was determined and quickly submitted her application. It never even crossed her mind that she might be passed up.

She devoted weeks to preparing for the interviews, practicing answers with her partner, learning about the department’s objectives, and preparing stories to highlight her accomplishments. So, when she was told after the second interview that she wasn’t chosen to proceed, Michelle was devastated. She wondered what she had done wrong and worried about facing her colleagues, manager, and the interviewers. She felt a mix of disappointment, frustration, shame, and embarrassment.

Being turned down for a job is tough. Research shows that social rejection and physical pain activate similar areas in the brain, which explains why professional rejections hurt so much. It’s even more complicated when the job is within your own organization. You can’t just walk away. Unless you decide to quit, you must navigate working in the same company, possibly with the same people who didn’t select you.

Here are some tips on how to move forward with confidence after being passed up at work.

How to Recover from Getting Passed Up for a Promotion

1. Don’t take the rejection personally

There are many reasons why you might be passed up. Often, it’s not about your abilities or personality. Maybe another candidate was a better fit, or the company had reasons to hire someone from outside. Remember, these decisions can be very subjective and often involve factors beyond your control.

Pay attention to your emotions. It’s important to distinguish between feeling disappointed and believing those feelings reflect who you are. Emotional reasoning, a common trap, leads you to mistakenly identify with your emotions, like thinking, “I’m disappointed, so I must be a failure,” or “I feel inadequate, so I must be incompetent.”

When you catch yourself having these negative thoughts, take a moment to slow down and practice self-compassion. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel frustrated, but these feelings are temporary and don’t define you. Tell yourself, “My frustration is understandable, and it will pass,” or “This rejection doesn’t determine my worth or abilities. I know I’ll recover.” Focus on the fact that everyone faces challenges and rejection; it’s a universal human experience.

Remember, the decision wasn’t about you personally. It simply wasn’t the right match at this time. Now, you have the opportunity to explore new possibilities and find the path that’s truly meant for you.

2. Maintain your professionalism

It’s crucial not to let this setback impact your work performance. You might feel like giving up or disengaging, but that would only harm your own career. People will notice how you handle this situation, and handling it with grace will only strengthen your reputation. Congratulate the selected candidate and try to build a rapport with them. This could lead to new opportunities in the future.

Also, consider asking for feedback from HR or the hiring manager. Give yourself a few days to process your emotions before requesting this meeting. When you’re ready, approach them respectfully, asking for insights on how you might improve your application, interview skills, or qualifications. Make it clear that you’re not disputing their decision but rather looking for ways to grow within the company.

During this feedback session, focus on constructive points rather than contesting their decision. Ask about what steps you can take to advance in your career, not why you weren’t chosen for this particular role. The aim is to look forward and find ways to improve instead of dwelling on the past.

3. Learn from the experience

Rejection, despite being tough, is valuable because it teaches us the most. Reflect on what this process has taught you about your organization and how you can leverage that knowledge. Identify the key influencers and decision-makers, and understand the company’s main concerns and priorities. Use this insight to align your current work with the organization’s objectives, positioning yourself as a strong candidate for future opportunities.

Additionally, the interview process might have introduced you to important stakeholders or senior leaders. Think about ways to maintain and build on these connections. For example, you could get involved in cross-functional projects or committees they lead. This keeps you visible and in their minds, increasing your chances for future opportunities.

4. Rebuild your confidence

Rejection can leave you feeling powerless, so it’s important to find activities that restore your sense of control and competence. Engage in something that’s not work-related, like a challenging hike, an intense workout, a complex craft project, or any activity that both challenges you and brings you joy. Dedicating yourself to a task where you can see tangible results helps rebuild your confidence and sense of accomplishment.

Your worth as an individual and a professional isn’t diminished by someone else’s inability to recognize your value. If you didn’t secure the internal position, it likely wasn’t the right fit for you at this time. Consider rejection as a nudge towards a different path. Ultimately, it’s not about the number of rejections you face but finding that one opportunity that’s right for you.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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