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You Were Passed Over for an Internal Position. Now What?

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passed over for a position

You were so excited when HR reached out and asked if you’d like to be considered as a candidate for an internal role.

You eagerly prepared for the interviews and were confident you crushed them.

Then the call comes…

You won’t be advancing to further rounds of interviews.

Job rejection is always difficult, but even more so when it’s an internal role. You may find yourself wrestling with feelings of imposter syndrome and inadequacy. You don’t have the luxury of simply walking away — you have to figure out how to move on and continue working with the same people that rejected you.

As a Sensitive Striver, the emotional aftermath of rejection hit one of my clients, Clara* (name changed), very hard.

Clara was one year into her tenure with a financial firm when she was tapped for a role in the C-suite. The role would be challenging, and a bit outside her normal skillset, but Clara was ready to rise to the occasion.

Clara spent hours preparing for the interviews and was dismayed when HR notified her that she hadn’t been selected as a finalist. While she had gone into the process unattached to the outcome, she ultimately became emotionally invested. Being rejected was a huge blow to her motivation and self-esteem.

If you find yourself in Clara’s shoes, here are a few ways to recover from being passed over for an internal position. 

9 Ways to Overcome an Internal Job Rejection

Avoid emotional reasoning

This is a mind trap wherein you equate a temporary emotional state with your character (i.e. I feel disappointed, therefore I am a loser, or I feel inadequate, therefore I am incapable).

Use something I call the 10/10/10 rule — ask yourself how you’ll feel about this situation 10 weeks, 10 months, and 10 years from now. It’s likely you realize that you will be able to move on and refocus. That alone can help you detach and gain perspective. 

Counter the tendency to filter

Filtering is another cognitive distortion that involves ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation and latching on to negative parts. You may find yourself picking apart things you said in the interview or ruminating on what you should have done differently.

Remind yourself of your previous successes, your values, your strengths, and your positive qualities. Focus on what did go well and what valuable lessons you learned through the process both about yourself and the organization. 

Release the emotion

Now is not the time to suppress your feelings. If you do, they will come back to bite you later.

Allow yourself to have a good cry, punch a pillow, whatever you need to do to move the emotion through your body. Give yourself two to three days at the very minimum to feel raw about the situation. Be careful not to “should” yourself and tell yourself “you should be over this by now, you shouldn’t care about this”, etc. 

Do something that rebuilds your sense of mastery

That could be a hike, hard workout, challenging craft project, etc. The point is to throw yourself into an endeavor that will help you feel competent and accomplished. 

Don’t allow yourself to overcompensate for your insecurities by overworking. Make it a point to set boundaries and end work at a reasonable time to do something you enjoy like spending time with your family. 

Access self-compassion

Humans are wired to avoid rejection and it’s 100% normal and healthy to feel bad afterward. In these moments, self-compassion will take you much further than self-criticism. That means acknowledging the common humanity in this moment (i.e. everyone faces hardship, rejection is a part of life, etc.).

I highly suggest taking a self-compassion break as often as you need it today and this weekend. And also doing a loving-kindness meditation geared at yourself and the people on the interview committee. There are many guided versions online.

Make mindset shifts 

There could be many reasons why you weren’t selected to move forward. In most cases, being passed over for an internal role isn’t a repudiation of your skills or your personality. Most of the time, another candidate was simply more qualified (which is extremely subjective to begin with) or there was a reason the company wanted to bring in someone externally.

Plus, your value as a person and professional does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth. If you didn’t get the job, then it was not meant for you. Rejection can be viewed as a redirection. After all, it’s not about how many “no’s” you get, it’s the one yes that matters. 

Act professionally 

Don’t disengage or let the rejection affect your performance. Eyes are on you and people will be observing how you respond. You strengthen your reputation by responding with grace.

Request a feedback session with HR

Take a few days to settle down so you can enter this conversation with your emotions in check. Be clear that you’re not challenging the decision. Instead, explain that you understand someone else was a stronger candidate this time, but you’d be grateful for any advice on how you can better position yourself in the future.

Focus on the “what” not the “why,” meaning don’t ask why you didn’t get the job but ask what you could do to advance in the future. It’s about moving on and looking to the future, not looking back and dwelling on the past.

Build on the connection.

Mention to HR you’re open to other internal roles that could be of interest and match your skills. What often happens is that a strong showing can demonstrate your desirability as a candidate and help keep you front of mind for future opportunities.

While being passed over for any position is difficult, it’s especially hard when it’s from within the organization you’ll continue to work with. Using these nine tips you can regain your confidence, and bounce back stronger than before.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers overcome insecurity and overwhelm so they can thrive in the workplace.

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