Career Q&A: Passed over for a promotion

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My supervisor’s position recently opened up and I applied for it but did not get it. One of the reasons I had wanted this position was to have an opportunity to remedy some of the frustrations I had with my last supervisor and some of the work systems we have to use. I did get some useful feedback from my manager on why I did not get it but I am still really disappointed and feel let down by my organization for not seeing this potential in me. I think I want to stay on with the organization but am having trouble getting into a positive mindset after this setback. Any advice?

We can appreciate the difficult position you are in and how hard it is to move past disappointments like this – especially as you prepare to work with the person who got “your” job. Some tips that might help you shift to a more positive frame of mind include:

Harvest all the learning. As painful as some workplace experiences are, they contain important information for personal and professional growth. If you truly feel there was at least some merit in the feedback you received, what are you going to do with it? Is there a skill you need to develop? A behavior or attitude that needs to be adjusted? Does the disappointment in not getting this promotion affirm your desire and motivate you to cultivate the missing skills or experience to get that job next time? Or did you find out that the real need you wanted met was to have an opportunity to get some of your operational frustrations resolved? Investing in some good, honest reflection time will go a long way in clarifying your next steps and will help you move past your negative feelings faster by giving you a positive sense of momentum.

Suspend your judgment. It is always a bit nerve wracking to inherit a new superior and wonder if you will work well together. Difficult as it is, try not to project your past management frustrations onto your new supervisor as this does not help you – or them – get off on the right foot. Instead, try focusing on being curious about this person – what are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they react when giving and receiving feedback? How self-aware are they? What do they need from staff in order to feel in control? What you could learn from them and what you could teach them that would make the organization stronger and more effective? After you have attempted to answer these questions, you are then in a position to make an informed, more useful, judgment about them as a supervisor and strategize for how you want to leverage this relationship.

Seize the opportunity. Although you did not get this promotion, a new person coming into a position of authority in the organization is an opportunity to get some of your organizational frustrations addressed. Because this person does not have attachment to “how things have always been done” nor is there a danger of them feeling attacked or criticized by your proposals, the arrival of a new supervisor often presents a significant window of opportunity to propose and implement changes. Cultivate this new person as an advocate for the changes you want to make by clearly explaining the impacts and limitations of the current systems. This shows initiative and professionalism on your part, which will come in handy the next time you apply for a supervisory role. Good luck!

Nancy Ingram is a co-founder and Principal Consultant at Foot in the Door Consulting, which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Nancy and Foot in the Door Consulting’s team of expert associates have over 45 years of collective experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector in variety of sectors including human rights, social justice, environmental justice and animal rights. They can be reached through

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