Passed Over For A Promotion: Should You Stay or Quit?

One of the hardest parts about working in the corporate world is when you get passed over for a promotion. And, even worse is when you see coworkers who don’t work as hard as you get promoted instead!

But you can’t let feelings of frustration and disappointment cloud your thinking. You don’t want to respond too fast and make a career move you might regret.

Instead, you need to assess your situation by considering 3 key things. These 3 factors helped me decide the best way to respond when I was passed over for promotions during my climb up the career ladder, and can do the same for you.

Career Advancement is Hard (And Not Always Fair)

It’s super disappointing to be told you didn’t get selected for that highly anticipated promotion you’ve been working so hard to earn.

A promotion that not only brings a bigger paycheck, but also validates your rock star status as a top performer with the potential to take on more responsibility.

But here’s the thing: being a good employee doesn’t guarantee you’ll get promoted.

Pretty much every successful business professional has been passed over for a promotion at some point during their career. It’s like a rite of passage in the corporate world — because climbing the career ladder to a higher position isn’t easy!

Your Company Sent You a Message (And You Have Options)

There was a time, several years before I made my way to the c-suite as a chief marketing officer, when my career progression flat lined.

I was stuck in middle management, passed over for a promotion once again. I could feel myself starting to turn into one of those bitter, long-suffering employees who endured one too many career setbacks. 

But, eventually I found a way out of my career funk. And what I learned through this career low point was getting passed over for a promotion is a time to make decisions and respond with action.

When you get passed over for a promotion, your company is sending you a message: you’re not ready yet. So what are you going to do about it? 

The good news is you have options! 

Don’t Rush Your Next Career Move

Should you quit your job after getting passed over for a promotion? Maybe, but don’t rush into any decisions.

Deciding what to do after getting passed over for a promotion can be tough, especially when feelings of frustration are at play and can cloud your thinking.

Your first reaction might not be the best — especially if it’s been a long time since you were last promoted. However, you can’t just sit back and do nothing (unless you’re okay getting passed over again next time wink).

Instead it’s time to be thoughtful and strategic about making your next career move.

    What Actions Should You Take After Getting Passed Over for a Promotion?

    There are 3 key actions you need to take after getting passed over for a promotion:

    1. Assess your situation.
    2. Decide how you will respond.
    3. Commit to action.

    The faster you can move past the poor me reaction, and into the now what response the better off you will be.

    Your initial thought may be to quit your current position and leave your company. But before you jump ship, I urge you to take time to think through your situation based on the following key considerations.

    What Should You Consider After Getting Passed Over for a Promotion?

    There are 3 things you should consider after getting passed over for a promotion to help you assess your situation and confidently decide your next career move:

    1. Value of Feedback You’re Given
    2. Quality of Your Work Relationships
    3. Breadth of Experience You’ve Gained

    3 Key Considerations

    Let’s dive into each of these 3 considerations to help you decide if it’s best to stay at your current company to earn a promotion next time, or quit and find a new positions somewhere else. 

    1) Value of Feedback

    Why did you get passed over for a promotion?

    The first step is to find out why you were passed over for a promotion. Seek feedback! And then decide how you feel about what you learned.

    When you interview as an external candidate to join a new company, you rarely learn why you weren’t selected beyond the canned response they selected a more qualified person. But when you are passed over for a promotion at your current company you have an opportunity (and a responsibility to yourself) to dig deeper and find out more about why you weren’t the best candidate for the job.

    Don’t let your feelings of disappointment and frustration stop you from using this opportune time for self-reflection and learning.

    Bring an open mind and speak with the decision makers — talk to your manager about what you can do differently to earn a promotion next time. It can also be smart to get feedback from your human resources partner and your boss’s boss too. 

    How do you feel about what you learned?

    Listen carefully to the feedback. Are you receiving constructive criticism that is specific, clear, and actionable? Or is it vague and open to interpretation?

    Repeat back to them what you heard to ensure the message you received is the same as what they intended. This is a time for crystal clear communications.

    Once you understand the reasons why you didn’t get promoted—and gained insight into what it will take to earn a promotion next time—then you need to decide how you feel about what you learned.  

    Were the reasons you were passed over for a promotion justified?

    Perhaps you will agree there are skills you need to develop, or knowledge and experiences you need to gain. If so, it’s time to revisit your professional development plan and identify how you grow in these areas.

    Maybe it’s time to work with an executive coach or trusted mentor and get a plan of action to develop the necessary skills for career advancement.

    Were the reasons you were passed over unclear or unfair?

    But if you feel the decision was unfair, or are unclear on how to strengthen your standing for a promotion next time, it may be the right time to move on and explore the job market for a better opportunity.

    A boss who has your back is going to give you clear guidance on specific areas you need to develop to secure a future promotion.

    Be on high alert for vague feedback or catch phrase advice. This is a clear sign your boss is leading you on and would rather extract more work from you than promote you and pay you more. 

    2) Quality of Relationships

    How’s your relationship with your manager? What about other senior managers?

    The next step is to assess your relationship with your manager and other senior leaders.

    One of the many factors that play into earning a promotion is the relationship you have with management, starting with your immediate manager. Having your boss’ support and advocacy is essential. Your manager can make or break your advancement opportunities.

    After being passed over for a promotion, you need to know that your manager is committed to helping you develop the hard and soft skills to succeed at earning the promotion next time. This means doing things like:

    • Providing frequent and specific performance feedback.
    • Assigning new projects or tasks to challenge and accelerate your professional growth.
    • Giving you credit for your hard work and opportunities for exposure with their manager and broader leadership team.
    • And just plain caring about you, as shown in both their words and actions.

    Even if your manager is a good leader, and you have a supportive and trusting relationship with them, I’ve seen promotion nominations rejected by the manager’s manager. And as you advance in your career, you will need to gain even broader support from upper management.

    According to the Harvard Business Review, when it comes to promotions, it’s not just about who you know, but more importantly, it’s about who knows you!

    Simply put, if you don’t trust your manager has your back, or have strong connections with other leaders in your company, then it’s likely time to make a change.

    You can decide to stay and make a lateral move to work for a better boss, or choose to leave and find a new job with a new company, just make sure you have a few trusted colleagues who are willing to act as positive references during your job search.

    Advice About How to Change Jobs

    thank you email after interview example

    Write a Perfect Interview Thank You Email (20 Examples)

    Here’s how to write the perfect interview thank you email and boost your standing as the best person for the job.

    promised a promotion

    Best Tips to Land a Job Interview (And Sidestep HR)

    Do you have your sights set on joining a new cmopany but HR is giving you the silent treatment? Read on for creative tips to “get in” and land a job interview. 

    make more money by changing jobs guy

    How to Make Even More Money By Changing Jobs

    If you want to make even more money by changing jobs, try negotiating this into your next job offer. 

    3) Breadth of Experience

    What have you accomplished lately?

    As you consider your next steps after being passed over for a promotion, I encourage you to reflect on the time you’ve spent at your current company and ask yourself if you’ve made the most of it.

    Have you learned and accomplished enough during your time with company? Have you amassed a “portfolio of proof” that confirms you’re a high performer? What more can you gain from your current company?

    At a minimum, running through this exercise is great way to update your resume and prepare to interview for your next job.

    If you’ve accomplished what you set out to do (and then some), then congratulations and go find your next challenge.

    Do have more to gain out of your current role?

    But if you find yourself struggling to fill the page with achievements, then perhaps you aren’t quite ready for that promotion after all and need to spend more time in your current role building out your promotion justification.

    Early in my career I had a manager who suggested I spend no more, and no less than 3 years in any job. His advice went something like this: 

    • Year 1: You should be challenged with a steep learning curve of new experiences.
    • Year 2: You should begin to find a more comfortable stride with your responsibilities.
    • Year 3: You should be on cruise control and ready for your next challenge.

    While I didn’t follow this rule to a tee, I did find his advice to be generally true. The first year or so I spent in every new job was a whirlwind of challenging new experiences. If I had left those roles after only a year or less, I would have missed out on super valuable learnings and achievements.

    So, be realistic with your time frame. Everyone is eager to advance as quickly as possible, but don’t shortchange yourself from gaining as much as you can from each job you have.

    More Advice About How to Get Promoted at Work

    signs your boss is sabotaging you

    When You Don't Trust Your Boss Will Promote You

    Discover when relying on your boss to promote you can be a big mistake — and what to do about it.

    When is the Best Time to Get Promoted at Work

    When is the Best Time to Get Promoted at Work

    The best time to advance your career and get promoted could be much sooner than you think — here’s why.

    promised a promotion

    When Your Boss Promised to Promote You But Then Quits

    Here’s 5 steps to take when your boss promised to promote you but then quits before following through.

    Career Growth: Make a Decision to Quit or Stay

    In summary, the best way to respond to a career setback like getting passed over for a promotion is by taking action.

    Avoid becoming defensive or despondent. Instead, use this experience for self-reflection and defining a game plan for next steps to reach your career goals.

    1) Learn why you weren’t promoted – did you receive constructive feedback? Do you feel the decision was justified?

    2) Consider your relationship with management – is it positive? Do you feel supported in your professional development?

    3) Reflect on your job experiences and accomplishments – is it enough? Do you feel good about what you’ve acheived?

    Based on these factors, make a decision and commit to take action. Turn a negative experience into your next success story!


    About Author

    As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder.

    After several frustrating years stuck in middle management, Alison set a goal to use her corporate career to achieve financial freedom – and make work optional.

    You can read more about her story here.



    Submit a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *