Bounce back from career disappointment

The most successful technology professionals are always thinking of their next career move. With hard work and measurable results, you can position yourself as the obvious choice the next time a promotion opens up. But what if that promotion does become available — and is offered to someone else?

Getting passed over for a promotion may not carry the same sting as being laid off, but it can definitely throw your career off track. By following a few important steps, you can turn this minor setback into a new start toward a more satisfying career.

Take a breather

First, take some time to digest what happened. Your instinctive response might be to lash out against your boss or the person who got the job — two people you’ll probably be working closely with. If you feel you must express your anger and frustration, vent to someone outside of work. It might help to discuss the matter with members of your professional network, who may have experienced similar setbacks and be in a position to provide suggestions for overcoming it.

Don’t assume the worst

A missed promotion isn’t a summary judgment about you as an employee or a person. Pull out a current version of your resume to remind yourself of ways you’ve benefited your employers.

A wide range of factors, many of which may be out of your control, can influence promotion decisions. For example, the other candidate might have experience you don’t know about, making her more qualified for the role. Your boss might not even have been aware that you wanted the promotion. Or there might be a political factor you’re not aware of; another candidate may have already been promised the role, for instance. Then, ask yourself why you wanted the promotion. By listing the reasons, you’ll gain a clearer sense of why — and maybe even whether — the promotion was right for you. The answers will help you separate the personal disappointment of the decision from its professional ramifications.

Get the facts

Once you’ve gotten over the initial hurt, it’s time to start assessing why you didn’t get the promotion.

This step can be difficult, but it’s essential. Set up a meeting with your boss (or the person responsible for the promotion) to ask for an honest explanation of the decision. Were you close to receiving the promotion? What were the deciding factors?

One element that’s commonly overlooked by IT professionals is the role of soft skills such as leadership and interpersonal communication. Especially if the position you wanted involves managing people, less-than-stellar soft skills may have played a larger role than you realize.

Use the feedback you receive to reassess your career goals. You may need to reconsider the lengths you’ll go to achieve them. For example, if the promoted person got the job because he was willing to work extended hours, is that a sacrifice you’re willing to make?

If your supervisor’s explanation seems arbitrary or unfair, you may determine that it’s best to seek employment elsewhere — a move that might save you years of treading water at a company that wasn’t a great fit for your long-term career goals.

Make a plan

If you decide to stay with your current employer, you should work with your manager to ensure that the next time a promotion arises, you’re first in line for it. Determine a specific plan of action to turn weaknesses into assets.

For example, if you came up short in a technical area, set a realistic goal for completing related training. Even if the shortcoming was in a less measurable area, such as your ability to collaborate across departments, work with your boss to improve in that area and monitor your progress. The most damaging aspect of a missed promotion is that it can drain you of the one asset you need the most to succeed: enthusiasm. Keep your career moving forward by looking toward the future while learning from the past. You’ll emerge from the disappointment with a clearer sense of where you want to go, as well as how to get there.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia and offers online job search services at

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