Career Transition

3 Next Steps After Being Denied a Promotion at Work | Promotion and Performance Series

denied promotion at work | rejected for internal promotion

Rejection is never easy. No matter how many times we have to deal with it, it never becomes something that we can just slough off without any negative feelings. And that’s especially the case when it comes to being denied promotion at work.

When much of our value comes from our career, being rejected for internal promotion can feel like a slap in the face and leave you wondering, “what now?” After all, it’s difficult just asking for a promotion or raise in the first place. It’s probably something you’ve worked yourself up to, so when all of your preparation comes to nothing, you might be tempted to throw in the towel and walk away.

But the truth of the matter is that losing out on a promotion happens all the time. In fact, a 2017 Monster poll of more than 3,000 U.S. respondents found that 61% of workers had been snubbed for a promotion or award at work. So, when it happens to you, know that you’re in good company and that there are steps you can take to handle the rejection and prepare for the future.

Handling Your Emotions After Being Denied Promotion at Work

The first key is not to panic. No matter how upset you feel or how much of a ding your ego took, don’t let the disappointment, frustration, and anger get the best of you. If you need to, walk out of the room and take the time to cool off for a few hours or even a day or two before you start a conversation you may regret. You have to be gracious, no matter what.

If you ever want another chance at the promotion, you have to be the consummate professional at all times. Don’t let your negative thoughts take control of your actions. Author Charles R. Swindoll put it best, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”


Also read: Promotion Problems at Work: 13 Things That May Be Holding You Back | Promotion and Performance Series


So, how do you retain your composure after being denied a promotion at work? The first step is to be self-aware.

The reality is that you’re no worse off than you were before you asked for the promotion—you’re in the same job—so it’s up to you to decide if that’s a situation that’s acceptable to you. While there might be a mismatch between where you believe you should be (promoted) and where you are, you need to think of the reject as just another form of feedback that you can use to improve.

Instead of being angry and inconsolable, take the feedback impersonally and ask yourself some important questions, “What am I doing effectively? Where do I need to improve? What does work look like at the next level and where am I falling short?” In this way, you take the negative situation of being rejected for internal promotion and use it to become stronger.

As Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Practical Next Steps After Being Rejected for Internal Promotion

After you’ve got a handle on your emotions and you’re ready to face the rejection with an open mind, there are a few steps you should take.

1. Seek Feedback

Rarely, does the reason you’re being denied a promotion at work match up with the thoughts you have in your head. You need reality and not supposition.

In an ideal scenario, you would seek feedback from your boss on why you were rejected. And don’t just accept the first explanation, which is often surface level and something like, “You’re a great worker but another candidate had more experience.” Instead, dig down to find the contributing factors that led to you being rejected for internal promotion.

Ask for specifics and suggestions for improvement. This not only indicates your willingness to learn, but also that your desire for professional advancement is undaunted.


Also read: 5 Signs You’re Not Ready for Promotion | Promotion and Performance Series


2. Enlist Support

In addition to gaining feedback, the next step you should take is to enlist the support of the rejecting manager (depending on your relationship) or another senior mentor. These individuals can help you create a game plan for your future. This is your chance to map out the short-term and long-term goals that you want to accomplish and to figure out what you need to focus on improving to get there.

By working with a senior member of your company, you demonstrate your commitment to the job and to becoming more qualified for a future promotion. This can also help you figure out if there are additional tasks that you can take on to show that you are capable and qualified. Don’t let being told to wait stunt your performance or your entire career.

3. Consider All Your Options

Finally, you need to make a decision about whether you should stay or if you should go. Consider all your options after being rejected for internal promotion.

Write down the benefits of your current role and employer and compare those to the benefits and negatives of working for someone else. You want a complete and full list before you jump ship. The last thing you want to do is regret leaving your current job just because you felt scorned and passed over. Don’t act hastily!

However, if you decide that there is too much history to change perception and make a difference, then it might be time to look elsewhere. Just be sure you have a plan to leave in a way that makes you more employable and doesn’t look like you’re just reacting badly to being denied a promotion at work.

Principles to Remember

  • Don’t overreact and say something that you’ll later regret.
  • Do take a moment to get a handle on your emotions until you can come at the situation graciously.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away for a few hours or days to think about how you want to handle being rejected for internal promotion.
  • Do seek feedback about you didn’t get the job and take action on that feedback.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your boss or another mentor for help in improving your chances of getting the promotion next time.
  • Do consider all of your options and decide if being denied a promotion at work is the end of the line at your company or just another opportunity for success.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo is a full-time freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, personal development, and content creation. A social media and brand development expert, you can find Kelly at http://kevowriting.com/ where she helps businesses and executives develop their authentic voice.