Careers advice

Why am I not getting promoted at work?

What’s going wrong?

There are few worse feelings than not being appreciated, and often, when it comes to our careers, we measure approval through promotions.

If you’ve been stuck in the same role for too long while your peers climb the career ladder, you’re probably wondering where you’re going wrong. The problem is, if you get too much in your head about this stuff, you’re less likely to find the real reason behind not progressing.

So, to help you regain some objectivity, we’re going to go through some common reasons why people don’t get promoted, and explain what you can do to get ahead.

How to stop being passed over for promotions

1. Your company isn’t in a position to promote people

Promoting someone involves paying them more, and sometimes companies aren’t in the financial position to do this.

Now, there’s not a lot you can do about this one, but we’ve included it in this list for a reason. If you’re going to ask for a promotion, you need to ‘read the room’ and make sure you’re doing it at a smart time. If you approach your manager at the wrong time for the business, not only will you have to wait a while before you can ask again (trust us, nagging is not the way forward here), you might also make them doubt your understanding of the business at large. To their mind, the type of person they want to elevate to a more senior role should have a grasp of the wider fortunes of the organisation, and know what is realistic in terms of budgeting.

You need to pick your time.

2. Your soft skills aren’t up to scratch

You might be the most talented member of your team, but if you’re not showing the right soft skills, your manager may doubt that you’re the right person to promote.

This is particularly true if you’re looking at moving into a management position, where you’ll need certain leadership skills to succeed. These include:

  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Communication skills.
  • Team building.
  • Delegation.
  • Decision making.

If you’re looking to improve your soft skills, you can start right away. Taking a more active role in meetings, getting involved with out of work activities with your colleagues or offering your time to help with planning sessions, are all great ways to develop your soft skills, and show you’re willing to keep working on yourself.

3. You’re expecting it to happen

It’s true, long term service to a company is often rewarded by promotions. However, if you’ve been relying on simply biding your time and it hasn’t happened, it’s time for a change of tack.

This is especially true if your company is regularly hiring new talent. If these new employees are busting a gut to impress your manager, there’s a good chance they will be promoted ahead of you if you’re not showing the same level of enthusiasm and drive. Simply waiting in the weeds isn’t going to cut it, you need to show your manager you’re the person they need to promote.

4. You’re not showing the right attitude

Showing a bad attitude at work can include anything from participating in office gossip to not getting involved to taking criticism badly. If you’re going to earn a promotion, you need to demonstrate to those higher up that you’re the kind of person they want to keep in the business and to reward.

If you’re worried about the image you’ve created for yourself at work through your attitude, don’t be. It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf and change the way you approach your role, and the way you treat other members of staff around you.

You need to prove your the person who should be promoted.

5. You’re not taking credit

Even if you’re showing the right attitude and busting a gut, you might be passed over for a promotion because you’re too humble about your contributions. Of course, we’re not saying that you should be shouting about your achievements throughout the office, no one likes a boaster, but equally you should be proud when you deliver great work that helps to progress the company’s goals.

Ideally, your manager should have the oversight to keep tabs on what you’re doing. But, if they’ve missed something important, don’t be afraid to bring it to their attention. Ultimately, they’ll want to know about it, because they’ll be trying to prove their own value to those above them.

How to respond when you’re rejected for an internal promotion?

If you’ve already put your name forward for a promotion and not got the result you wanted, it’s key you respond in the right way. Why? Because if you show the wrong altitude, all you’re doing is validating their decision not to promote you in the first place. Some good ways to deal with this outcome include:

1. Ask for feedback

There are several reasons why this needs to be part of your response

  • It shows humility: by asking for feedback, you show that you accept their decision, and realise you have progress to make.
  • It improves your chances for next time: knowing what you need to work on will let you make the necessary changes so that you can nail your next application.
  • It gets noticed: by following up on your unsuccessful application, you show the decision-makers that you were really serious this time, and you’ll be really serious next time. Remember, showing the right attitude is a huge part of being the type of employee a manager wants to promote.

2. Support the newly promoted employee

We know it’s hard seeing someone else in the job you wanted, but the best thing you can do, both for yourself and for them, is to throw your full weight behind what they’re trying to achieve. Not only will this head off any potential awkwardness, it won’t go unnoticed.

3. Don’t be hard on yourself

While some healthy self-reflection is great, don’t get so into your head that your reflection turns into self-blame. While it might take some time to get over the disappointment, there will be other opportunities in the future, and next time you’ll be primed and ready.

Equally important, don’t let your emotions show at work. Sulking or having a negative attitude will only work against you.