What I learned from the promotion that got away [case study]

Getting promoted is no easy task, which I talked about a bit in this previous post, but what I’ve found is most helpful to those coming into the workforce with lofty goals is to understand how to learn from things not going as well as planned, like getting passed over for a promotion that you KNEW you were ready for.

It happens to the best of us, and by that I mean it happened to me. While I can’t guarantee what I’m about to share with you will keep you from ever missing out on a promotion you want, I guarantee this cautionary tale will help you better shape your course of attack.


When I first started out in industry, I began as an accountant on a five person team, which included a supervisor. It looked like this:

  • 2 Accountants
  • 1 Senior Accountant I
  • 1 Senior Accountant II
  • 1 Supervisor

Over time, I did get a job and was able to get promoted into different roles. In fact, I was in a position where I had did the accountant role for one year, the senior accountant role for a year and a half, and I was in the senior accountant II role, informally supervising the work of the other accountant role, for a year when the supervisor role opened up (for this team, which is a key piece of information I’ll come back to later).

To fully provide context of the situation, my company had had a policy in place that said employees should stay in a role for a minimum of eighteen months before looking for their next role (either lateral or promotion). So by all measures, I didn’t have a lot to complain about since I was getting promoted on a “fast track.”

Going After The Job

So one day, I’m looking at the weekly job opening report and I see that there is a supervisor role open and it just so happens that it’s the supervisor for my team. It seemed like a perfect fit. I had exposure to all four roles with EXTENSIVE hands-on experience with three out of the four roles.

There was nobody in the rest of the accounting group slated for the position, so I thought it was a no-brainer that I should at least be considered for the job. I proceed to send an email to the senior manager of the group saying something along the lines of “can I be considered for this role?” and he replied back with “it’s too soon,” and that was that.

We proceeded to hire someone from one of the big 4 accounting firms to fill the role – a bright guy but he didn’t know the business as well as I did or the systems and processes that were in place.

In fact, I ended up spending a lot of time getting the new person up to speed, and I still consider that new supervisor AND the senior manager as friends of mine today. That’s not to say I wasn’t upset or disappointed because I was both, but the answer seemed pretty final and I didn’t see any reason to let them impact my performance and upward trajectory because I wasn’t in a bad position.

The fact is if it were any other supervisor role I wouldn’t have even said anything because two-level jumps were few and far between and it wouldn’t have made as much sense as this move.

What I Should Have Done Differently

I made a HUGE assumption that my senior manager saw the obvious fit that this role was for me. Rarely do you have a supervisor come in that knows the roles reporting to it in as much detail as I did. It was a dream come true from a transition perspective. The team would’ve kept on rolling without so much as a hitch, even if that meant I had to do my job and the supervisor job for some time…but I didn’t say ANY of this in my email which created two problems that I realize in hindsight:

  1. He may not have seen what I saw from a fit perspective (at least not with as much confidence)
  2. My short inquiry didn’t show just how serious I was about the role. This was an opportunity to display an ability to put together a compelling business case and I didn’t do it. In that sense, maybe it was too soon, but it’s something I could (and did) quickly pick up.

The fact that I didn’t follow-up face-to-face also likely gave the impression that this was just a passing whim.

What I Did Right

Part of being professional is continuing to perform at a high level even when things aren’t going your way. Pouting is a terrible look both literally and figuratively – if you feel like you’ve been wrongly passed over for a job, you can prove your employer wrong by excelling even more at your current job or leaving for a different job where you think you’ll be valued more. Don’t sacrifice relationships that you may need again because you decided to throw a temper tantrum in the workplace. Nobody wins in that situation.

What are your thoughts on this? What lessons have you learned from falling short on a career pursuit?