Not getting a promotion can be soul crushing. How do you recover from it?
A close friend of mine got passed over for a promotion last week. Not getting the promotion you were focusing all of your energy on is soul crushing. It can eat away at your confidence and your feelings of self worth. It can make you question the value of your contributions. It can destroy your motivation because you feel betrayed, and can impact your interdepartmental relationships and the overall quality of your work.
As a result, it can cause a self fulfilling impact. You feel like you didn’t get the raise or promotion because you don’t deserve it. Then your quality of work declines because you’re discouraged and questioning your skills, at which point you probably really DON’T deserve the raise or promotion.
So how do you recover from being passed over without hurting your career?
- Continue kicking ass. If your current leadership doesn’t recognize your contributions, it doesn’t mean leadership in other areas of the company won’t. Brush it off and keep crushing it for 6 months. Maintain your work ethic & positive interdepartmental relationships, and push forward. At the end of 6 months, re-evaluate. Do you have opportunities for career growth now? If not, or if this has been a long term ongoing issue, you may want to consider option 2.
- Apply elsewhere. If your contributions aren’t being valued at your current org and you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel or a career ladder to guide you to the next step, exit stage left and apply at other orgs with clear pathways to promotion and pay increases.
There are companies out there that even make those aspects of their business models available to the public. If your path is murky and you’re being passed over without being given feedback as to why, ask around in the industry about other workplace practices. Chances are, you’ll stumble across some that are more in line with what you are looking for to propel your career forward.
- Talk to your boss. I’m going to go against the grain here and recommend you wait to do it until you’ve landed a new offer at another company though and closely compare the two. In previous years I would have told you to talk to management first, before applying elsewhere since they may not even know that you’re unhappy. Unfortunately, in the last few years I’ve seen friends end up in some really rough situations after approaching crappy management directly. If you really, really trust your boss and HR, it’s definitely worth a shot though.
And honestly, if you’re not comfortable talking to your boss or HR about your career progression, goals, and concerns about your compensation, it’s probably time to exit the company (or at least the team) you’re currently involved with anyway.
Career blocking, or feeling like advocating for yourself is discouraged, is not acceptable. Ever.
- Sometimes an org doesn’t promote you to keep your pay scale up to date with the years experience you’ve invested with them, not because they don’t value you, but because they can’t afford you. Applying elsewhere may be necessary depending on your financial situation.
- Weigh the pros and cons. Do you love your team and management, but they’re underpaying you? It’s a tough situation to be in. Money isn’t the most important aspect for job selection for many people. Work life balance and job benefits trump cashflow sometimes. And that’s ok. If you’re fine being paid less to work for a company you’re passionate about, with a team you love, that’s A-ok. However, if you’re in a position that money IS important due to your life circumstances, or because it’s just important to you in general, don’t feel guilty bailing for a company where you can make more.
Just try to maintain positive working relationships on your way out since it legitimately doesn’t have anything to do with your co-workers. Leaving a team you love for a better financial situation can be incredibly difficult, but in some cases, the right decision for your career.
- In the tech industry, very, VERY few jobs are permanent. In startup situations especially, being loyal to your team and company is great, but don’t count on your job being around long term. As companies grow, the teams’ needs change and some positions are cut to make room for others as they scale. If a company is acquired it’s a great short term benefit for those with stock, but not necessarily great from a long term job stability perspective. If they go public on the other hand, it may prove to be a great benefit both short AND long term. But startups that are that successful are few and far between.
I’m really fortunate to work for a startup that is completely kicking ass (InVision), but very few other startups end up in similar positions.
My boss at the first startup I worked for gave me the best career advice I’ve ever received.
He said, “I know you love this team and the company — it really does feel like a family. But there is a very strong chance that neither this team, nor the company will be around forever. You have to focus on doing what’s right for your career and your actual family.”
That advice is what led me to InVision. Soon after I left my previous startup, the company that had acquired it cut the jobs of the entire design team I had been part of. It was AWFUL to see my friends go through that. But every single person on that team ended up in significantly better career situation, making more money as a result.
So, my advice in a nutshell is this: If you feel like your career progression has stalled out at your current company with no new opportunities opening up in the foreseeable future, start applying elsewhere. It’s your career. No one can own it but you.