Landing on your feet

August 1, 2002
Orlando Ceaser
Orlando Ceaser

Orlando Ceaser is president & CEO of Watchwell Communications. He was formerly the senior director of diversity for AstraZeneca. He is the author most recently of “The Isle of Knowledge.”

Pharmaceutical Representative

What to do when you don't get the promotion.

You just got the news. The boss called you into his or her office, or you received the fateful telephone call. Someone else was given the job you wanted. Why? You were perfect for that job. How could they not have given it to you?

Much has been written about getting the right job. There are books, seminars and counselors who specialize in helping you attain the job of your dreams. Your quest for the next step is covered from all directions. But what do you do when you get the bad news that your next step is delayed? What do you do when things don't go your way?

Your reaction to bad news may surprise you, especially if you never considered not getting the job. The objective is to prepare for getting the job, but you should have a plan B, just in case the unthinkable happens.

Disappointment usually causes us to make an outward or inward assessment of what happened. The outward focuses on external reasons:


•Â Blaming the interviewer.


•Â Blaming the company or the environment.


•Â Blaming the job – it wasn't worth it anyway.


•Â Selecting the conspiracy theory – someone is out to get you.

The inward focuses on the individual:


•Â Deciding that you didn't prepare as well as you should have.


•Â Second-guessing your responses to questions.


•Â Reflecting on mistakes made.


•Â Blaming the decision on bad luck, bad karma, a bad hair day or genetic predisposition to failure.

The correct review process should be a combination of both approaches. Maximum benefits will be derived from an honest assessment of the circumstances. You need information. You may want to consult your mentor or a confidante to gain their perceptions. Review the interview and your responses to the questions. Be open-minded as you take notes on your discussions.

It is important to anticipate bad news and respond with professionalism. How you respond may put you in a better position to land the next job. Many times, the way you handle disappointment will demonstrate your character and impress someone enough to see that you get the job you want at a later date. When I review my career, I can count at least eight jobs that I thought I should have received over someone else. I came to the conclusions listed below and developed strategies that enabled me to take the disappointment and grow to a higher level of achievement.

Strategies and tactics

Ask for specific feedback. If you are to be more competitive in the next interview, you need feedback that can be converted into actions and goals. The performance strategies and tactics formed should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and trackable. Try to avoid feedback like "You did a good job, just hang in there and something will come your way." Many people are reluctant to give solid feedback because they are afraid of being sued or causing ill will by hurting someone's feelings. They do a grave disservice to the applicant if they have specific information and decide not to give it. How can you change if you do not have the right information? You need something tangible so you can channel your energies and activities in the proper direction. Additionally, you must act on the feedback and periodically discuss your progress with your mentor and immediate supervisor. Give yourself time to show that the skill development has occurred and is demonstrated consistently.

Be open to the truth. If you ask a question, you must be able to live with the answer. Feedback that is factual and delivered in a truthful and caring manner is invaluable to your growth and development. Self-examination and honest introspection may help you anticipate the words of the interviewer. Sincere feedback must be accepted graciously and acted on. It must not be viewed as vicious criticism given in a defensive environment.

Search for reasons you can control. Be careful not to rush to a reason that you can't control. There is nothing worse than being denied a job and feeling helpless to improve your chances. Be patient and don't rush to play the age card, race card, gender card or any other card that you can't change. If you are denied a job because of discrimination, you have a right to pursue legal recourse, but try not to rush to that assumption when there are other reasons that may have precluded you from getting the job. That's why it is important to get relevant and specific feedback that you can work on and demonstrate improvement.

Be open to other assignments. Do not be so narrow in your perspective that you turn down other assignments that could strengthen your portfolio and, therefore, your chances of getting your desired job. Oftentimes, companies may not want to take a risk on a candidate, but if that person has a range of experience in other jobs, it minimizes the risk. Another advantage of additional assignments is that they foster your knowledge of the company and increase the number of people who can validate the quality of your work. Analyze each assignment based on what it can do for your future. It may be just the job you need to convince management that you have what it takes to get the job you want. Lateral moves are often important to round out your experience.

Increase your contacts through networking. I have risen in my career partly due to the number of people familiar with my work. In many conference rooms across the nation, succession planning committees gather to determine who will move up the corporate ladder. The more votes you have around the table, the better your chances for advancement. Contacts made at company functions or industry meetings may be invaluable. Interdepartmental teams are an excellent place to volunteer, because in today's matrix organization, you need to learn to work with people who may not be reporting to you. There are books on networking and organizations you can join to gain guidance and mentors to help you in your career. Therefore, increasing your contacts is important before and after you get the job you want.

Don't make impulsive decisions and burn bridges. Control your emotions. Don't make a hasty decision to quit or say something destructive. You must thoroughly analyze your situation. As with any relationship, take the time to reflect on what transpired.

There is a shortage of quality talent in the work force, and this may cause people to leave abruptly if things don't go right. A buyer's market may hamper career development. If a job doesn't work out, rather than stay to work on their skills, people leave and go to another company. They may get more money, which makes their decision look good. However, if there is any area that needs improvement, it really should be addressed as soon as possible or it will come back to haunt them.

The worst time to evaluate a new job offer is when you are upset about not getting a promotion. Your judgment may be impaired. You may strike out with an I-will-show-them attitude and not evaluate all of the particulars of the new offer. As in a relationship, you should not evaluate options when you are angry or disappointed. You do not want to look back regretting an employment decision made without the benefit of a reasonable cooling-off period.

Also, the corporate world is shrinking. You cannot afford to leave under bad conditions, because the bad blood shown to an employer can come back to haunt you. I know of numerous examples of people who were terminated or left under stormy conditions, only to regret it years later. Imagine the look of sheer terror when they found out that their new boss was actually the boss they fought with at their old company.

Be open to the fact that you may have lost out to a better candidate. Sometimes the level of competition is so steep that management is in the enviable position of having more talent than it can use. This is no consolation for someone who has worked hard for the job, but it is a fact of life. The timing may not have been right, or someone may have had a better relationship with the decision maker, which served as the tiebreaker. There is also the possibility that you had a bad interview. An interview is like an audition. Academy Award winners have lost out on roles because they had a bad audition. You may do your best and still not get the job. The important idea to take away is that you did your best. It is also beneficial to accumulate a variety of experiences and interests, because you never know what the tiebreaker will be in intense interviewing scenarios.

Resilience is a very important trait when interviewing for a promotion. Resilience, along with the right attitude, will serve you well when things don't go your way and you initially don't get the promotion.

Model the right behavior. Your employer is not the only person observing your behavior. Colleagues and others within the organization will want to know how you handle the pressure of not gaining an assignment. This is a perfect opportunity to model the characteristics of a team player and someone patiently awaiting an opportunity by striving to improve every aspect of their performance - a model, not a martyr. If you are consistently passed over with little or no feedback or receive insincere, contradictory commentary, you may have to make a decision to go where your talents may be appreciated.

'No' might mean 'Not now'

Accepting bad news is never easy. We don't like rejection. This fact is wired into our genes. There are factors in acquiring a job that may be beyond your control, and the timing may not be right. You should, however, do everything within your power to ensure that you are ready for interviews, from the standpoint of skills and experience. If you do not get the job, the answer may not be "no"; it may be "not now." The moments immediately after this discovery may lead you toward landing the job you really want. PR

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