You put yourself out there by trying for a promotion — you assembled a list of achievements, gone through the interviewing process, and may have even started imagining your new cubicle or office. But now the word comes that you’ve been passed over and someone else was picked for the position. Losing out on a promotion can be discouraging, but it’s important to see it as only a small delay in your career arc.

“We are the managers of our own careers, so it’s important to be prepared for setbacks that come our way,” says career coach Pamela Weinberg. “Being prepared to hear ‘no’ when asking for a promotion will still be difficult, but with preparedness it’s likely that an employee can keep their emotions in check and respond more rationally in order to get the type of feedback they need to get to the next level.”

Here’s what to do when you lose out on a promotion.

Respond Professionally

When you apply for a job at a new company and don’t get it, it’s easy to vent to your friends or family about your disappointment. But when you apply for a promotion and don’t get it, an overreaction can make you look unprofessional in the eyes of your co-workers. Your first reaction may be to quit out of spite, Weinberg says, but this could end up undermining your chances to get ahead.

“It’s likely that a person not receiving a promotion that they thought they deserved will be disappointed, and they can certainly express that to their employer, but be careful not to flip that into anger,” Weinberg says. Temper your reaction to the news and avoid saying things you might regret later. “Staying calm in the face of adversity is an important trait and one that will come in handy for that employee going forward.”

Dig for Growth Opportunities

You didn’t get the promotion for a reason, and finding out that reason can put you in a better position for the next promotion. Weinberg recommends meeting with your manager and asking questions such as these:

  • What are some action steps I can take to get to the next level?
  • Are there specific skills I need to acquire?
  • What are some areas that need improvement?

“It’s important to listen closely and carefully to the reasons why a promotion was not granted,” Weinberg says. Learning about those reasons will give you an action plan to better prepare for the next opportunity. However, if you ask “do you think I have what it takes to get promoted and succeed in that job?” and the answer is no, or a lot of hedging, then it may be time to think about moving on, she says.

Make an Action Plan

Once you’ve identified some steps to take to prepare for the next promotion, work with your manager on a timeline and tasks to get it done. Establish clear expectations and markers laid out so that both sides are on the same page with what needs to be achieved in order to get promoted, Weinberg says. “A range of six months to 18 months would be average, but that timetable could change depending on other personnel changes,” she says.

Through it all, try not to get too discouraged. Look at the experience as feedback and a learning opportunity, and use it to make yourself a stronger candidate in the future.

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