So you didn't get the job

What to do if you experience the Professional PO-PO

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”

- Zig Ziglar

At some point in your career, you may decide to apply for another position with your current employer. It may be an upward move with increased pay and responsibility, or it may be a lateral move. While it’s common for people to move around in an organization, it’s also common for people to be unsuccessful in getting an internal posting. When this happens you may feel confused and disappointed. If in addition to disappointment you also feel frustration, shame, anger, or embarrassment, you may be experiencing professional PO-PO (passed over and pissed off).

By your account, everything seemed to be going well and you were a shoo-in for the role. You are determined to get to the bottom of this and you are contemplating the next steps you will take.  But before you do so, let’s consider: how you got to this stage, what you can do differently next time, and how to respond professionally to this situation.

The person who got the job wasn’t nearly as qualified as you are. You just can’t understand why you didn’t get it. You have a degree, for Pete’s sake, and the person who got the job doesn’t. What gives?

“Qualifications” is a relative term. You may have a different idea of what is required for the role compared to the person who made the decision. Often the requirement of a non-specific degree is used to assess someone’s ability to commit, follow through and learn. If they’ve demonstrated this in other ways, you may find people with less academic credentials are successful in getting the position, especially if it’s paired with relevant experience.

You also need to think about your skills. If you have the skills for a job you didn’t get, did you do a good job explaining and showcasing these skills? If the skills you have for the desired position are not readily demonstrable in your current role, how will others know you have them? Did you discuss what value you will bring and what your solutions to existing problems are? When asked why you want the job did you say, “I’m bored in my current role,” or “I’ve been here the longest”? Neither are good answers by the way.

You need to be honest with yourself about why you didn’t get the job. Not getting the job is not always a definitive, "you aren’t good enough.” Especially if there is someone who is simply better suited.

Also, some managers engage in talent hoarding. You may be doing such a great job that your manager is reluctant to let you go. Your manager may even be sabotaging your desire to move. It’s important to know that your manager is supporting your desires and not just serving his/her own interests.  Alternatively, if you are doing such a great job and haven’t thought of a successor for your role or started mentoring them, you could be unintentionally sabotaging your own efforts. I’ve seen many folks assume their ticket to job “security” is by being secretive and protective about their role. Yet this approach could be exactly why you are stuck where you are. You’ve made it seem like the role is so special and niche, it would be hard to replace you. Therefore, it’s easier for the company to have you keep doing it.  

You’ve applied on every new opening; surely someone should have noticed your interest by now!

If you have applied to every new position, it’s possible this is being noticed. But not for the reasons you might think. While applying for openings can show initiative and interest, if it’s done indiscriminately, it can demonstrate a lack of focus and disinterest in your current position. In the absence of knowing your true motivation, some people may begin to make assumptions about you and your actions. “Cindy must hate her job; Why else would she apply for every single opening?” Or, “Bill is applying for positions in management so he can get paid more and do less.”  You need to be clear about why you are applying for each position to ensure your actions do not look like spaghetti thrown against a wall, in the hopes that something sticks.  

You applied for a promotion and are adamant that you should have gotten it since you perform so well in your current role. Did you mention that you’ve been here the longest?

It sounds as though you think a promotion is the outcome in recognizing a job well done. It’s true that many people who perform well in their current role get promoted, but they don’t always succeed at the next level. If you look across the skill set of a team lead versus a senior manager versus an executive, there is a unique skill set for each role. Good performance at one level is not a guarantee of good performance at the next level. Length of time in a role doesn’t always correlate with experience or readiness. It will be hard for people to see your skills and experience behind your entitled attitude.  

You may also need to consider if other career limiting behaviours are getting in your way (e.g., you don’t get along with others, you don’t accept feedback, you think like an employee and not like a leader, you don’t coach and develop others). It is possible to overvalue your technical skills and overlook the human skills required for the job.

If your application for a position is the first time others in the company become aware of your career goals, you may be too late. Most decision makers will have created a mental roster of who they see in the role before the position even becomes available. If you lack key skills or experience, you likely won’t have time to gather it before the decision is made. Having career conversations with your leader ahead of time is key.

It’s also increasingly common for people to move to other companies to access the positions they want. And in the case of a leadership role, smaller organizations may simply not have the bandwidth, resources, mentorship, or willingness to support the development you are looking for.  

You want to march into the decision maker’s office and rip them a new one. Even your co-workers agree that you should have gotten the job!

Think carefully about how you handle your next move. If you are ready to flip your lid, you’ll be confirming why you are not a good fit for the position. Regardless of whether the position was a lateral or upward move, people need to know that you can cope with a range of situations and emotions. Raising hell only makes you look like a toddler throwing a tantrum, not to mention a sore loser. Would you want to work with someone like that?

Although it’s normal to talk to and vent with co-workers, you are sliding down a slippery slope. Blabbing to everyone about the situation shows you are prioritizing yourself and your feelings ahead of the company’s interest (another reason you may not have gotten the position). It may also show that they are looking for someone who can make hard decisions and isn’t just buddies with everyone.  It’s a thin line between venting and gossiping.

Be sure to ask for feedback. Understanding why you didn’t get the position is important. Even if you disagree with the feedback, perception is key. Being defensive about the reasons you were unsuccessful will only keep you where you are for longer. Constructive feedback is hard for people to deliver and most employees function in feedback deprived environments. If you get some feedback, consider it a gift. Embrace it and be prepared to do something with it.

In addition to understanding why you didn’t get the job, it’s also important to know what you can do to be successful the next time around. You may even have to spend some of your own time and money to get what you need to move to where you want to be. Instead of just applying for positions as they arise, identify the positions you are truly interested in and work towards building up the required skills, experience and knowledge. This way when the position becomes available, you are ready to take the role on and not just the interview.

Lastly, if the feedback you get about why you didn’t get the positions smells worse than a pigsty (e.g., vague, no answers, no suggestions for next steps), you might need to spend some time reflecting on whether this is the place for you. The less than helpful answer may indicate back door deals, internal politicking, a poor development culture, and other crap that tends to interfere with and disempower employees from exercising ownership over their careers. If this is the case, you may need to pack your skills and experience and head elsewhere.

Have you or someone you know been passed over for a role? How did you (they) respond? Leave a comment below for the career with a view crew.