7 Questions to Ask If You Don’t Get a Promotion


You’ve worked hard all year, you’re certain you’ve done enough, you might even have been promised it – and then you find out: you didn’t get that promotion.

This situation can be heartbreaking, demoralising and just downright depressing. It can also make you angry, annoyed and frustrated.

However, it’s crucial to act maturely and professionally in times like these. Compose your emotions and start to move forward slowly in finding out what happened. Here are 7 questions you need to ask if you didn’t get the promotion.

To Yourself:

First things first – take time to think and reflect before anything else.

1. Where did I go wrong?

It’s essential to recognise the flaws in your performance. Take the time to do a detailed post-game analysis: what did you do well, what could you have done better and what did you do badly. Try to think from your boss’ perspective and rank each major project to get a better picture. You can always ask people for help, but no one knows you better than you.

It’s important to get your performance clear in your head before you discuss with your boss, and go armed with a rationale, mature analysis for any conversations. If you think you’ve done well then it’s likely to be circumstances out of your control – but at least you’ll have the information at hand to defend your performance.

2. Did I do what was asked or more than what was asked?

From your self-reflection, you might find you haven’t done anything wrong. However, in today’s competitive work environment, this might not be enough. To get promoted you most often need to do more than what was asked of you, and clearly demonstrate that you are operating at the promoted level for at least a couple of months.

3. Does the promotion exist?

This question might seem strange, but a lot of people go through this process. Take a moment to ponder what exactly your boss said and whether they promised you a position – even better is to find it in writing. It might be company policy that there are no promotions this quarter or half year.

4. Do I have enough experience?

No matter how hard you are working and giving the best performance, one thing that sets most people back is the number of years that they have worked, or their experience. We should live in a meritocracy, where being good enough is all that is needed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, particularly in places like Hong Kong. When you get this answer, it is tough – often the choice is to suck it up and take a long-term view, or transfer to another company and get that promotion you deserved.

To Your Boss:

Now that you’ve had time to think over why you didn’t get promoted, you need to do the difficult thing and discuss it with your boss. Book a meeting in one or two days’ time to give everyone time to gather their thoughts. And most of all, be calm and professional.

5. What were my flaws?

After you have self-assessed, it is now time to ask the big guy about why it went wrong. Make sure to not seem too aggressive or defensive. Be polite about it and ask them to explain where you went wrong and what lacked in your performance. Also, be firm – explain that you have a keen interest in improving and this information is vital in enabling you to do so.

6. How can I make myself more capable?

Once you know your weak spots, you can ask your boss how you can improve yourself in due time. Try to put in a place a specific set of goals to work towards – this will take more time than one meeting but this question is a good starting point.

7. What did the promoted colleague do better?

This question might be a very sensitive one so it is important to put it in the right way for learning purposes only. Try to ask your boss what was the difference between you and your competition in a healthy way so that you can bring those qualities and factors into your work and make it better in the future.

Not getting promoted is hard to take. But whatever you do, make sure you get answers to these questions and put in place a plan to make sure you don't need to ask them again!

Naomi Chan

Career Coach and professional career hacker at Team Vanna

3 min read

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