Not getting the promotion we were expecting can be devastating to our self-image. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. In fact, not getting promoted can happen to the best of us. What is important is how you handle this unexpected news and what you do next to keep advancing in your career.
That is why I am excited to share this Candid Conversation with one of our Executive Authors, Gloria Asari. Gloria has been a close friend for 10+ years, and she is a successful executive with 18 years of experience. I am so glad to involved her as an Executive Author in the Soft Skills Gym for those reasons. Additionally, she always sees the good in others, and is one of the best people managers I know — she currently leads a team of 30 people.
I have benefited tremendously from her stories all these years. I am glad that I can start sharing them with you through Candid Conversations in order to support your career journey. This story is from 10 years ago, when she first came out of business. Her story is about:
- How she didn’t get promoted when she was expecting to.
- How Gloria dealt with the news personally and professionally.
- What lessons Gloria learned from this experience.
- How she used her lessons learned to get promoted a year later.
Listen to this 12-min recording and learn you can maximize your chances for a promotion. You can also read the audio transcription below.
Your comments: What lessons did you learn from Gloria about how to get promoted? What additional questions do you have about getting promoted? Add your comments and questions below. Let’s have a discussion.
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Best wishes to your career success. I am always in your corner.
Audio Transcription of This Recording
Lei: The topic that we talked about, which I’m very fascinated to hear about, is you said that you were up for promotion at one point, and you didn’t get it, and what happened? And what did you learn from it? And what are some takeaways you want to share?
Lei: So can you just give us a little bit of context around, where were you in your career and were you up for promotion? What is the initial struggle?
Gloria: So I was two years out of my MBA program, and this was the early 2000s, so it was a very tumultuous economic time. There was a lot of layoffs going on. My boss had been let go, so I had taken on a lot of her responsibilities. In my mind, I had thought since I had taken on so much of her responsibilities, I should therefore be a shoo in for promotion.
Lei: Ah, okay.
Lei: Right, uh huh.
Gloria: However, my boss was two levels, perhaps even three above me.
Lei: Your direct boss, your new direct boss.
Gloria: Or the person that had actually been let go during the downturn, the early downturn.
Lei: Oh, so the boss that got let go was two to three levels above.
Gloria: Yeah. So she was actually, she was a director. I was an assistant vice president, a VPP.
Lei: And are you, were you expecting to become a director or a VP?
Gloria: A VP.
Lei: Okay. But then who was your new boss?
Gloria: My new boss that I reported to was her old boss.
Lei: Okay, so it was senior.
Gloria: Yeah, he was even further senior. He was a managing director.
Gloria: And I thought my hard work, my perseverance and my dedication would all get me promoted.
Lei: Interesting. Okay.
Gloria: So when I found out that I wasn’t promoted, I was enraged. I was furious. I was so emotionally bent out of shape that I couldn’t even hear the feedback of what was going on.
Lei: Oh, cuz you had the full expectation. There wasn’t even a question in your head.
Lei: Did you actually have the conversation with your old boss, like your bosses boss, that you had that expectation? Did you know?
Gloria: You know what? This is the interesting thing, is that I had fleeting conversations, but I never fully asked him. This is the promotion cycle. What does it take? What I instead did is I let my peers really sort of influence me. Oh, you’re a shoo in, because you’re doing your old bosses work. Oh, you’re working so hard, you know you’ve got the senior executives’ ears. At no point did I ever actually have a clear career conversation.
Lei: That’s interesting.
Gloria: This is sort of something that was a poor point on my side as well as management’s side. You know what I mean?
Gloria: You know in terms of, cuz the best promotional career conversations is when both parties bring something to the table. So, I was furious. At that exact same moment, a recruiter called me.
Lei: Wow, okay.
Gloria: Yes. So I found out one day that I wasn’t going to get promoted, and it was more about my ego and feeling embarrassed. How am I gonna face all these other people that I didn’t get…
Lei: Who said I was shoo in.
Lei: Interesting how that dynamic plays us.
Gloria: Exactly. So this recruiter called, told me about this opportunity at another firm. It was more money and I was interested. I was like…
Lei: Wow. Especially timing is perfect.
Gloria: Exactly. I, looking back in retrospect, I don’t think I would have jumped if there wasn’t an opportunity that was so readily available. So, I basically went through the interview process. I let a lot of my hurt pride and anger…
Gloria: Dictate, yes. I’m gonna move and show them.
Lei: Ah, that’s very natural. It’s instinctual.
Gloria: Yeah, exactly. So I had built up in my mind that, I’ll show them. I’ll tell everybody that I’m gonna leave, and I’m gonna go tell my boss.
Lei: And they’re gonna regret not promoting.
Gloria: They’re gonna regret it. They’re gonna say, they’re gonna try to counter and somehow keep me. Well, that didn’t happen.
Gloria: They wished me the best, and my boss had some frank conversations about, finally the career conversation that I should have had probably a year ago, finally happened. This move that you’re contemplating, it’s in a very narrow industry. What is the next 5 to 10 or 15 years look like? What do you want for your career? So, at that point, I was a little bit taken aback, and I started to regret my choice, because I thought to myself, hm, interesting. This is kind of true what he’s saying. What does this look like? What does this mean? I’m also leaving a place where I loved. I loved the people.
Lei: Oh my gosh.
Gloria: I thought, they were some of my best friends to this day. But, I think that the political environment, because of the layoffs and different things had deteriorated to a point where there was so much trust that was lost with different parts. So, it’s a double-edged sword. You think the grass is always greener on the other side, and there’s so many ah ha moments that came, is that I went to the other firm expecting it to be all great.
Lei: Better, green grass.
Gloria: It wasn’t. It wasn’t a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t so spectacular. I hadn’t jumped up greatly. I did get promoted the next year. And, at that point, because of what I had gone through, it felt meaningful, because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t act like I deserved it. I actually worked really hard. I had, I learned and had proactive career discussions with my boss. It was on me. I learned my lesson that I can’t assume and that in order to really get promoted, you need to reach out to others.
Lei: Right, cuz there’s a lot of bosses out there, but there’s only a few that are really focused on investing in people, and sometimes even if they’re focused on it, they may not have time. If somebody got let go, that means that all their work and all their teams became theirs. It’s in your interest to actually drive your career.
Gloria: Can I also share one other thing that I learned?
Lei: Of course.
Gloria: There’s other people involved in the promotion process. There is a promotion committee.
Lei: Oh for your, to go to VP.
Gloria: Right, to go to VP. One thing, one feedback that I got many, about a year later, is that I was trying to make the case that I was doing my bosses job. I was doing a part of it. She was many levels up and had other things that I didn’t understand. Their perception was, we’re not gonna promote her, because she’s not doing all of necessarily her job. I didn’t realize that I had to influence the committee, not just my boss.
Lei: But even though your boss’s level was two, three levels up, you weren’t going up to VP, but are you saying that just to get to your next level, you focused so much maybe on just your boss, but not your boss’s peers or a committee which also need to have the same perception of your capability to be VP.
Gloria: Yes, and it’s even more critical during times of constraint, financial constraint, emotional and political constraint.
Gloria: When there is that type of atmosphere, you have to double down and really make sure that you have a full constituency around you. Promotion is never, promotion usually isn’t just about your boss in those type of time periods, because there’s so many people competing.
Gloria: It’s about the whole constituency.
Lei: Now looking back, do you think that you did do the VP level work and just not had the right proactive conversations with all the right people, or was it a combination of both, you didn’t know what was expected of VP, as well as you didn’t have the right conversations?
Gloria: I think it’s a bit of both, but I think if I had to tip it one way or another, I wasn’t savvy enough to realize what the process is to get promoted. I had my own inner perceptions.
Lei: And that you heard the opinions of your peers that was like, oh.
Gloria: I never clarified, what were the rules of the game. If you want to get promoted you have to know what the invisible and visible rules of promotion are. They’ll be what HR tells you and what’s on the website, but then it’s up to you to find out from mentors, other colleagues, people that have gone through the same process of, help me understand what does it take.
Lei: So how did you actually find out, because you’re implying now, not only do you need to know the rules of the game, but you can’t necessarily get the rules of the game just by asking.
Gloria: How did I find out that I didn’t get promoted, or by the next time?
Lei: No, how did you, to figure out the actual rules of the game?
Gloria: You know, I did a simple thing of ask other colleagues. Be vulnerable and just ask them, because a lot of people don’t want to ask, because then it’s a sign of, I”m interested and…
Lei: I may not get it.
Lei: What if I don’t get it? How would I look?
Gloria: Yeah, and pride. Like, as in, like I know I’m a shoo in. Like what happened to me.
Gloria: So a lot of people don’t ask the question, or they’ll ask one or two confidantes. I targeted people that had gone through the promotion process successfully for two reasons. First, to find out how to do it. Second, to show my interest and…
Lei: Ah, so you target, so at the next firm, it was still a VP level, and you talked to VPs who already got promoted and said, hey, and built a relationship, personal relationship.
Lei: So these are not official career conversations, but in a way you’re building the relationship, influencing their image of you and getting the inside knowledge about what is the actual game about.
Gloria: And I started…
Lei: You started early.
Gloria: On day one.
Lei: Oh, so you started a year before.
Gloria: Yes, which is super critical. Promotions, people start thinking about promotions as committees are talking or a month before, and by that point you have had to have laid all your groundwork. Your work has to, your accomplishments and your conversations have already have had to have happened well in advance. So, as an example, we went through our, our promotions were announced on November 1st.
Lei: Your current company?
Gloria: Yes, in my current company. The person, I had one person that was successfully promoted, one person that wasn’t. I have talked to her and her manager about, what is the plan? And I’ve been pretty, I’ve been frank with her on what the feedback is and I’ve told her, you know right before our vacation, I want to understand in January what your roadmap looks like, what you need help with and what you think is the biggest challenges for you to get there this year. Cuz I want her to be involved all the way and know that I’m going to help her, but I want her to know that the game starts now.
Lei: Oh, and she’s up for promotion in November of this coming year.
Gloria: Yes, and the decisions are made about September, Octoberish.
Lei: Oh, wow. Okay. This is a great story to share. I think, looking back, are you regretful that you didn’t stay at the company you were at?
Gloria: You know, that’s a hard question to answer because it went, the division was sort of disbanded.
Lei: For other reasons.
Gloria: Yeah, for totally other reasons, many years later.
Gloria: I learned a valuable skillset at the new organization that lead me to where I’m at. I wouldn’t be at the organization I’m at unless I was there. I made these networking connections. My current company, the person that, the reason I got hired is, somebody I used to work with at my previous company, the one I went to, recommended me. So, in retrospect, I regretted the mental anguish I put myself through for promotions.
Lei: Right, and almost the emotional decision you might have made, but it sounded like you learned your lesson quickly though and you basically took what was an unpleasant experience and made it your own engine, or almost like a leaping pad for something better.
Gloria: Yes, absolutely. Like you said, I think the lesson I learned is, do not treat promotion decisions, good or bad, supercharged emotionally. Process it and then go back. The face that you have after you do or don’t get promoted is what people will carry with you forever. They’ll remember this. They’ll remember, that’s the girl that got really emotional when she didn’t get promoted.
Lei: That reputation as well is affected, not only because you didn’t get promoted, but there is this, cuz now we read these articles that says, the future of hiring is based on reputation.
Gloria: It is.
Lei: Because there’s so many ways to jack up your resume, etcetera. Interesting. In fact, you were so focused on the fact that you didn’t get promoted, but the actions afterwards actually also affected you.
Gloria: Yup, absolutely.
Lei: But on the other hand, you really learned that, oh well, what is it that I could have done differently, instead of focusing, well, they’re just not good. I’ll just go to the next place and they’re gonna treat me better, but I’m gonna be the same way. It sounded like you learned to figure out what the game is from people that are more senior than you, at the level that you want to be, and then really do that early, maybe even 9 months to a year advanced, because as more senior as you get, it becomes a promotion committee instead of one person’s decision, and there’s also less openings.
Gloria: Yes, and what you want to remember is there’s a new class every year of people that want to get promoted, and that class continues to grow. So you have to differentiate yourself from that class and it’s like, okay, this class got promoted. Well there’s new superstars that are on the brink again. So you have to constantly be aware of that dynamic. It’s not, people say, they use this term multi year process, and some people think it’s a cop-out of, oh, that you just don’t get in the first time. But, if you don’t get promoted one year, you have to double down and differentiate yourself the second year. It’s not just you show up, and I’m here. I didn’t get promoted. You better promote me this year.
Lei: Right, so look within. You’ve gotta make changes within, because things just gets tougher instead of easier.
Gloria: It does.
Lei: Okay. This is awesome. Thank you so much for your time.