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Guest comment: “The person we’ve promoted isn’t you…”

Kerry Seymour, client manager at the Centre for High Performance Development, gives advice on what to do when someone else gets promoted and you don’t.

Shocked and angry – that’s how you’re likely to be feeling when you find out that you weren’t selected for that great new job you thought was all but in the bag. You are likely to feel this as a very personal rejection, which is understandable. You probably imagined yourself in your new job – you may even have spent most of the pay rise already. The good news is that your career isn’t over, even if it feels like it, but you need to pick yourself up and take action.

Step one: Understanding why you weren’t right

Investment banks don’t have a great culture of feedback in these situations, so answers as to why you weren’t selected are unlikely to be volunteered – you’ll need to go and ask for it. This is essential: you need to know why you didn’t get the job, so you can take steps to improve your chances next time. If you feel awkward in this situation or you feel the person giving the feedback is unlikely to be honest with you, find a third party who can act as an intermediary. The important thing is for the feedback to be frank and direct.

Step two: Understanding why the other candidate won

You might like to believe that the recruiters have made a huge mistake, but you need to understand what they saw in the winning candidate that they didn’t see in you. Find out about the person who got the job; what are their strengths, experiences, technical know-how, networking skills, leadership behaviours, etc. Look at the informal promotion/recruitment process in your organisation – was the winning candidate actively courting the right influencers?

Step three: Addressing your skills gaps

You should now be in a much better position to have an honest assessment of your own qualities and approach compared to the winning candidate. You can then take steps to address any gaps in your skills. Take responsibility for your own development, speak to HR about your needs, but be proactive in looking for opportunities to address the skills gaps you’re aware of.

Step four: The sphere of influence

Investment banks are notorious for a lack of transparency when it comes to recruitment and promotion processes. An ability to network is important in many professions, but probably most of all in investment banking. Crucial in your next job application is to identify your ‘sphere of influence’ – who are the six people who are influencing the decision on who to appointment, what’s your relationship with them and how can you build it?

Step five: Leave!

This isn’t an instruction, but it’s usually what happens, particularly at senior levels and especially in investment banking. This could have been step one, but then you would have missed out on the very valuable learning that this kind of experience offers, so I’ve kept it very clearly as number five on the action list.

Finally, a word about how to handle yourself when the new person starts. Firstly, be prepared: this is going to be awkward so there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Secondly, remember that this person could be useful in helping you get a new role, so don’t make an enemy of them – no backstabbing! Thirdly, try to look on this new person as a role model – you just might be able to learn something from them. So onwards and upwards!

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