Passed Over for the Top Job

You have spent years building your application – solid experience, top skills, and a solid reputation. You are ready to take the leap to the next level within your organization only to see the opportunity go to someone from the outside. What are you to do? Two years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article addressing your options and possible responses when you are an internal candidate and are passed over for a job you believed you deserved:

When someone else gets the job you deserve

Passed Over for the Top Job image shutterstock 147480482 300x180Employee Race photo from ShutterstockIt is a good read as many of us have been in the situation Ms. Vaillancourt (the author) describes. She offers six options on how to deal with the situation and each option’s effectiveness. In the end she recommends “Do something that makes the hiring official realize that you would have actually been the better choice.” This is definitely a safe route to take. Why?

In this job market, finding a similar level position may be difficult – thus keeping your current job may be a blow to your ego, but financially, and career-wise, staying put may be your best option. Also, by being a stellar employee instead of a cancerous cell within the office, the new hire (possibly your new boss) will see you more as an ally as opposed to a threat that needs to be eliminated. Being a stellar employee can also help shine a positive light on your brand. The opposite approach, taking a low road and being a cancerous cell within the office, will destroy the brand you have built for some time.

I remember the advice a senior director gave me 10+ years ago. He witnessed a co-worker apply for a senior management position within the department and lose out to an outside applicant. During the next year, the co-worker was less than a stellar employee and was eventually fired for inappropriate use of funds. The co-worker could not accept being passed over for the job.

After my mentor told me this story, he finished with sound advice. He said when one is passed over for a job, especially the “top” job within a division when you are a viable candidate (appropriate experience level, skill level, etc.), one should realize the decision most likely means the organization’s leadership does not see that individual as a viable candidate to ever lead that division. When this happens, the passed-over employee has two options: 1) stay, accept the decision and be at peace that the current level is as high as one will go within that company (or find a way to grow in order to be considered the next time the job comes open) or 2) leave and try for the top job at another organization.

The two options may sound as if the choice is between a defeatist or angry reaction. In my experience when one gets passed over for the top job, if he/she cannot be at peace with the decision, it often turns into a toxic situation that ends poorly. Be honest with yourself, can you accept being passed over? Can you work with/for the new person? How important is the top position to you? One does not need to leave the day after learning one did not get the job, but if you know you will hold a grudge or cannot work for/with the new hire, it is time to begin to look outside the division and make a move.

Author:

Kevin Monahan is the Associate Director of the Notre Dame Career Center. In this role, he leads the center’s employer relations efforts in addition to coaching young professionals in career management and career change capacities. He combines career consulting services with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituencies. He is the author of the Career Seeker’s Guide blog.

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