Analysis

Lost out on a promotion? How to use the experience to build your career

Being knocked back can be deflating, but with our tips you can turn it to your advantage

Being knocked back for a more senior role can be deflating, but with our tips you can turn it to your advantage

  • Failing to land a promotion that you feel you deserve can be demoralising, but the way you react can influence future opportunities
  • Careers advisers and senior nurses offer their advice on handling rejection and talk about their own experiences
  • Tips for regrouping, learning from feedback, seeking support and advice from friends and mentors, and preparing yourself for next time

Here it comes, the news youve been waiting for. Youve completed the job interview and everything now depends on the words youre about to hear.

You know

Being knocked back for a more senior role can be deflating, but with our tips you can turn it to your advantage

  • Failing to land a promotion that you feel you deserve can be demoralising, but the way you react can influence future opportunities
  • Careers advisers and senior nurses offer their advice on handling rejection and talk about their own experiences
  • Tips for regrouping, learning from feedback, seeking support and advice from friends and mentors, and preparing yourself for next time
Illustration showing nurses climbing ladders, representing career progression
Picture: Daniel Mitchell

Here it comes, the news you’ve been waiting for. You’ve completed the job interview and everything now depends on the words you’re about to hear.

You know you can do the job because everyone says so and you have all the right skills. But you won’t get it. Not enough experience. You messed up the interview… or did you? You were a bit nervous perhaps, but you did okay.

A strong candidate… but not strong enough

But even before the words are out, you’ve guessed the outcome. You were a strong candidate… but not strong enough.

Being passed over for promotion can be crushing. It can feel unjust and shatter your confidence. It can leave you angry and despondent and can sap your motivation.

Here, we speak to careers and nursing experts about turning your disappointment into a valuable learning experience.

How you react can shape how you’re perceived

19,249

jobs were available on the NHS Jobs website as of 26 February 2021

Source: NHS Jobs

Careers coach John Lees says how you react to the news can be a pivotal moment in your career.

‘It can shape how you’re seen by the organisation. And the way you are seen can be such an important part of the whole promotion issue.

‘We make the mistaken assumption that promotion is all about performance levels and continuously meeting objectives. But it’s often about perception and what people say about you when your name comes up and the general atmosphere around your identity.’

That’s why the way you react when told you’ve been unsuccessful is critical, says Mr Lees, author of Get Ahead in Your New Job.

If your anger and resentment come spilling out, what will linger with the person breaking the bad news is ‘the memory of you being difficult’, he suggests.

Leave a favourable impression

RCN career coach and operational lead Julie Watkins agrees. Although it is clearly disappointing to be denied promotion, she says you still want to maintain a good impression because you may wish to be considered for future roles.

She suggests passing on your thanks to the interview panel for their time and acknowledging any aspects of the recruitment journey that impressed you.

A woman taking part in an interview. A good impression may have an impact on your future
A good impression may have an impact on your future Picture: iStock

Ask for feedback – then ask for more

Ms Watkins suggests it can also help you at this stage to ask specific questions such as, ‘What was my strongest answer – and my weakest?’ and ‘What two areas would you say I need to work on most?’.

‘This will help you in the next interview you attend and give you something constructive to work on,’ she says. ‘You could also write down what you thought went well and what didn’t so you can reflect.’

While they are still fresh in your mind, you might also note the questions you were asked and use them to practise for future selection panels.

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust chief nurse Karen Bonner says helpful feedback can be both hard to come by and sometimes difficult to hear.

Karen Bonner: ‘Be persistent in your pursuit of feedback’

‘Often we don’t give good feedback. I say to people. “What was the feedback?” and they say, “Oh, they just said another person pipped me to the post”.

‘But that’s not helpful, so I suggest they go back and ask again.’

Although some candidates are reluctant to press for a more detailed critique of their performance in a selection process, Ms Bonner says doing so will bring benefits in the long run.

‘It will help you to go back and ask. If I don’t give somebody a job, I offer them constructive feedback and if they want to have a further conversation with me, that’s open to them.’

Should you give your own feedback?

If you felt the selection process was skewed against you, tread carefully, says Ms Bonner.

As a senior nurse, she was headhunted for a high-up role but didn’t get the job. However, she felt the recruitment process was unfair. She explained why to the headhunter and asked for her comments to be fed back to the organisation.

‘But you’ve got to remember that I’m quite senior so it was easy for me to do that. It would be harder for someone more junior.’

9

nursing bands exist within the NHS, with 9 being a consultant-level nurse

Mr Lees warns against expressing dissatisfaction with the process publicly. It won’t change the decision, however much you protest that it is a poor one and that you deserved the promotion.

‘If you are seen to be philosophical, accepting, understanding, then that’s a better starting position to go back later and say, “I understand your reasons for making that decision, but how do I move things forward? What’s next for me?”.’

That way, the conversation is positive rather than being about disappointment, he says.

An exception to all of the above is if you have been discriminated against in the selection process because of disability, race or gender, for example.

Citizens Advice outlines steps you can take in those circumstances and your trade union may also assist you.

Trusted friends and colleagues can help you recover from rejection

Although it makes sense not to express your frustration or anger to those who passed you over for promotion, in private your disappointment may linger. What you’re trying to deal with is effectively a form of rejection, says Mr Lees.

‘That’s where it’s good to have trusted friends and colleagues to help process things outside the workplace – and to say quietly to those people, “I’m really angry about this. It isn’t fair and isn’t what I was expecting at all”.’

Let off steam, but don’t regard this simply as an opportunity to rant. Mr Lees suggests that when your anger has blown over, your friends can help you think about positive next steps.

‘Maybe a little bit of encouragement, reminding you of the things you’re good at, the qualities you have that you should be bringing into future conversations about your career.

‘And perhaps some objective advice that says actually, you probably do need a bit more experience, or you need to add certain skills to your CV.’

So what you want from friends and confidants is help in moving forward, rather than affirmation of your sense of injustice.

Stay focused – remember what you are aiming for

RCN career coach and operational lead Julie Watkins

Preparation for, and the experience of, any selection process can be exhausting and if you are turned down, the natural disappointment you feel risks leaving you drained and perhaps demotivated.

In such circumstances, going back to your regular job when you had hoped for a more senior one can be a challenge.

But do your best to rise above those feelings, says Ms Watkins. ‘Try and keep your focus on the aspects you can control.’

For example, don’t get distracted by thinking about how other candidates did in their interview and instead concentrate on your own performance, she suggests.

The coronavirus pandemic may limit your options, but why not ask if there are opportunities to shadow someone in the area where you are hoping to progress?

‘And take any opportunities to act up, lead a project or any other tasks that will look impressive at interview,’ Ms Watkins advises.

£24,907

is the starting salary for a band 5 nurse in England in 2020-21

Source: NHS Employers Agenda for Change pay scales

Arranging an informal visit to another trust or employing organisation may not be possible within current restrictions, but you can still use the phone or video calls to pick the brains of people in the field you would like to work in.

Ms Bonner says this is also a good moment to find a mentor – someone who can ‘hold up a mirror’ to help you see your qualities and any weaker areas, and the direction you might go in next.

And, if you can, tap into the expertise of others who are evidently successful in gaining promotion, suggests Mr Lees. Learn from their experiences.

Find your dream job: RCNi virtual careers and jobs fairs

Do your homework

Your appraisal of why you didn’t get the promotion might lead you to conclude that you didn’t quite ‘fit’ with the organisation. And that’s not necessarily just a way of rationalising a failure – it may actually be true.

Ms Bonner says that’s why it’s important to do your research before applying for a more senior role.

She says her experience with the headhunter helped her realise that the culture of the organisation with the vacant role was ‘not right for me’. Reflecting on it now, she says she wouldn’t have taken the post even if it had been offered.

‘But what it taught me was to do my due diligence. I think I ignored my suspicions that it wasn’t quite right even though it was a great opportunity.’

An informal chat with, or visit to, a prospective employer can help you decide whether an advertised vacancy would suit you, the RCN’s career resources advise.

Don’t give up – look forward to the next opportunity

‘Objectively, what you’ll find is that people who go forward into promotion processes are often not successful the first time,’ says Mr Lees.

‘It’s partly because they’re not well known and partly because they have to go through a process of saying, “I’m ready for the next grade”.

‘But the next time they go into it they’re often much more successful than they expect, as long as they maintain the same positive outlook and don’t do it as a form of grievance – “You didn’t give it to me last time, therefore I’m owed this”. That’s never going to work,’ he says.

Let it go – it’s healthy to move on

In the end, however unfair or disappointing the experience has been, the bottom line is that you have to move on after your unsuccessful bid for promotion. Try to regard it as a necessary step on the way towards your goal of working at a higher level.

The RCN suggests you should ‘take ownership’ of your career. ‘Avoid the temptation to hope things might just change by themselves and equally, don’t just wait for opportunities to fall into your lap; instead create your own,’ say the college’s careers resources.

And remember that nurses are in demand.

‘When you look at where the huge skills shortages are across the world, at the top of every list are nurses,’ says Mr Lees.

It may not feel like it in the immediate aftermath of an unsuccessful application, but your longer-term prospects for promotion are bright.


Further information


Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursingmanagement.com
  • Bi-monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs