Dear Kiki: I keep being shut out of a promotion and I feel it’s because I “don’t look the part.” Should I stick around or move on?

In this month’s advice column, a reader asks whether they should stay at their company or look elsewhere after being passed over for promotions.

Dear Kiki,

I have worked at my company for three years, but I haven’t had much upward movement. Instead, I’ve been passed over for a promotion a couple of times and was told that I needed more experience. Recently, someone who started at the company after me got the job I applied for. As one of the few Asians and also one of the youngest employees, I can’t help but feel like I’m being shut out because I don’t “look the part”. I love my job, but I feel demotivated by the lack of career progression. Should I stick around or move on?

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go,

To be passed over for a promotion is disappointing. To be rejected more than once is devastating, especially when the message comes from a company you’ve dedicated countless hours and energy into. At first, you can tell yourself, “not this time”. Then, you might start to wonder, “will my time ever come?”

Rejection can elicit strong physical and emotional responses, so it is especially important to find acceptance and understanding before you make a career-altering decision. Similar to the stages of grief, you may encounter stages of denial, anger, depression and bargaining — in no specific order — and eventually, you will hopefully find your way to acceptance. Once you can organize your thoughts, you are ready to ponder your next steps in a calm and clear state of mind.

Close up of professionals' seated at a table, with the image focus being their hands and arms. Writing utensils and paper present on table.
Photo credit: Dylan Gillis on Unsplash.

Getting a “no” for an answer is like a punch to the gut, bringing an abrupt end to your hopes and aspirations. When the management team decides to choose someone else over you, it can feel like you are just never going to be good enough. 

When I was in elementary school, I tried out for a sports team but didn’t make it. As I scanned the team roster, I noticed they were all taller, more athletic and mostly white. I felt so defeated that I almost gave up on sports altogether. When you can’t see someone like you making it, you may start to believe that there is never going to be a spot for you.

However, your question tells me that you don’t want to stay on the sidelines forever. You are ready to ask the hard questions and turn this situation around. This is your chance to re-evaluate and shape your professional future.

What are you looking to get out of the promotion?

Are you interested in the recognition, reward, or the growth opportunities? The society we live in often measures success through monetary means and fancy titles. Please know that your self worth is different from your net worth. No one can put a value on your self worth, including those who are paying your salary.

Sometimes, a promotion might be more than just a bump in your pay grade. When it comes to a job that you love, a promotion can mean recognition for your hard work and unique talents.

Figure out what appeals to you the most about the promotion, and use it as your criteria for other prospective jobs — internal and external.

Have you asked for feedback?

If the leadership team feels you do not have enough experience, ask for specific examples of what they are looking for, such as years of experience or type of projects. Ask further about how you might be able to gain those experiences within the company or through additional training. 

If possible, show initiative and set goals and timelines with your supervisor. Follow up and continue these conversations, so you can share your accomplishments and progress. By initiating the dialogue, you are also holding the organization accountable. This way, you can assess the organization’s genuine interest in supporting your career development.

Growing up, we were taught to be humble and grateful for what we have. I remember my mom would always tell me to put my head down, work hard, and not question authority. By putting our head down, we have lost the ability to advocate for ourselves in a constructive way. It’s never too late to start — all it takes is some practice to refine this skill.

Asking for feedback involves a great deal of courage. This might mean exposing your weaknesses for the world to see, but in this discomfort is where you will grow. Even if your current role does not work out, you will have undergone a transformation which will set you up for success in the future.

Is this a work culture that you see yourself growing and thriving in?

You mentioned that you feel like you are being shut out for not looking like the rest of the management team. It is challenging to determine whether or not discrimination played a role in their decision, but these negative feelings become toxic to our productivity and wellbeing.

Individuals have the tendency to hire people similar to them. It might be unintentional at first, but these practices and values become part of the workplace culture. A workplace that does not embrace diversity can lead to environments that are cliquey and potentially hostile.

Sometimes how we react to a situation will open up a Pandora’s Box of past feelings that may have been brewing for some time. Being passed over for a promotion becomes the tipping point. Zone into these feelings, as they will provide insight into issues that you may need to address if you were to continue in your position.

Consider carefully whether the current workplace is a place that will promote or stunt your growth. Even if you enjoy your work, positive work relationships play a major role in your overall job satisfaction. This might be a good time to reach out and foster meaningful connections. You need your community by your side, as you navigate the tricky political waters together.

Lastly, what does “moving on” look like for you?

In most cases, transitioning out of your current job will require some planning. Whether it is looking for other jobs or starting your own business, dare to explore a variety of options.

When it comes to contemplating a career move, you are often making a choice based on informed assumptions and a bit of imagination. You can do as much research as possible, but there are always forces of nature that are out of our control.

Set some bottom lines for yourself. How many times do you need to hear “no” before you seek external job opportunities? What else can you learn from this role?

It can be scary to walk away into uncertainty from a stable job that you love. Visualizing and planning out the details will alleviate these fears.

Empty boardroom with a central table and wooden chairs.
Photo Credit: socialcut on Unsplash.

I believe that, deep down, you already know your answer. What is important is finding your own path of action that you are most comfortable with.

Society constantly tells us that we need to plan out our careers, set S.M.A.R.T. goals and keep striving for success.

What if we were told that our career path is like a “create-your-adventure”? The end goal is to try to make it out with the best outcome possible – to solve a mystery, win the race, or simply come out alive. Every decision can take you through unpredictable twists and turn into something unexpectedly wonderful.

Get ready to turn the page and create your next adventure. I can’t wait to read it.

Always here for you,

Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.

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