How to Answer Interview Questions About Not Being Promoted

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Prospective employers will carefully review your employment history as they evaluate your application for a job.  They may wonder why your employer hasn't promoted you, especially if you are applying for a higher level job than your current position.

If it appears that you were passed over for promotion, you should spend some time thinking through how best to address questions about not being promoted at your last company.

At your interview, they will be trying to determine your strengths and weaknesses, and how they will affect your ability to do the job. You may be asked many different questions about yourself, requiring you to reflect on what kind of an employee you are.

How to Answer Questions About Not Being Promoted at Your Previous Job

How can you present your background to an interviewer and convince them that you are now ready to take on a leadership position with their organization?

Here are some tips for handling these types of questions:

  • As you prepare for your interview, it’s a good idea to make a list of the preferred and required credentials listed in the job posting.
  • One by one, go through and come up with examples of how your experiences meet or exceed the requirements of the position.
  • Be prepared to show how projects you have worked on, training you have received, and experience you have gained will allow you to excel at your desired job.

The more prepared you are, the more confident and self assured you will appear, which are some of the key traits they will be looking for in candidates to fill higher level positions.

Best Answers

It’s fine to share any logical reasons why you didn't advance. For example, maybe long tenured, well respected colleagues occupied the only positions you were eligible to be promoted to, or perhaps budget cuts put promotions on hold.

In other cases, you may have lacked the skills or credentials required by your current employer for promotion. This is a perfectly legitimate reason if the same qualifications are not required or preferred by your target employer.

For example, perhaps your prior employer required a master's degree for the next level position and a master's degree is not a key qualification for your target job. It’s possible that your years of experience have given you more in real life applications, which will allow you to bring a more grounded perspective to the position.

In addition, if you have recently completed a degree or some training which upgrades your skills or credentials, then you should mention that as a reason why you are now better positioned for a higher level job.

Mention Responsibilities and Projects

Another approach is to mention any added responsibility that your employer has granted you in your current role which is indicative of leadership ability.

Perhaps you were named project manager or team leader for a major project or asked to join an advisory committee on a key organizational issue. You may have been asked to mentor or train junior staff and excelled in that role.

When possible, get recommendations from past or current supervisors affirming that you were worthy of promotion and would likely have advanced if resources or open positions were available. References can also be tapped to assert that you could handle a higher level job and why they believe this to be true.

Don't Criticize the Company

Whatever approach you take, be sure not to criticize your supervisors or management. Fair or not, prospective employers will tend to side with your past employers and may consider you a complainer. Make sure that your comments are positive, or at least neutral, regardless of the circumstances at your current or previous company.

You Are Not Alone

Many times, even if you are doing a spectacular job, you will end up being passed by at promotion time. It may have absolutely nothing to do with your qualifications. It may simply be company policy to hire management externally.

Sometimes the best way to get a promotion in the current business climate is to change companies. Hiring managers are aware of that, and as long as you can make a believable case for your qualifications, you should have every fair chance to ace the interview and get the job.

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