Home Career Passed Up For Promotion? What to Do When Your Best Isn’t Enough

Passed Up For Promotion? What to Do When Your Best Isn’t Enough


By Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Military University

It started with a phone call. I answered and before I could say “Hello,” a familiar voice belted out: “You’re not gonna believe this one!” and proceeded to tell me about the latest promotion at the agency. We talked for a few minutes, with me shaking my head the entire time. Here’s some background about how it all went down.

A Familiar Promotion Scenario
When the promotion exam was announced, seemingly all eligible individuals immediately began preparations. Study groups were formed, prep materials ordered, and everyone rehearsed responses in mirrors.

The first component of the process, the written exam, was taken and those who scored high enough to be eligible for the second component continued with their preparations. Strategies were discussed, more practices and rehearsals occurred, and the oral interviews eventually drew to a close.

The promotion list was published and everyone started calculating their placement on the list compared to those known to be retiring. By all calculations, 10 promotions should be made off the list. Those in the top 10 felt good about their ranking. The first two promotions went as expected, with number one and two chosen.

Then it happened. The announcement of the third promotion had everyone shaking their heads. The third promotion was an individual who ranked in the 30s on the list. How do you explain this decision to the person who was number three on the list?

What to Do When You’re Passed Over
When you don’t earn a promotion that you feel you deserve, expect to feel surprise, anger, confusion, frustration, hurt, and disappointment. It seems unfair to be passed over when you have proven you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities.

[Related Article: Want a Job or Promotion? Start by Building Your Personal Brand]

Keep Your Spirits Up and Keep Working Hard
You’re not the first person to experience this scenario. When things settle down and start to get back to normal, it’s up to you to figure out where things go from here. Understand that others will and do take notice of your performance.

While the door didn’t open this time, it doesn’t mean all doors are closed forever. Think back to the first time you fell in love and experienced heartbreak: You got over that and you will get over this, too. Your hard work and dedication will pay dividends, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but when the time is right.

Keep Developing Leadership Skills
Leadership and authority are two words that are sometimes assumed to be interchangeable, but they really mean two different things. Those in position of authority typically have the ability to make changes, make recommendations, and take action. However, those who are the leaders of the organization are often people whom others turn to for guidance, assistance, and support. Leaders are not necessarily in authoritative positions and those in authority positions may not be the leaders of the organization.

It’s possible that the promotion conflict in the department stems from control issues between leaders and those in positions of authority. Those of you who find yourselves struggling with promotion—who are the best and yet find that it just isn’t enough—take comfort in knowing that your time will come. Others do take notice. Someday, you will laugh about this current little setback and realize you were already on a path for bigger and better things.

Chuck RussoAbout the Author: Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in central Florida and was involved in all areas of patrol, training, special operations, and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as acting as a consultant for education, government, and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.



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  1. It’s always a ton of fun to let those “political” promotions fall flat on their face. The harder the better. Never sabotage anyone, but don’t save them from themselves, either. When an agency chooses to promote for reasons other than qualifications, it must assume the risks and liabilities of that choice. If officers spend their time and resources propping up incompetent supervisors, then they are supporting a system that will at some point cause greater harm. Managerial Darwinism.

  2. I feel the pain too. Been with the department 18 years, have an advanced degree as well and can’t get passed the written exam. Its very dis-heartening to feel left behind. On the other hand I am very involved in training within the department and outside agencies. I love training and feel I have the most to offer at this level.


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