When an opportunity for promotion arises at work, internal candidates may find themselves pitted against each other as they vie for the same opportunity. Regardless of whether you are friendly with those colleagues, you’re competing against or if another peer has been there longer than you have and therefore seems to be the obvious choice, it’s realistic that the process can get uncomfortable, knowing that one of you will miss out while the other gets a shiny new opportunity, a title change and probably a pay rise to go with it.

Whether you're the one who gets the job or the one who misses out, how you conduct yourself before, during and after the internal promotion process can have a long-lasting impact on team cohesion and how you're perceived by your colleagues and manager.

Put your best foot forward for the promotion

Internal promotions at work can mean some awkwardness between yourself and colleagues, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put your best foot forward when applying for the role. Firstly, do not compare yourself to your colleagues. Also avoid downplaying your capabilities or feeling like you can’t speak highly of yourself in front of your peers. If you really want the role, ensure you focus on your key achievements and abilities, and how you can demonstrate that you’re the right person for the promotion. 

Like any other job interview, planning is key: make sure you have talking points prepared that showcase your contribution to the company and aptitude to take on the role and its responsibilities. Also prepare some interview questions to get a better idea on the next steps in the interview process and anything else that will help you determine whether this opportunity is right for you.

If you get the promotion

Congratulations! The most important thing to remember now is to be gracious and sensitive to your co-workers’ potential sense of defeat. This doesn't mean you should pity them or make a show of consoling them – that kind of attention will likely make them feel worse.

Depending on how close you are to the colleague that was passed over, you may want to reach out and offer your consolations, however, you need to be careful how you phrase this to avoid coming off as condescending or insincere.  

A good approach is to send an email to the entire team (after the announcement of your promotion has officially been made), thanking management for this new opportunity and acknowledging that you were up against strong competition in your colleagues – and that you're looking forward to working together to achieve success.

If you miss out on the promotion

As disappointing as it might be that you missed out, don’t let this affect your performance in your current role.  Instead, use the opportunity to get a clear idea on the areas you need to work on, in order to take the next step.

As with any interview process, it is completely reasonable to seek feedback on why you weren't selected, and this can act as your 'cheat sheet' on the skills you need to build up, or areas where you need to increase your experience to be a viable candidate next time around. Then set a time to speak with your manager and discuss where there are opportunities for you to gain this additional experience. You might even be able to structure a promotion timeline so that you can regularly check whether you’re on the right path.

There may not necessarily be immediate opportunities within the framework of your current role or company. But this just means you need to be extra proactive about internal promotion opportunities at certain points in the year. Otherwise, you may need to consider taking up a role at another company if you feel like your current business cannot provide you with your next career step within a reasonable period.

Importantly, try to feel genuinely happy for your colleague. This can be hard, understandably, so try asking yourself, ‘Is this something I could achieve too?’ In addition, your future promotion could put you in the same reporting line as your colleague who was successful this time around, which means it’s going to benefit you to have a good working relationship with them now, plus they could be your biggest advocate if a spot opens up and they think of you as being the right fit.

Furthermore, you should still recognise your efforts, especially if you made it to the final two or three candidate shortlist – this achievement can be a great motivator and can stop any negative feelings taking over, encouraging you to move on and focus on what’s important for you to work on right now, in order to be successful the next time there’s an internal promotion on offer.

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