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The Man or Woman in the Mirror, Pt. 2: How to Get Promoted

The Man or Woman in the Mirror, Pt. 2: How to Get Promoted

October 8, 2018

Being passed over for an internal promotion that you feel you deserved can significantly affect how you feel about working at your company. I’ve been in that exact spot, and it’s deflating and demoralizing. Unfortunately, I had no one to blame but myself. If you’ve been in the same situation, it’s also most likely your fault that it happened. The easy thing to do is to blame someone else, but if you really want to move forward you have to look in the mirror and make changes.

Last week I wrote a blog about the challenges of being promoted within your organization that generated a lot of feedback from B2B distribution associates. This week, I want to follow up with some additional thoughts on how to best position yourself as an internal candidate. So, what can you do to be ready the next time a job that you really want becomes available at your company? 

My first internal candidate interview went something like this: the HR person sat down without really looking at my resume and said, “Well, this one will be easy. We already know all your qualifications, so what do you want to talk about?” It was all downhill from there, and I didn’t have a chance at getting that promotion. 

Two things I did wrong: 

  • I didn’t prepare like I was an external candidate.
  •  I didn’t understand how to use my inside advantage. 

My advice is that as soon as the job becomes available, you should let the HR hiring manager know that you really want the role before they start collecting resumes from external candidates. Then tell the HR team that you would like to be interviewed the same way as an outside candidate and will prepare like you’re an outside candidate. This demonstrates that you want the job and that you’re committed to preparing for the interview because it’s a critical role for the company.

Next, seek out the person, or persons, inside your company who will ultimately decide who to hire and find out what skill sets they’re looking for in the ideal candidate. That’s using your inside advantage. Then go back to your desk, write down what they told you, and figure out both how your experience matches the ideal skill set and any areas that may be lacking.

I had a mentor who used to say, “When you’re an internal candidate the company already knows your flaws, and that makes them focus on the negatives more than the positives.” Addressing your weaknesses as a candidate is often uncomfortable both for you and the person interviewing you, but it’s important to confront the issue directly. If you don’t bring it up the interviewer may not either and you’ll lose the chance to show how committed you are to earning the role.

I suggest that you ask around and find out what areas you need to improve before the interview happens. Then, during the interview, address the perceived gaps and talk about what you are doing to close them. For example, one of the skills I needed to develop was to become a better public speaker and presenter. I knew I needed to improve, and my mentors also told me it was the biggest gap I had to close. So I went to work on it, taking classes and finding opportunities to present in front of large groups outside of work.

Now, I doubt that anyone will ever mistake me for Tony Robbins, but I drastically improved my public speaking skills. When I went to internal interviews I addressed that as a key gap and talked about what I was doing to improve. I improved my skills (and I continue to work on them to this day) to acceptable levels and that helped me win the promotions I pursued. 

Everyone has areas where they need to improve. If you are open in the interview process about what skills you are working on, and have specifics to show what you’re doing, it will put you in a better position to be the candidate chosen. 

Even with all your work, however, bear in mind that success is never guaranteed. It can be tough to stay positive if, even after doing all of the above, you still don’t get the job. It’s important, though, that as an internal candidate you pick yourself up and get back to work. Resist the temptation to be bitter or resentful. Think of how well it reflects on you if you can handle a big setback without letting your work performance suffer. If you learn from the process it can cause the organization to take notice and put you in a stronger position the next time a job opens up. I’ve been in meetings as a senior leader where an internal candidate applied and really surprised the team with their preparation and skills. It changed the conversation about them and their career path and put them in a much better position the next time we had an opening.

If you are committed to improving your skills and moving up, your organization will most likely take notice. Then maybe the old adage about good things coming to those who wait will come true. If you continue to put in the work and it still doesn’t work out then you might have to become the ideal external candidate for another organization. But that’s a subject for another column.

As always, we’re interested in your feedback. You can post a comment below or reach me at


© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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