Job Doc

Why can’t I get that promotion? Elaine Varelas urges the importance of asking questions

Whether you were counting on a promotion and got passed over or are told you're not ready, it's vital to arm yourself with as much information as you can. Elaine Varelas stresses the importance of asking questions and being direct.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: My manager keeps promising me a promotion but passing me over for other candidates. We’ve talked about it directly, and we’ve gone over my professional development plan together, but he keeps saying I’m “not ready.” I am ready. Do you have any advice for someone who feels like they’re being strung along?

A: In any conversation with your manager or just about everybody else, one of the best things you can learn how to do is ask questions. Some of the more powerful questions might be, “Tell me more,” or, “That’s interesting, please elaborate,” or, “Interesting. I’d like more information.” If you can deliver these statements with no malice, no anger, and just enough of a question, then you’ll be amazed at the amount of information you can generate about whatever the previous statement was.


Your manager thinks you’re not ready. You believe you are. There is a disconnect here that is dependent on how this is being communicated. If you are being “strung along” as you said, this could be because you have a bad manager. However, it’s possible that despite your commitment to your development, your manager doesn’t think you’re an employee ready for promotion, and is not doing a great job communicating why. Whatever the configuration (good employee with a bad manager, bad employee with a good manager), it’s up to you to bridge this communication divide, because you clearly do not have enough information. He said he would give you a promotion, but didn’t say when. He didn’t clearly state what you would have to do, and what he would need to see, and it seems that you didn’t ask.

When he says you’re not ready, now is the time to respond and say, “Tell me more.” Be specific. “What is it you need to see for me to demonstrate that I am ready? What is it that these other candidates have shown you that I haven’t? What in my professional development plan do you need to see that you haven’t seen? What feedback from others do you need to hear”


Look around the organization. Are there people with your skill set, people like you, who have been promoted? If not, find out if this is systemic. Talk to the manager, talk to HR. And when I say “talk,” the more powerful activity is to “ask.” Ask questions! Ask specific questions about the skill set that was missing or the skill set that someone else had. You don’t necessarily need to point fingers about another person and why were they promoted. Just ask questions about the skill set those people had that led them to be recognized and promoted.

A more cynical view might be that the manager needs you in the position you’re in and does not see advancement in your future, but thinks you do a solid job in the position you’re in and doesn’t want to lose you. If you think that’s the case, ask the question. You may be uncomfortable, the manager may be uncomfortable, but better to deal with the truth than make changes in your career without knowing as much information as possible about what you can do to develop the skills you need for career advancement.

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