Question: I recently was up for a promotion to another department. I was told by Human Resources that someone else was selected for the position.

A couple of days later, I overheard someone in our department saying that I was not allowed to take the other position because my boss blocked my promotion. I thought I had a good working relationship with my boss, but now I am beginning to question if he is really on my side. What do I do?

Jim R.

South Carolina

Answer: Let’s take this one step at a time. The conversation you overheard may be hearsay or it could be grounded in facts. It is important to avoid jumping to conclusions too soon; a little investigative work seems to be in order.

Promotions inside companies happen because three things line up: an opening, a qualified candidate and availability to make the move.

The first step is to have a conversation with Human Resources since they are the ones who provided you the initial information about not receiving the promotion. Make an appointment to see the person who was managing the promotion or transfer. Tell them you want to talk about what you can do to be a better candidate next time, not to prove to them they made a mistake.

Set up the meeting after you have had a chance to calm down.  If you appear to be defensive or demanding, the other person may not be as willing to share with you why you did not get the position.

The standard answer is often, “the other person has a better skill set or experience”. Probe a little deeper by asking, “What are some of those skills or experiences that I am lacking?” Keep the focus on you, not the other person who got the position. Your goal is to find out what you need to do to get the promotion next time.

You may uncover that your abilities were not understood clearly by the hiring manager. If this is the situation, consider how you might frame your skills and experience better to overcome misunderstandings in the future. Take this feedback as an opportunity to improve your communication or self promotion skills.

Sometimes promotions are blocked because of bad timing. If you are on a major project whose success rides on your participation, your manager may have told the hiring manager or Human Resources that he can not release you at that time.

Your manager could have said you needed some more time to develop skills or demonstrate some of the skills they were looking for in the new position.

It is common for employees to stay at least one to two years in their current position before moving into a new role. The first year is your learning period; the second year is your opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned.

If your boss blocks your move because of these reasons, the next step is to have a meeting with him to find out what you can do to be prepared for the next promotional opportunity.

For example, if a project depends on you, figure out how to share the responsibility or train someone else on the team to do the work you do. This will mean letting go of duties or sharing control. It is important to realize – if you are not expendable, business priorities can get in the way of any career movement.

Let’s say your boss believes you should be gaining some additional skills or experiences. Develop a plan on how to do it. Establish milestones to review your progress with your boss. Doing these activities will upgrade your marketable skills and remind your boss of what you are capable of doing.

There are times when bosses block a promotion for selfish reasons. They may not want to train someone else or they don’t want to go through the hassle of finding someone new. It is difficult to pinpoint if this is their intent, it is often subjective. Rarely, does a boss admit this behavior openly.

Consider an objective way to test this assumption. If you do the steps above – train your back up, develop a plan to build skills and measure your success and you are still getting the pass over, you probably have a much stronger case for being blocked unreasonably. At this point, Human Resources should notice the pattern and intervene.

All of these tactics are useful if you stay with the same company. If you believe the company has lost confidence in you, it may be time to make a move to another one. Good luck to you!