With Martin G. Moore

Episode #176

When You Don’t Get the Job: What next?

Apart from the multitude of listener questions on leadership and business that we get at Your CEO Mentor each week, we also field quite a few seeking career guidance.

The question we deal with in this episode is, “What should I do when I don’t get the job that I thought I was certain to get?”

To come up with an answer, I went back through the No Bullsh!t Leadership catalogue. When I realized how much relevant content we’ve already produced, I decided to bring together this broad range of concepts into a cohesive framework.

Every person, every career, and every situation is unique, but if you adapt and apply the principles and tools in this episode, you’ll find you have a comprehensive guide for managing your career under any type of boss, in any company, under any circumstances.

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Episode #176 When You Don’t Get the Job: What next?

We get a huge number of questions from our listeners about all things career related:

  • What do I need to do to best position in myself for promotion?

  • How do I network better?

  • How do I find a perfect role?

  • Should I stay where I am? Or should I move to another company?

But today’s question from Monique is one of the more difficult ones to answer. To paraphrase her question, Monique asked:

Marty, I thought I was a shoo-in for this promotion, but I didn’t get it – and I don’t know why. What should I take from this experience and what should I do next?

When I started to plan this episode, I realised just how much content we’ve released on the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast during 2021 to deal with various elements of career management and advancement.

What I’m going to do today is to bring all of this together in a curated episode that covers off on the main elements of career management. Then I’m going to let you revisit the back catalogue to take a deeper dive into any area that you think you’d like to focus on a little more. Every person, every career, and every situation is unique, but if you can adapt and apply the principles and tools that I’m going to cover in today’s episode, I think you’ll find it will dramatically improve your ability to manage your career.

So let’s get into it.

the promotion dilemma

Early in 2021 – Episode 128, I did a Q&A with Em on the promotion dilemma. The reason I start here today is because there were two questions:

  1. Someone who was trying to break out of middle management and get into the ranks of senior executives.

  2. A boss who was trying to work out what to look for in talent to promote.

I started this episode with a really important concept: Why is it that your boss won’t necessarily give you accurate feedback? You can ask your boss for feedback and they’ll tell you stuff because they feel obliged to, but they won’t necessarily tell you the truth. It’s a rare boss that will actually deliver a difficult message for example:

Hey Marty, I know you really had your heart set on promotion, but I’ve got to be honest with you. The way you’ve performed in the last 12 months, and some of the behaviours you exhibit around the office, tell me that you’re not ready for this promotion. Now to be ready, I’m happy to help you and give you the coaching and support that you need. But at the moment, this is just not in the frame for you. Let’s talk about what you want and what you’re prepared to do to get it.

Now that’s a really direct conversation with a very strong message. The reason most bosses are unlikely to give you that sort of feedback is because they don’t want to upset you. If they upset you, you might feel bad and you might not like them- and their main driver is to be liked. That’s why a lot of bosses simply won’t give you accurate feedback. The weak bosses who want be liked are much more likely to say something like “Hey Marty, you’re awesome. You’ve done such a fantastic job. What can I tell you? This other candidate was just outstanding. They just beat you out, but don’t worry. You are doing everything right. You are fantastic.” That’s much more likely what you’re going to get from a weak boss.

Listen to your boss, take their feedback, but take it with a grain of salt and put it into context with what you already know about them as a leader and as a person. That will tell you how much weight you should put on the guidance that you’re given.

what you need to know to be promotable

I also cover in this particular episode the topics that are really important about promotability:

The difference between being a workhorse and being a trusted advisor 

These things are crucial as a distinction in those people who are promotable and those who are going to stay exactly where they are.

Make yourself redundant rather than making yourself indispensable 

People who try to make themselves indispensable tend to hoard knowledge and tasks – so that you can’t do something without them, and their team can’t function without them. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s much more important that you build a team with the capability that can perform whether you are there or not. You effectively make yourself redundant to that team. When you can step out of the team and it functions perfectly well, then you’re going to be freed up to be promotable. Then you can look for your next opportunity – whether it’s in the same organisation or somewhere else.

Know your contextual thinking ability

This is something that can limit your ability to move up in an organisation. You need to be aware of it. Your aptitude and capacity for abstract reasoning is really important in working out how effectively you’re going be able to function at the level above where you are now. Sometimes you can’t do a lot to change it, but you need to be aware of exactly where you are in terms of your capability and to work on those things that you think are going to limit you.

The difference between business acumen, leadership skill and your behavioural attitude

These things all contribute towards whether or not your boss sees you as promotable.

Now, I’m not going to talk too much about the second question from Episode 128, because the next episode really goes into that in a little more detail. But if you want to get more on this episode, you can find it here.

be prepared for the future

The next really useful episode is Episode 146: Succession Planning. This is really useful in helping you to work out how the people above you might think about who is likely to be promoted. I use a really good example of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet – in terms of how he’s going to replace himself – because he is, of course, the icon of that company. He’s the one that everyone sees as being the thing that makes the company work or not work.

This introduces a thing called key person risk. In terms of the organisation you are in, the people above you should be thinking about:

  • Who are the critical people in the organisation below us that are going to be the future of the company?

  • Why are they critical?

  • Is it the role that’s important or is it the individual?

  • Can we move that individual to other important roles?

If your boss is thinking about talent and succession properly, she’ll be thinking about the relationship between potential and performance. This is a really important distinction to make. Performance is taking a point in time now and looking backwards, and seeing what’s actually been achieved by the individual in question. Potential is the likelihood that when you stand at a point in time and look forward that they’re going to be successful doing something else. There is no potential without performance, but unfortunately the converse isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes you can have someone who’s performed in the past, but they don’t have the potential to grow from there and go on to bigger roles or more complex roles, and you need to understand that.

In this episode I also talk about:

The difference between knowledge and capability

What you know can be just accumulated over time, but to have the capability to learn and to interpret and to reason, and to apply judgement is a completely different skill.

The difference between core business functions and commodity skills

That should give you an idea of where you want to position yourself, because if you are in a role that has commodity skills only – in other words, skills that can be bought very, very readily out of the market – then you are not necessarily going to be in a place where your contribution is valued as highly as it should be.

Multi-skilling and risk elimination

The leaders above you should have a pretty strong focus on making sure that there are no key roles that present a risk to the organisation if the person or the knowledge is lost for some reason. So, if you are multi-skilled, you’ll have a better opportunity to demonstrate your worth in a broader range of areas.

The moral of the story in this episode is: know where you are in this picture. If you don’t know already, talk to your boss and find out if you are valued, if your current role is critical, and if you’re part of the succession planning discussion for  your organisation.

If you want a little more detail on this episode, you can find it here.

manage up to enhance performance, don’t just feather your nest

The next really useful piece to this puzzle is Episode 162: Managing Up. The reason this is so important is because so much of your future potential is determined by the relationship and perception of your boss:

  • What do they think about you?

  • How much do they rely on you?

  • How do they value your skills?

The first step to this is knowing your boss, understanding what type of culture they’re trying to build, knowing what their expectations are. You could be exactly the same high performer, and two bosses would view that and value it completely differently.

Some bosses want a yes person

Are you a yes person? Well, they’ll like you. But, if you are someone who wants to bring robust challenge and fresh ideas, then perhaps that’s not going go down so well with a yes person boss.

Have a good idea of how much control your boss likes to assert 

Is she consistent?

The best way to get above the noise is to just deliver results

Simple. Create value however it is that your organisation defines value in your context. Don’t leave things up to your boss’s subjective assessment. When you get results that can’t be disputed, that’s going to put you on a path to promotability. Remember, there is no potential without performance, so get the performance in place first.

See the world from your boss’s perspective

Think above your role. Think about the things that are important to your boss, that you can’t necessarily see and deal with in your day-to-day, but that is challenging them. Then you can put yourself in a position of becoming a trusted advisor and not a workhorse.

In this episode, I have nine tips for managing upwards, so it’s definitely worth a listen. You can listen to the episode here.

turn GENERIC FEEDBACK into something helpful

The next episode that is really useful for you is Episode 134: Being More Strategic. Have you ever had a leader above you say, you need to be more strategic? Well, it’s not particularly helpful advice, is it? It really doesn’t tell you anything. This episode was created so that you could interpret when your boss can’t articulate what they need to see in your performance that’s currently lacking.

Your boss might not necessarily be able to make it clear what they mean when they tell you that you, you need to be more strategic, but it generally has some basis in performance or behaviour. So let me be clear here: if your boss has told you this, you won’t progress until you do something about it. That’s about as close as you’re going to get to direct and honest feedback. So what this episode does, is that it provides an important interpretation of what the possibilities are for this generic and frustrating catchall.

One of the most common things is communication skills

The better communicators typically aren’t saddled with the label of not being strategic and communicating at an appropriate level is absolutely vital. Too much detail and technical information – it’s just distracting. The ability to explain complex ideas and concepts clearly is essential for you to be seen as promotable.

Think once again about your abstract reasoning capability 

Now, you already may be at level for this capability, but you need to know where you stand. Breadth of knowledge and perspective are also really important. You’ve gotta be able to think beyond your portfolio.

If you want more information on this, you can listen here.

don’t let workplace politics bring you undone

The next one is fairly recent – Episode 168: Political Sabotage at Work. Without spending too much time on this one, you need to be aware of organisational politics because it can really bring you undone. You’ve gotta learn how to read the play without becoming a political animal yourself, but be aware of the possible threats that exist in unscrupulous and Machiavellian players that are around you in every organisation – there’s no shortage of them in corporate life. Self-interest reigns supreme in people in general, and it raises its ugly head in corporate life in almost every decision that you see made. If you think you’ve been adversely impacted by politics at some time in the past, then have a good listen to this episode here.

so, what next?

The final episode to bring this all together is Episode 136: Should I Stay, or Should I Go? This episode particularly talks about one aspect of your decision-making process. Once you have a good idea of the reasons why you’ve been overlooked, it makes it much easier to determine what you should do next. You can use the framework in this episode to analyse your current situation:

  • Is there simply no opportunity for advancement?

  • Do you have a terrible boss?

  • Are you not finding sufficient challenge in your role?

  • Do you feel as though you are past your use-by date?

  • Are your career prospects just simply better elsewhere?

When I talk about these concepts, something I want add here is really important: in every role, there are constraints. No one, in any role, gets a free run of house. There are always constraints that operate around you. If your constraint is lack of promotability for any reason, then you’ve got to think about what that means to you. Depending on your level of ambition and your level of impatience, that might be a show-stopper for you, and it might mean that you need to leave the organisation in search of greener pastures. In other words, that lack of promotability in your current circumstance might be a constraint that you can’t live with. So whenever you think about the constraints in your role, think about: can I live with this or can I not live with this? That should really help you answer the question, “Should I stay, or should I go?” If you want a deeper dive on this one, you can listen here.

be honest with yourself

The bottom line is there may be any number of reasons or you’ve been overlooked for promotion. So, you need to go back to first principles and ask yourself the hard questions about why that might be the case. You need to be brutally honest with yourself. If not, you’re only hurting yourself.

  • What signals has your boss given you, no matter how subtle, that you might not be in the succession planning frame?

  • Are you genuinely delivering value? And can you point to that?

  • Is there something lacking in your current repertoire?

  • Are you operating at too low a level, which presents a risk to your boss if she moves you to the next level up?

  • Are you too embedded in your current role to move from there, which is a slightly different kind of risk?

  • Are you focusing on the wrong things?

  • Or maybe someone else is operating against you in the political shadows?

The most important thing is to assess your situation honestly, and understand where you are and why. From there, you’re much more likely to be able to assess your next potential moves – and a large part of that might be changing the way you do things so that you are a more compelling candidate for the next level up.


  • Ep. 128: The Promotion Dilemma – Listen Here

  • Ep. 134: Being More Strategic – Listen Here

  • Ep. 136: Should I Stay, or Should I Go? – Listen Here

  • Ep. 146: Succession Planning – Listen Here

  • Ep. 162: Managing Up – Listen Here

  • Ep. 168: Political Sabotage at Work – Listen Here

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