Dear Matthew: I'm being passed over

BD’s career doctor on whether the grass is greener

Question: My practice has been recruiting as the firm is busy and things are going well. I had imagined it would bring in new blood and we would reorganise internally. However, we had a staff meeting recently where the partners announced the new appointments from outside will be at managerial level, essentially above me. I have been working hard here and know our sector and clients well, yet I have not been promoted or even had my position discussed. I feel completely passed over.

Answer: It is very hard to fathom the world of progression in the workplace. Some people seem to have a meteoric rise through the ranks, barely seeming to touch the sides, whilst others seem to languish and struggle. For yet others, progression doesn’t seem to bother them.

Progression within an organisation often comes down to two things: positioning and luck. People who get promoted tend to be great at being seen – positioning themselves well to the bosses’ requirements and maximising their exposure to work that superiors either rate or need. Bosses also quite often recruit into their own mould, so quite often the employee whose character or approach is similar to theirs is the one who ends up being most trusted. Also, openings and opportunities can be momentary.

Remember, the process of being promoted isn’t like a rising tide, shifting everyone up the beach of progression uniformally. What may have happened is that your bosses have understood and decided that your skillset and outlook are great for your current role. This is where positioning comes in. It is a fact, albeit unfortunate, that bosses do tend to typecast you quite near the beginning of employment and changing this perception radically later on can be difficult.

This reminds us of the point I have made before: the moment of job shift is crucial. Bosses like to recruit externally so as to inject new approaches and discover new vim. For individuals, changing jobs is the perfect moment to recalibrate your status in an office and present your skillset anew.

So maybe this recruitment is telling you it is time to move on. However, before you jump, think things through. Don’t let feeling piqued cloud your career choices. There is an underlying question I have for you: why does it matter? Your email communicates that you are clearly interested in and respect status and position. Workplaces can vary wildly, from those that operate on a very structured, hierarchical way, where pay rises and promotions are a result of time served, to places where pay and responsibility varies from person to person, to those with little formalised hierarchy evident. It sounds like you would welcome more of the former but feel you are in an office that is more of the latter.

A lot of our personality and self-esteem vested in work relates to our position and how others perceive it. But it isn’t the be-all and end-all. You sound like you enjoy your work and get a lot out of the content and activity day to day. Many rush up organisations, only to end up in generic management positions with very mundane but responsible headaches, wishing they still had contact with the coalface of project work.

So, whilst status may be important, surely it might also be just as important that you are doing work you are happy with and engaged by?

Architect Matthew Turner of has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror

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