I wasn’t even considered for my manager’s job when she left

A reader writes:

A few months ago, my supervisor was fired. I really had my hopes up that I would be appointed temporary supervisor, but I was not; another coworker was. The VP who made the decision has never interacted with any of us and she even admitted that she has no idea what we do. The decision appears to be based on seniority. The VP said that the position will be posted, but it is common at my company to promote whoever is temporary or to hire an external candidate.

Since then, I have realized that I am very bitter and angry over not being appointed temporary. I am constantly comparing myself to the coworker who was appointed. Although she has more seniority than I do, I have more skills and leadership experience, including years of activity in our professional association (she has none), taking graduate level courses in our field on my own time (she does not), and better technical skills (I usually train her).

Of course, the VP does not know this as she does not interact with us, not then and not now. She only interacts with the person in the supervisor role. Several people have suggested that I talk to the VP about this. But I wouldn’t know what to say. Everything I can come up with just seems like whining. Someone advised that I should tell the VP that I want an opportunity or that I’m interested in leadership, but I really wouldn’t know how to start the conversation, or if it’s even appropriate.

Furthermore, there is only one supervisor position for my job type. If I truly want more responsibility or leadership, I suspect the VP will suggest I transfer to a different job type with more opportunities. Since I know what she’ll say, is it even worth meeting with her? And if so, what do I say without coming off as a whiner?

Well, first, realize that this sounds like it has nothing to do with you — it sounds like the decision was made based on seniority, which means that it’s no slam against your skills or capabilities. It’s not a particularly good way of making this kind of decision, but it’s also not terribly unusual either. When someone needs to be temporarily appointed to run things, people often look to the person who’s been there longest, as long as that person isn’t a complete disaster. The managers who make decisions this way generally do it because they assume that the most senior person has a handle on how things work, and it can be an appealing shortcut in a situation where they don’t have tons of familiarity with the team involved.

Again, this isn’t a great way to do things, but it happens a lot, especially when the decision is being made several levels above you by someone who just needs a temporary problem taken care of — which might be a relatively small problem compared to other issues they’re dealing with — so that they can focus on other things.

That means that you should try not to be bitter and angry, because — assuming that you’re right that the decision was based on seniority — it isn’t about you. It’s not about a decision-making system that looked at you and found you wanting. It’s about a decision-making system that steered clear of those kinds of judgments at all.

Being bitter and angry about it will get you nowhere good … but it will lower your quality of life, mess with your head, and potentially impact your performance at work, and might lead you to make poorer decisions for yourself.

However … if you’re interested in being considered for the non-temporary version of the position, tell your VP that! Go in and make a case for yourself, just like you would if you were applying as an external candidate. It sounds like you’re convinced that you’re a better candidate for the job than your coworkers, so demonstrate it. Write a cover letter that emphasizes why you’d be great at the job. Put together a resume that shows that too. Go meet with her and explain how you’d run the department and why you’d do well at it. If you want the job, make yourself a real candidate for it.

When you do this, you definitely don’t want to complain that you weren’t made interim supervisor; in fact, don’t even mention it. Focus on what you actually want, which is the non-interim position, and ignore the rest of it.

And if, as you suspect might happen, the VP suggests that you transfer to a different job with more opportunities because there aren’t many where you are, why not listen to that? That’s not terrible advice if you do indeed want to advance.

But either way, tell her that you’d like to be considered for the job — don’t be bitter that she doesn’t know.

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