Ambition and the Concrete Ceiling

Tom was frustrated and confused. He interviewed for a promotion and yet received word the job went to someone else. He had not initially posted for the job, but he received a telephone call from a highly respected source who insisted the job was perfect for him. He did not post originally because he held the position in the past and a company restructure eliminated his prior role. Now this was his opportunity to get back on track to fulfill his ambition.

Earlier in his career, when he received a telephone call asking him to post for a position, he was encouraged, because it was a guaranteed appointment. The interview was a mere formality to follow protocol. It meant the company was not pleased with the field of candidates and wanted him in the position. This time it was different. Tom applied for the position and prepared diligently for the interview. He even told his family about the impending possibility, of the promotion as he awaited the good news. 

Tom reminded me of our cat Fluffy when we cut off his claws on all four feet. He was cornered by another cat and the fight began in earnest. Fluffy struck the other cat with everything he had, but the usual effect did not happen. The other cat was not fazed by Fluffy’s activity of swift strokes and loud screams. He kept coming as if he didn’t feel a thing. Finally, Fluffy was wounded, panicked and ran away. Tom was Fluffy. What should he do now that his best efforts are not going to be effective? He did not think he was in the twilight of his career. Apparently, he was asked to interview to give legitimacy to the eventual winner of the position. The shoe was on the other foot. He was no longer the contender for the championship; the sure thing. He became the Credibility Man. His presence strengthened the field of candidates and gave credibility to the handpicked person management wanted in the job. After all, if the other guy beat Tom in the interview, he must be top talent, a phenomenal candidate.

People usually speak of the glass ceiling. This means there is a barrier overhead, but you do not realize it is there, or gauge its thickness, until you bump into it. The ceiling may be high or low, but eventually you will notice it in your career or the careers of others. People will talk about shattering the glass ceiling. However, the concrete ceiling is a different matter. You can see it. The dimensions are set, final and cannot be moved. How would you respond if you still have ambition, but your career strikes the concrete ceiling?

You have a variety of responses at your disposal, when you strike against the concrete ceiling. The most common are as follows:

  • Resign
  • Complain
  • Reinvention


Resignation must not be pursued unless you have exhausted all avenues. A quick quit is an emotional decision and can come back to haunt you. You want to slowly and thoroughly evaluate every option and consequence. You want to maintain the same philosophy you had when seeking the promotion. You want to improve your position in the company and increase your finances. Resigning in haste can give the impression the company made the right decision in not giving you the assignment. The company will rationalize your lack of maturity and use your flight to justify their decision.

Premature evacuation from the company can hurt you financially and damage your Personal Brand, if it causes you to step back. At some point in your career someone will ask why you left and to say you lost out on a promotion, will not make you look good. A perspective employer may see you as the type of employee who will quit whenever you don’t get your way. 

If you are driven by ambition and the concrete ceiling is impenetrable, resignation may be a viable option. Please make sure the timing of your departure shows wisdom and strategic career planning or your desire to hurt your ex-employer, may hurt you more in the long run. 


It is important to ask for feedback after an interview. If you did not get the promotion, ask questions to gain answers that can put you in a better position the next time you apply for a promotion. Do not complain and question the fairness of the decision, because that will not help you. You have noticed in most sporting events, the umpire or referee never reverses the call based on a complaint, unless there is instant replay.

Legitimate concerns about the interviewing process can be addressed in due time with individuals in Human Resources. These are rarely effective in bringing about the change you require, especially when there is a concrete ceiling over your head.

Your complaints about the process should not be told to your peers or other employees. The word will get around that you are a sore loser and have gripes against the way the company runs its business. You will not be helped by this type of negative publicity.


The concept of continuous renewal will be your best bet. Use the interview as another data point that you can use to revitalize yourself. Reinvention is a term that is commonly used. When the word circulates that you are rejuvenated by the lost opportunity; that you hit the ground running toward your next adventure; the benefits of modeling leadership behaviors will work in your favor. People will realize that you are not retired on the job, but committed to growth and excellence.

Ambition is a noble character trait. We need it to improve skill sets, advance careers and enhance the performance of our organizations. When you face a concrete ceiling with a jack hammer of a great attitude and reinvented skills, you may be successful in creating an opening for advancement. Nevertheless, if you have enhanced your value and the concrete ceiling is still present, the new and improved you can land a better job in a company that appreciates you.


Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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