Bob has been working in the same job for 10 years. He put his life into the career, doing the same boring task again and again. He's always been punctual and he's never complained. He is certainly the best at doing what he's doing. But he's always been looking to get out of his boring job and move up the corporate ladder. Fortunately for him, one of the managers quit and a new position has just opened up. Bob applies for the promotion, and the boss appears pleased. Bob is excited. All his years of hard work and toil are finally beginning to pay off. Nothing can ruin his mood. The big boss is finally ready to reveal his decision, and it's....Somebody else.
For some reason, Bob does not get the promotion. It could be because the boss simply thought Bob wasn't ready or that someone was more qualified. It could simply be a case of office politics. Perhaps Bob was just too good in his current position to be moved out of it, and the boss knew about
and was trying to avoid The Peter Principle
(but can run into The Dilbert Principle
in the process).
In any case, Bob is upset. All his years of hard work have gone unnoticed and gone to waste. He will often become bitter, do something stupid
, and end up getting himself fired, or, if it involves something like embezzlement, stealing company secrets, or straight-up sabotage, arrested. If not, he will almost certainly fall into Dismotivation
- Doctor Strange: The relative newcomer Stephen Strange became the Ancient One's closest disciple, and eventually his successor as Sorcerer Supreme, supplanting Karl Mordo, who had been there longer (but who proved to be a Deceptive Disciple). In some tellings, Mordo turned to evil because he was passed over in favor of Strange.
- During his formative years in Start of Darkness, a young Xykon from The Order of the Stick got passed over for a position as one of two Co-Dragons (and Bastard Understudy) during his days of minioning for an Evil Overlord. The Overlord noted that the candidates who actually did get the job did so because they did not "show the strategic ability of a rabid wombat".
- Bruce Almighty: Bruce gets passed over for a promotion at the News station, which causes him to freak out on camera, which causes him to lose his job.
- Get Smart (the 2008 movie): Max's application to become a field agent is denied because he was too good at collecting intelligence.
- Lost in America Al Brooks' character suffers this at the beginning of the movie.
- 17 Again also had this at the beginning of the movie.
- In So Bad, It's Good film The Room, Lisa starts cheating on Johnny after he fails to get promoted. Though in his defense, the computer industry is very competitive.
- Violet Newstead in 9 to 5.
- In Broken Arrow (1996), Major Deakins has been passed over for promotion a couple of times, and Captain Hale suspects this is part of his motive for his nuclear blackmail scheme.
- In the book and BBC TV series House of Cards (UK), Francis Urquhart turns to evil when he is passed over for promotion.
- The same goes for Francis "Frank" Underwood in House Of Card US.
- Lt. Commander McKeon suffers from this in the Honor Harrington book On Basilisk Station — he has been the exec of the ship for a long time, is old for his rank, and the fact that Honor is younger, higher-ranked, and more charismatic than he is sticks in his craw. He gets over it by the end of the book, and in a much later novel dies a Rear Admiral.
- Judge Dee: a Chinese general accuses another general of treason when he's the one betraying. This trope is given as the reason he was resentful of the younger general.
- Several high-ranked functionaries discuss this trope when looking to reward Dee for a particularly troublesome case. Give a man a promotion too early, it fosters ambition, given too late, it fosters bitterness and resentment. They settle for a copy of an Imperial edict.
- In the Animorphs series finale, a Yeerk betrays its species to the heroes in part because it feels itself to be a victim of this.
- Averted but discussed in Mark Haley's Imperial Guard novel Baneblade: Bannick's armored company commanding officer tells him he'd really like to keep him around as a good tank squadron commander rather than promote him to the more prestigious superheavy company (especially as he enters it at the lowest echelon, third gunner), but seeing him promoted for his recent accomplishment will boost troop morale.note
- Lucas Haroche's motivation in the Vorkosigan Saga novel, Memory. Seeing this coming, he tries to avert it by giving Klingon Promotion a go.
- Arrested Development: In the pilot, Michael Bluth is convinced he's going to become the head of the Bluth Company — so convinced that he doesn't even think something might be wrong when his father says the new CEO is "the sexiest creature he's ever laid eyes on".
- Captain Barney Miller was up for promotion to Inspector a few times, but until the Season Finale never made it. In the aftermath of one snub his detectives try to comfort him by blaming themselves by embarrassing the squad: Harris with his book; Dietrich by being arrested; and Wojo with his habit of arresting people for non-crimes.
- Subverted and simultaneously played with on the Series Blackish. Anthony Andersons character is clearly being setup for this to happen to him. He's supremely overconfident, as the boss is announcing the promotion he's moving his desk to the proper place. And in the end, he does get the promotion... just not to the position he wanted.
- The original CSI had this with the promotion-to-supervisor storyline. Catherine was the one eventually promoted, but Nick had some unhappiness that he didn't get it; money problems forced his promotion to be shelved.
- An episode of CSI NY had this as a murderer's motive; he thought his boss was sending his (younger, less experienced) colleague to various business seminars (the colleague was really using fake seminars set up by a company that was providing alibis for his affair) which led to a confrontation with the boss (who had no idea what was going on) and the murder.
- While working at Winfred-Louder, Drew Carey was constantly having this happen to him on The Drew Carey Show.
- In London's Burning, Sub Officer Hallam applies for a promotion to station officer but is turned down; resulting in him coming under the command of the younger and less experienced Nick Georgiadis. On top of this his wife, believing his career to be at a dead end, begins to pressure him to find another career.
- A recurring story line in early M*A*S*H episodes had Father Mulcahy being passed over for promotion, multiple times. He finally did get promoted in a later season episode.
- Played with towards the end of Major Dad. The lead character is apparently passed over for promotion to lieutenant colonel. It's revealed that he had been passed over once before, so under the Marine Corps' "up or out" policy, he'll have to retire from the service. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that a page was accidentally left off the promotion list and the major got his promotion after all.
- In the U.S. version of The Office, this happens to Dwight when Jim gets promoted. Dwight spent the next dozen or so episodes plotting to get Jim fired.
- In an episode of Stargate SG-1, a human Corrupt Corporate Executive on Hebridan has been passed over for promotion several times, causing him to turn it into a planet-wide conspiracy theory of the Serrakin oppressing humans. Turns out, the real reason is that his bosses found out that he was embezzling and were building a case.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Tapestry", Q shows Picard an alternate reality where he never got into an Academy-days fight with three surly Nausicans that quickly gave him a knife through the heart, hence he didn't need a replacement mechanical one. In that alternate timeline, Picard made it only to Lieutenant Junior Grade, regularly passed over by his superiors because they felt he showed no evidence of drive and ambition, never took risks to do what he felt was right. And, in this world where he never faced death like that, and later on always played it safe... they were right.
- In Star Trek: Voyager Harry Kim ends up stranded in the Delta Quadrant on his very first day of Starship duty as an Ensign, and is clearly a wide-eyed newbie. Over the years he evolved into a master engineer, a holographic technology expert, a veteran of dozens of conflicts, and an integral part of the crew. He was never promoted beyond Ensign. He rarely showed any signs of bitterness, even with his best friend being made a Lieutenant on his first day despite being a criminal who was dishonorably discharged from Starfleet.
- Happens many, many times in Dilbert. In one example, the Pointy-Haired Boss was looking for someone to promote, but, since Dilbert and Alice were too valuable in their current positions, he gave it to a moron who (literally) didn't know what day of the week it was.
- This is Scott Adams' way of showing how The Peter Principle is fought and becomes the Dilbert principle: the incompetent get promoted over the heads of the competent, because all in all, management is where they do the least damage.
- In the Champions RPG, this was the breaking point for Dr. Photon, a member of the villain group V.O.I.C.E. She was passed over for promotion at her lab for a less qualified male colleague, assumed it was because of sexism, snapped and became a super villain. (In reality, it was because all her co-workers hated her and would have quit if she became the manager.)
- Older Than Steam: This is one of Iago's motivations (or excuses) in Othello. Othello passes him (ten or so years' professional soldiering) over for a promotion to lieutenant, instead promoting the (younger, book- rather than field-experienced) Cassio over his head. Iago being Iago, he reacts by single-handedly engineering Cassio's removal, then driving Othello to murder followed by suicide.
- Mike from Something*Positive eventually finds work at a Burger Fool. Not only are people hired after him promoted, but they're the ones who tell him he's fired.
- Prep and Landing: Wayne is passed over for the job as Director of the Naughty List despite everyone's expectations.
- Spongebob Squarepants The Movie: The position of manager of the Krusty Krab 2 goes to Squidward, not Spongebob.
- Not exactly a promotion, but involving much the same dynamic, is the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes determined to do something remarkable after being passed over for Worker of the Week yet again; it begins with Homer certain he'll get the award this time, because literally everyone else in the company has had their turn — and then the award is given to an inanimate object instead.
- The trope does happen in The Simpsons. In one episode, Homer is describing his assistant to his wife. Later in the episode, she asks about the guy again and Homer says, "You mean my supervisor?" as the assistant was presumably promoted to Homer's equal, then to his supervisor.
- Rocko's Modern Life does this sadistically to Ed Bighead: His boss invites him alone in his office, and tells him personally that a higher position just opened, before adding that it's not for him. Twice in the same episode, for opposite reasons.
- The life story of Wonderland Zoo assistant keeper Lionel J. Botch.
- Exaggerated in The Awesomes, where Malocchio Jr., in spite of being personally responsible for the majority his firm's revenue, isn't promoted when somehow everyone else in the office simultaneously gets the big promotion he was hoping for.