5 Common Reasons Why You’re Not Being Promoted

Ryan Ong



Passed up for promotion? I know that feeling. It’s a like a deep sigh of relief, at having to do a lot less work and being able to watch TV all night. “No Ryan, some of us have ambition in life.” Really? I had some too, then I went through something called school and it died. But if you’re looking to get promoted and stuff, we’d better talk to some Human Resource gurus. And here are their reasons:


1. Your Company Sets Vague Goals

This is an ongoing problem in Singapore’s SMEs (small to medium enterprises).

Bosses tend to be businessmen first, and leaders second. They’re great at making money, but hilariously inept at leadership. It’s a pet peeve of HR consultant Angeline, who’s encountered the problem in several local companies. She says:

A lot of SMEs, when they hire someone, they only think of that person’s immediate pay. They don’t plan incentives, a route of advancement, or describe KPI (Key Performance Indicators-ed).

The business owner may know how to set sales targets. But for people doing admin work? What are their goals to justify promotion? Most of the time, the decision is based on seniority alone, because they don’t know what goals to set anyway.


S-League match
I needed a picture of something lacking goals, so here’s a S-League team.


Angeline suggests taking the initiative, and asking your boss about your goals. But what if they come up with a vague answer, like “work hard and help the business?”

Then you have to be assertive. For example, say you’ll try to reduce costs by $200 a month, or source a better supplier by next March. If your boss won’t give you goals, propose some goals of your own. And document your progress.”


2. The Wrong Clique

Ever worked for a big company? The politics are like living through ten seasons of Survivor…and that’s before lunch. Human Capital Analyst Mark Vaughn says:

Whether it’s on a factory floor or in cubicles, people will form cliques. You mostly cannot control it.

We all hope our employers are objective, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you hang out with people your employers don’t care for, and then you’re guilty by association. 


Herd of cows
I know some that fit our corporate culture, but they may have trouble with PowerPoint.


If your clique contains troublemakers, you’re sharing that reputation. Whether you behave like them or not. And you have to work twice as hard to prove you’re different.

It’s not anyone’s place to tell you who to be friends with. But if your social circle has a bad smell, then you better over-compensate. Give more status updates, volunteer to help more often, mediate between them and the supervisor…do something to dissociate yourself in your employer’s eyes.”


3. You’re Irreplaceable


We can’t promote you, airborne troops are irreplaceable. Now throw yourself out this airplane.


Maybe the IT department collapses when you’re on MC. Or maybe your sales figures can be mistaken for the entire department’s since 2010.

So why is the company being unfair, and not promoting you? Angeline says:

Promotion is not always about doing a good or bad job. Promotion is sometimes about being able to do a different job altogether. 

Singapore’s job industry is full of successful engineers who became bad product designers. Full of first-rate salesmen who became third-rate managers. If you’re good at your job, no one wants to promote you into a position where you’ll fail.

I’d advise you to think of a raise instead of a promotion.

Otherwise, you can suggest that you be allowed to groom a successor. If you make a good choice, and things turn out well, you might get a promotion.

Or you’ll be aiding in your own retrenchment.


4. You Show No Interest Outside Your Job Scope


Guy holding up a thumb and index
I care about your department. So much.


The guy across the room from you right now: What’s his job?

How about the lady next to the coffee machine? What work-related problem is she currently struggling with?

If you don’t show an interest beyond your job, you probably won’t be slated for promotion. I spoke to a senior operations executive, who only wanted to be known as Alfred:

I pay attention to the questions employees ask.

If a salesman keeps making recommendations about marketing’s approach, I take note; and I might recommend him for future promotion to marketing. If someone in marketing raises issues about suppliers, because it affects pricing, I see potential for a purchasing officer in the future.

But if employees keep quiet, I would assume they are comfortable with their position. I’d think of raises or bonuses if they do well, but probably not promotion. It wouldn’t occur to me that they have potential for something outside their job scope.”

So don’t be the quiet one. Take an interest. Ask questions and make suggestions, even if it’s not directly affecting you. And if you want to know how to stand out, follow us on Facebook. We do the occasional job article.


5. Be an Internal Applicant


You know that job ad you had me write last week? Yeah, I’m quitting to apply for it.


Watch your company’s postings on job sites. See any you want? If so, apply for it. This is one way to move onto a higher rung.

Internal applicants don’t raise an eyebrow overseas; but it’s still uncommon in Singapore. I spoke to Henry Thia, who worked in a recruitment agency for seven years:

The assumption is that, if the company is putting up the posting, it means no one internally is qualified. Actually, it means they don’t THINK anyone they have is right for it. You can try to change their minds.

Inform your boss first, that you’re interested in the advertised position. Depending on the size of your company, they will handle it differently. Bigger companies might require you go thorough an internal interview. And of course, your immediate superior might shoot it down; but don’t assume. Go and ask first.

If you are turned down, at least you’ve made your position known. You lose nothing. If you are slated for an interview, you have a huge advantage over external candidates.

So my advice is, if you see a job posting you like, give it a try. Even if it’s from your own company.”

Image Credits:
Victor 1558,, thskyt, T100Timlen, markehr, Mr. Thomas, bpsusf

Are you struggling to get a promotion? Comment and let us know about it!

Keep updated with all the news!


Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.