Joshua and I recently taught a class on getting promoted. This class is not as easy to run as one may think. It has been our experience that in non-civil service states, every department runs their promotion processes differently. Some are simply a written test and an interview. Some require project submissions or essays on various topics and some may even sprinkle in an assessment center. Given the wide diversity of promotion process requirements, it is not so easy to create a curriculum that helps officers with their respective promotion process.
Despite the wide range of promotion process steps, there are some foundational components that anyone seeking a promotion should consider. Also, there are study habits that can help with obtaining a competitive edge. Let’s discuss some of these steps and approaches.
1. Make sure you are promotable. I have seen officers get passed over many times for promotions due to mistakes that they have made along the way. Your department’s administration needs people in supervisory positions that they can rely on. People that are onboard with the department’s mission, not the candidate’s own private mission. To this end, if you wish to be promoted, do not be a pain in the ass for your administration. Do not talk negatively of the administration. Do not subscribe to the “us vs. them” mentality. First-line supervisors must be unified with their bosses. I am not saying that you must drink their proverbial Kool-Aid and be a drone. You can certainly disagree with your boss, but at the end of the day, they out rank you and what they say goes. If you are the type that disagrees with the administration just because you wish to aggravate them or to be a contrarian, you greatly decrease your chances of getting promoted. Put yourself in their shoes, would you promote someone who has opposed you on everything you do?
2. Take on extra responsibilities. Supervisors have added responsibilities. It is part of the burden of command. Administrators seeking to promote someone need to know that the candidates can handle the added responsibility. One way to demonstrate one’s abilities is to take on extra duties well before the promotion process – not when the promotion has been announced. It is too late by that point. Also, extra responsibilities help prepare you for supervision. For example, FTO’s have had experience with direct supervision, training, report approvals, mentoring, coaching, etc., well before the promotion process. As you can see, FTO experience is an outstanding pathway to a promotion. Other responsibilities can include, but are not limited to, training positions, department committees, RAD training, explorer volunteering, or anything your department has to offer. On a personal note – taking on added responsibilities just for extra pay will probably not help you on a promotion process. Supervision & leadership are about service to the people that work with you. There is no room for greed or selfish endeavors.
3. Do not wait until the test is announced to start preparing. I studied for at least six months prior to being promoted to sergeant at my agency. The more you prepare, the more potential you have for retaining the study material, as well as having a better understanding of what it means and how it applies to the position you are seeking.
4. Study everything, not just what you want. Some departments will purchase promotion tests. With these, there will more than likely be a reading list. You should get your hands on all of the books. Here is a clue, the answers to the test are in the books – all of them. If the books are too expensive, consider going in on half with a peer that is also going for the promotion. You can coordinate the use of the book(s). If your agency has their own test that covers state law, department polices, etc., then hopefully a list of suggested study material will be available to you. Whatever the material is, get your hands on all of it and study! If there is no list available, then speak with supervisors that have gone through the process and see where you should focus your study efforts. If you want the promotion, you will work to find the best way to study.
5. Practice your interviews. When I teach this part for our getting hired seminar at New England College, or for the promotion seminar, I get funny looks from the audience. I explain it this way – we train with simunitions so that we can get as close to real combat as possible. This type of training has a “stress inoculation” component to it. Why not do the same thing for your job interviews? It is not as hard as you think. The first step is to make a list of questions that you think will be on the interview. You can get an idea of what general types of questions may be asked. Speak with supervisors that have most recently been through the process. Once you get an idea of what types of questions may be on the interview, you can start to create a list of possible questions. When you have completed the list of possible questions, practice answering them. Start in front of a mirror. You can check your posture and how you physically deliver your answers (body language). After you have had a few mirror interviews, bring in family and/or friends to assist with a mock interview. Answer the questions just like you would for an actual promotion interview. Maintain eye contact, sit up straight, be passionate with your answers, etc. This works my friends; don’t be afraid to use it.
6. Make working out part of your study routine. There is ample evidence that you can find on the inter-webs that physical exercise, especially cardio, is linked to increases in cognitive function. Pair your study sessions with a workout to help give you the competitive edge. Below is a link to an article on this topic.
7. Look your best at the interview. If you wear a uniform to your promotional process, make sure it is the absolute best uniform you have ever worn. Shine your boots, shine your brass. Consider having your uniform dry cleaned and pressed. Ensure that your pins are not crooked and that your tie is clean and without food stains (I’ve seen it). If you wear a suit, make sure it is the best fitting and sharpest suit you have ever worn. You will be assessed on your appearance whether it is a grading area or not. Remember that a primary component of leadership is being a good example. Ensure that you demonstrate to the board that you are indeed a good example.
8. Know why you want to get promoted. Here is a hint – if you are seeking a promotion for power or money, you are on the wrong path. Supervision and leadership are about selfless service to your people. Know your why so that you can walk with purpose. This is a personal matter. Before you decide to throw your hat into the promotional ring, know and truly understand why you are doing it.
Well my friends, I could go on and on about this topic. If your agency is interested in hosting our promotion seminar, contact Joshua Stokel at You are also welcome to email Joshua or me with questions regarding a promotional process. My email address is Good luck to all of you with your promotion endeavors.  

Tim Jones – Co-Owner of GSPCC.