How to Prepare for the Sergeant Promotion Process
At a time when many officers are resigning, you are mobilizing. Cheer! You have heard the call and you are answering. Not only do we need more good cops, but we also need cops who can lead.
Whether you are a “born leader” with the qualities required for the job or are still in the process of molding yourself to take over, there are mindsets to adopt and skills to develop. Having the respect of your peers and the resume to back it up is not enough when it comes to effective leadership in law enforcement.
Almost all organizations have a promotion process governed by a combination of civil service directives, policies, external evaluators and community civilians. Make sure your preparation is well established and, like most things in our profession, training, practice and preparation will help you win the day.
Develop your mindset
Who are you as a cop, person and leader? If you’re pausing to find a fluffy interview answer, then you have some work to do.
The most important thing about leadership is defining your values. Your values are your compass. They help you get through tough times and tip the scales when making tough decisions.
There are values that top the list in policing, such as integrity and service to others. These are excellent but go further. What do they mean to you? Integrity can mean committing to goals that you help your team set. The service can find solutions creatively instead of focusing on what we “can’t do”.
Personalize your brand
When you think of a large clothing manufacturer, a restaurant chain, or an automobile manufacturer, you immediately see images of the people and lifestyles associated with those products. This is the brand image that these companies are trying to create. The same is true for people.
Starting from your mindset, you can shape and form your brand. Your goal is to exude this attitude in your interactions, at work and at home. That’s what you are. That’s the kind of cop you are. This is why you are the best candidate for a promotion.
When embarking on a promotional process, focus on your brand. Your goal should be for each assessor or interviewer to come away with an idea of who you are:
Candidate D was square. She talked about people first and worked a lot on her own cases. She always talked about the people she served.
Candidate F was a frontline leader. He was part of the tactical team and developed training for all officers on his shift.
You may be reviewed by different people in various exercises or during process components. Find ways to share your brand with them in the responses you provide or the presentations you make.
[RELATED: The 22 leadership traits cops are looking for in their supervisors in 2022]
Separation is in the preparation
Russell Wilson was right when he said, “The separation is in the preparation.” When it comes to the officers I’ve trained, there’s a strong correlation between those who prepare and those who top the list. But it’s not just about studying your policies or practicing interview questions with your spouse or friend. It is a combination of the themes mentioned above and the categories listed below:
- Know the test: Most processes involve an orientation or at least a summary of the steps involved. Read this carefully. If you can summarize it for someone else, then you have a good understanding of it. Break it down and take notes and a plan to make sure you cover every part of the test.
- Reach: Chances are that this promotional process is not one of a kind; other people in your agency have taken something similar. Discuss and receive advice or feedback. It’s not cheating, it’s learning. There is a difference between asking for test answers and asking for advice on how you should prepare. This is what makes the difference between good agents and supervisors in the field: they know how to access resources and take the initiative to do so.
- Study: Many processes involve a written exam component. This is where you hit the books. Brush up on key criminal law, standard operating procedures, department policies, case law, and even union contract rules. Make/print copies, highlight, take notes and make flashcards. Study with a friend who is also testing – it wouldn’t hurt to take the #1 and #2 spots on the list, would it?
- Anticipate: After going through the sections above, plan the types of things you might be tested on. This can take the form of interview questions and scenarios. Most interviews ask for things they want you to prove. Consider what your agency expects of a leader. A problem solver? Working as a team through conflict? Access resources and engage stakeholders for a solution? Sure. Man, that sounds good – write that down! It pays to list big calls or instances where you made an integral difference and problems you solved with a creative response. Think of examples where you have organized people and/or tasks to make things better now, or even better, in the future.
- It is practice makes perfect: Some wiser people rephrase this as “Perfect practice makes permanent.” Focus on quality reps to ensure peak performance. This means focusing on role play scenarios and answering interview questions. It may be helpful to write an outline of your desired answers and the main points you want to address. Take the time to sit up straight at a table, with ideal posture, inflection and a charismatic smile and body language. Practice the flow and rhythm of your responses so you don’t sound scattered or jerky. You’ll want to have an idea of how long it takes you to pitch your ideas, so you don’t rush or get interrupted when you reach the time limit.
Police promotion processes have many components. Investing time to study, plan, and practice will provide the best chance of success.
A leader is someone who goes the extra mile. True leaders anticipate challenges and opportunities. They invest the effort to hone and develop their skills so they can rise to the occasion and deliver for their teams. An effective testing process with an effective tester will produce a list of credible candidates. Where you end up on this list is entirely up to you. Good luck.
NEXT: How to Survive Your First 100 Days as a Sergeant