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4 tips for cops who were passed over for a promotion

Too often those who do not receive a coveted promotion are demoralized by what should be seen as merely a setback

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Contact the person who was promoted and tell him or her that you are happy for them and they are deserving of the opportunity.


It’s a phrase often used by parents: “You can be anything you want to be.” This is wonderfully inspiring, but untrue when it comes to police promotions. There will always be more qualified applicants for promotion than positions available. That will be the reality for every candidate, for every position from patrol officer up to chief.

Many articles suggest ways to advance through the ranks via promotion. Instead, this article will detail insights and reflections for great officers who discovered that even after their best efforts had been expended, the promotion belonged to someone else.

Here are four steps to follow after not being promoted.

1. Stay positive

Too often those who do not receive a coveted promotion are demoralized by what should be seen as merely a setback. As a result, these officers cause serious long-term damage to their career by outwardly showing negativity and sometimes even contempt.

Amid your justifiable disappointment, avoid saying things that may hurt others and that may also hurt you in your future career pursuits. It is easy in the heat of the moment to be a sore loser.

Avoid the temptation to be nasty to the person selected. Sadly, many important moments in our fellow officers’ careers are ruined by friends they hoped would be happy for them. Valuable friendships are irreparably damaged by a negative reaction.

Instead, prepare an acceptance speech if you need to accept the disappointment of being passed over for the opportunity. Try this sound bite after being told of someone else’s promotion: “Thanks for letting me know. I know he or she will do well. I will have to congratulate him or her.”

Then put this statement into action. Contact the person who was promoted and tell him or her that you are happy for them and they are deserving of the opportunity. Recognize their strong work ethic and offer to be there for them if they are ever in need. Here is the trick though – you must be sincere. You can even put it in writing or (better yet) send a card.

Being gracious not only impacts positively on others but positively on you. Officers that miss out on a promotion rarely realize how close they may have come to being selected. Your boss may be dying for another opportunity to promote you, but if you openly exhibit hostility and petty jealousy, this will negatively impact that intention.

2. Stay consistent

Avoid taking the path of the retired on-duty cop.

Instead, do the job the way you always have done the job. Be the professional. Even better, take this opportunity to ask yourself and your immediate supervisor if there anything you can do to improve. If advice is given, take it with gratitude.

Remind yourself that the good news is you get to continue to do what you love for a little while longer.

Never stop being the great cop you always have been. It is the healthiest path.

Choose to stay consistent.

3. Stay persistent

Instead of becoming permanently damaged because of a decision that did not go your way, refuse to give up. After an honest assessment, if the promotion is what you wanted, try again and again and again.

Life is not a destination, but a journey. Take it from an old salt whose career is in the rearview mirror. A career is the total of your experiences, positive and negative. You can’t truly enjoy the positive without experiencing and surviving some negative.

Eventually, you might conclude that not getting the promotion was the best thing that never happened to you. For every major change in life, there is something gained, but also something that you must leave behind and quite possibly give up forever.

A missed promotional opportunity may help you decide if you are ready to give up what you have now for what you will achieve. If you decide to try again, then you will be a more prepared and experienced candidate.

If you stay positive in attitude, consistent in your performance and persistent in your efforts to pursue that promotion, decision-makers will take notice.

Choose to stay persistent.

4. Make a decision

After taking the time for introspection, you might decide that you are happy where you are and no longer need to pursue one more promotion. There is nothing wrong with this decision. Being truly satisfied is a sublime human condition.

On the other hand, if you find that you want something different, then go for it.

Deciding to pursue a promotion is as important a crossroads in a career as deciding to take the promotion.

This article, originally published 10/13/2016, has been updated.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.

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