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5 keys to survive promotional preparation

The first question to ask is, “Are you emotionally and professionally ready to move up the command ladder?”

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Jonni Redick educates public safety and law enforcement leaders across the country through the University of San Diego’s online Master’s in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership program.

Author of the book, “SURVIVAL GUIDE to Law Enforcement Promotional Preparation,” retired California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Jonni Redick has analyzed the police promotional process from start to finish, using her insights to advance her own career while helping other officers do the same.

As Assistant Chief, she oversaw eight CHP commands including the third largest communications center in the state, which handles over one million 911 calls annually.

She has been incident commander for multiple critical incidents, civil disturbances, mutual aid events, natural disaster response coordination and oversight.

Here are some of Redick’s top takeaways detailed during a recent webinar, Five Ways to Survive Promotional Preparation, presented by The Justice Clearinghouse, an online educational platform.

Key 1: Assess personal readiness and professional inventory

Before embarking on a police promotional journey, candidates need to first ask themselves if they are emotionally and professionally ready to move up the command ladder.

“We need to think about our own emotional ability to handle an exam testing process,” said Redick. “Are you really ready in maturation? Do you feel like you’re ready based on the level of experience you have in your current assignment or how long you’ve been on the department?”

If the answer to this question is “yes,” then potential candidates should review their “professional inventory” to ensure they have the necessary skills and experience for the position they’re seeking.

“What are the things within your inventory that you’ve done that will place you competitively for the promotion in which you’re seeking?” Redick asked attendees. “You need to take a look at that. You also need to have good mentors, coaches and sponsors. And so you need to assess all of this as you get ready to move forward.”

The big question: “Are you strong enough to fail and try again?” said Redick “The reason that I emphasize that particular question is because I had to take the sergeant’s exam three times.”

Key 2: Create a career roadmap

Assistant Chief Redick next focused on the need for aspiring officers to have a career roadmap. This is an overall strategy that maps the promotional advances they want to make and the years in their careers that they hope to achieve them. The career roadmap process also includes designating short-term goals, such as serving as an acting supervisor/manager and/or being a team leader on special assignments, that can help officers position themselves for career advancement.

“It’s really important that you have a vision for your career future,” Redick said. “Just like any ‘vision board’ that somebody would have if they wanted to buy a home or save a certain amount of money, you need to create that vision for yourself.”

Key 3: Prepare for the process and the position

Preparing for a police promotional exam is more than just studying, said Redick. It is an all-encompassing process that includes everything from understanding your agency’s examination structure/schedule and identifying which manuals need to be studied to meeting with people who have passed the exam successfully, forming study plans and study groups, and other tactics designed to maximize your chances of passing with flying colors.

She suggested finding out what materials actually need to be studied (and don’t) in order to use time effectively, finding subject matter experts to improve your knowledge, and being prepared to pay fees to take exams.

Redick also advised against last-minute cramming: “Don’t try to study at the last minute,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. If you don’t have it now, you’re not going to have it.”

Key 4: Learn to navigate the examination process

Every examination process is different, and those differences can tell candidates a lot about not just what they need to do to succeed. According to Redick, this is why a full understanding of the oral and written elements of each police promotional process is a must. She covered a wide range of tips for effective pre-exam studying and actual performance during exams during the webinar.

A typical useful tip: When reviewing departmental manuals, focus on the information that applies to the position being studied for. “If you’re going for a sergeant position, then look for the things that a sergeant shall or should or may need to know,” Redick said.

Key 5: What to do during the “wait”

Once you’ve taken the promotional exam, now what? Jonni Redick has taken (and passed) many exams during her 29-year career, so she knows all about the “wait” for actual promotional opportunities to come along. “Again, I’ve failed twice,” she told attendees. “I was at the bottom of the list as a sergeant and I was at the bottom of the list the first time I took the captain’s test, but I stayed positive.”

With perseverance and continued hard work, Jonni Redick got her opportunities and advanced up the career ladder. This being said, there is nothing wrong with being satisfied with one’s current position. “Either way is okay because it’s your decision,” she said.


Ongoing promotion throughout a police career is a manageable, achievable goal for competent dedicated officers. The key to success is to manage the process in a thoughtful, strategic and ongoing basis, with intelligent study and exam-taking techniques.

NEXT STEP: Watch Police1’s on-demand webinar on promotional interview & assessment center testing tips

James Careless is an award-winning freelance writer who covers the public safety sector. His articles have been published in fire, EMS and law enforcement publications across North America.