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Show you’re ready for promotion: How to document success

Not all relevant experiences are formal accolades. Informal accomplishments are just as important to show you’re ready for promotion


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The announcement for the next promotional process was just posted. Your immediate reaction may be to start studying for the written exam portion. Should you pass that, you know you are going to have to go through an oral panel interview. You may have an assessment center as well.

It is here you realize that despite your years of experience and training, you are also going to have to sell yourself to the raters. The process is very competitive, and you’ll have to beat out candidates who may have more training, education or relevant experience. To do this, you’ll need to convince the panel members that you are prepared for the role.

Raters are genuinely looking for candidates who are most likely to be “ready” to step into the role. Therefore, being able to convince them that you are in fact “ready” is the key to your presentation. Identifying and articulating your relevant successes or accomplishments is what may make the difference in your ranking.

To do this, you’ll want to keep a running catalog of your successes – both formal and informal – for easy reference.

Commendations are a prime example of this. You may have had several instances where your supervisor, either informally or formally, lauded your actions. These should include self-initiated work as well as assignments. Assignments are sometimes routine, but you may have demonstrated exemplary supervisory or leadership skills that warranted formal or informal commendations. Consider this scenario:

You were tasked to manage a community policing project. It involved working with community leaders, municipal resources, allied agencies and a budget. The program was a success thanks to your leadership and management skills. As a result, the crime rate dropped by 10%, citizen satisfaction surveys increased, and X amount of drugs or weapons were recovered. Hopefully, your supervisor wrote out an informal or formal commendation for you, or at least put a note in your next evaluation. This demonstrates a proven track record. Not only did you do the job successfully, but your supervisor noticed. A passing, “Hey, good job on that community policing project,” may not “count” as a formal commendation, but you may be able to mention that your supervisor verbally acknowledged your success. Ideally, it was recorded in your evaluation, which would give it more substance.

Scenarios like the one above are important to document. Specifically, raters are looking for the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that show you’re a match for the role. Bring your success stories into your responses to any questions or scenarios. It is important to ensure you cover those KSAs as they are likely to be on the actual rating form. Many agencies use a career review portion, which usually contains 5-8 broad measures of specific skill sets candidates may be asked to clarify. Each of them may have 2-3 bullet points they want you to address.

Include your successes when discussing your career review. The more confident you are, the more competent and competitive you will appear. In addition, consider citing your career review in reverse order, with the most recent experience first. Why? Because it is more likely that those KSAs are directly related to the new job, and you are on a very limited time frame. You wouldn’t want to start at your academy days and cite your patrol, traffic or investigative positions, and have the raters say, “I’m sorry, but your time is up!” You never had a chance to speak to the more relevant KSAs to that new rank.

Keep track of these personal accomplishments

Here are some more examples of relevant successes you can highlight to help you stand out in the promotion process. You’ll notice some recurring themes: initiating, researching and implementing processes and procedures.

[Download the following checklist to have on hand when preparing for your next promotion.]

  • Initiating a project, program, cost-saving method, improving efficiency or streamlining processes.
  • Directing or supervising successful projects or programs.
  • Writing successful grants. This can include initiating the grant process to fulfill a need you discovered for certain a program or project.
  • Team-building experience. For example, creating a team that resulted in successful crime prevention.
  • Successes in policing strategies. Have you successfully used evidence-based policing, intelligence-led policing, geographical policing, as well as community-oriented policing (COP) and problem-oriented policing (POP) strategies? For example, you identified a series of car thefts in your area. You came up with a plan to attack the problem. As a result, you and your team were able to recover X number of stolen vehicles, X number of arrests, etc.
  • Numbers count. Use statistics to quantify your accomplishments whenever possible. For example, ”Because of my efforts, I reduced overtime by eight hours per week” or “reduced monthly car break-ins by 17%.” The more you can include objective measures, the better.
  • Researching, writing and implementing a policy/procedure or training program.
  • Being selected for a position of leadership, as opposed to merely being assigned. You may be able to tout additional successes or experiences relevant to the position relating to why you were selected.
  • Successful completion of college degree programs, especially those related to leadership in public safety. This should be integrated into your interview scenarios if you can clarify how it helped you, your team, agency or community.
  • Supervisory, management or leadership courses that you completed by your own initiative. While being selected to attend a leadership course is valuable, the distinction is that you sought out the coursework as a part of your leadership development. Ideally, you would be able to cite initiatives or changes you were able to bring back to the agency as a result.
  • Identify other courses and conferences where you brought back ideas or recommendations for improvement that were accepted and implemented.
  • Receiving positive feedback from community resources. For example, after working with community members on a successful COP program, perhaps they formally or informally thanked you.
  • Serving in an interim or “acting” role, especially if it is for an extended period.
  • Experience serving in an administrative role. Don’t underestimate the value of this experience; it’s a large component of supervising or management.
  • Serving as a watch commander, especially if a notable or unusual tactical situation was involved where your role was critical to its success.
  • Demonstrating the ability to manage the politics of the organization, both internal and external. For example, representing the agency to civic leaders, local government or allied agencies.
  • Serving as an incident commander when it resulted in a successful resolution.
  • Initiating a training fix. This can include researching, writing, developing the lesson plans, getting them approved and ultimately implementing them.
  • Initiating a policy or procedure where you identified an area for improvement, did the research, obtained approval and your recommendations were implemented.
  • Serving as a team leader, such as in a SWAT or tactical group. Did this also include preparing the personnel and equipment? Directing the operation? Detail how you made assignments, selected personnel and ensured successful operations.
  • Serving as a supervisor/team leader or Officer in Charge (OIC) of small units, such as the K-9 units.
  • Initiated contingency plans for events, conducted after-action reports and developed training or changes from lessons learned.
  • Handling unit status. Virtually every unit has to document its unit stats on a continual basis. It is also a process that may be delegated. If so, ask your supervisor if you can help them work on the monthly stats, expenditures, etc. It could include crime stats, personnel assignments, arrests, clearance rates, accident rates, costs of repairs to equipment, etc.
  • Conducting evaluations, such as of trainees, civilian or reserve personnel, may be an option and can be a training experience for you. This can include experiences in the military, business or volunteer work. Field training officer experience is related to supervisory skills.
  • Having conducted evaluations, did you have to conduct corrective actions that resulted in a successful turnaround by the employee?
  • Initiated the review of existing equipment or staffing requirements that resulted in successes.
  • Conducted inspections of equipment/resources or personnel resulting in significant improvements.
  • Provide examples of when you identified significant risk factors to the agency and worked on a plan or took a series of actions to mitigate the risk and thus saved the agency money, embarrassment, lost recruiting, etc.
  • Highlight your ability to motivate and effectively influence others, including developing successful teams, providing inspiration or helping others to develop.
  • Initiating new technologies that were adopted by the department. This could include presenting proposals, budget, maintenance and training related to the technology.
  • Initiating “lessons learned,” especially on operations or tactical situations, but it could be adapted to other areas.
  • Initiating a training session on case law, not just waiting for the annual legal update to occur. You may be able to recommend and implement changes in procedures because of the legal changes.
  • Mention how many others you have mentored or coached who have benefitted from your counsel. Cite their successes if you can show your mentorship helped them. This can identify and develop talent and can be part of an informal succession planning tool for the agency.
  • Managing successful mobile field forces, including training officers, writing contingency/tactical plans, planning and organizing personnel and resources. Successes can include commendations for your efforts. Ideally, your leadership resulted in fewer injuries to officers in deploying non-lethal force options and tactics.
  • Identify a time you helped resolve a conflict or mitigate an issue with groups or individuals.

There is always someone who has more experience, education or special skills. In any promotional process, the distinctions between one candidate and another may be measured in a 100th of a percentage point. The difference may be based on one comment or response that impressed the raters and pushed you over that percentage point. Being able to highlight key accomplishments related to the new rank’s KSAs will play a key role in how raters will recognize your readiness for the job.

The promotional process only gets more competitive the higher you advance, so the more demonstrable successes you can offer, the more likely the raters can differentiate between candidates. It may sound trite, but you want to give them something positive to remember you by. The more unique yet relevant, the better. If you do not already have some of these types of “successes,” now is a good time to start working on creating them.

Special thanks to Lt. Josh Whiten (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and Lt. Jeff Pierce (Phoenix Police Department) for their input.

Complete the box below to download our checklist to prepare for your next promotion.

Rick Michelson’s 30 years of experience in law enforcement started with the San Diego Police Department where he served as a patrol, SWAT and FTO sergeant. He also served as interim chief, lieutenant and sergeant with two university and college police departments. He has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

As director of KSA Ltd., (Knowledge, Skills & Abilities), he provides leadership development training workshops, using assessment centers methods, for officers who are preparing for supervisory and management positions. He is also the author of “Assessment Centers for Public Safety.” He has a bachelor’s degree from Chapman University and a master’s degree in public administration from National University. He was also a Ph.D. candidate for the Union Institute and University.