Trending Topics

Career advancement: Politics or positioning?

Regardless of the promotional testing process being used, there are things you can do which are within your control to position yourself for career advancement

We have spent several months discussing how to excel on promotional examinations. Recently on Police1 I’ve talked about how to study, how to excel on traditional written and oral examinations, and how to ace an assessment center. However, the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about until after people get promoted is department “politics.”

The civil service testing process was instituted in the early fifties to eliminate political interference in the police hiring and promotional process. When looked at from a broad perspective, civil service testing has done a good job in professionalizing law enforcement. Civil service testing linked with union scrutiny of the promotional process has done much to even the playing field for those seeking advancement. However, in many departments there are positions in the organizational chart which used to be classified ranks, but now are considered to be “appointments.” This is especially true of the rank of Detective and the rank of Deputy Chief.

Appointment vs. Civil Service Promotion
One reason some classified positions have moved away from civil service testing is to fill the department’s affirmative action goals. Yes, I’m speaking about the unspeakable areas of race and gender, but from a difference perspective. If you believe in the principle that the department should have a goal to represent the community it serves in terms of the race and gender make-up of the department, then allowing the Chief to choose among qualified candidates to meet that need through the “appointment” process is a plausible argument. Is this controversial? Of course! Especially when basic questions are asked: How is it determined who is qualified for a particular position? What standards are used? Based on what methodology?

Determining who among the candidates is qualified is what a job task analysis and promotional examination process is created to do! So, when departments move away from test reliability and validity in the promotional process by “appointing” personnel to positions, it creates an atmosphere of distrust which can undermine department efficiency, effectiveness, and morale.

It can also result in officers not applying for positions in the department that fall within the civil service testing process. Or worse, officers in some cases choose to take a civil service test without adequate preparation because they believe the post for which they’re testing is “political” and the test is therefore superfluous. Affirmative action (and to some degree internal politics) are part and parcel to the life we have chosen. Since there is little as an individual you can do about these issues, concentrate on doing things within your control such as developing job skills and intrinsic traits which make you valuable to the organization.

Making Yourself Valuable to the Organization
Regardless of the promotional testing process being used, there are things you can do which are within your control to position yourself for career advancement. These are the intrinsic qualities for which no paper and pencil examination or series of simulated “scenarios” can test. What really makes a person valuable to the organization are old concepts such as integrity, self-discipline, honor, love of the department, strong work ethics, loyalty to oneself and his/her brother and sister officers, the courage to do the right thing when no one is looking, and ethical behavior.

Consider the following:

1. Have you set short, intermediate, and long term goals? What is it that you want to accomplish personally and professionally? What would it really take for you to change?

2. Are you an expert in our craft? Do you have a thorough understanding and ability to apply the laws of arrest and search and seizure? Taking police-related seminars and training courses is good, but to grow and achieve your potential, you need the diversity offered by a college education. Is it time to go to college or to return to college for an advanced degree? Reasons for not going are excuses and rationalizations. Go to college! It’s not just about getting a piece of paper so you can progress within the department. It’s about gaining an appreciation for life and becoming energized by being around people who think and feel things differently then you do. It’s only through diversity that change and growth occur. Nothing good comes easy!

Why not become a graduate student within your own profession? Self learning was around long before our colleges and universities. What part of police work are you most interested in? Do you want to get into accident investigation, forensics, EOD? Want to be a homicide detective or a firearms expert? Choose a specialty, read all you can about it, attend schools and seminars, and become a nationally-known expert. Commit yourself totally to new learning.

3. Do you have excellent verbal and written communication skills? You can not get promoted (or even excel in the law enforcement profession) without these. If the problem is verbal communication, an excellent way to improve is by joining toastmasters.

4. Develop an excellent work ethic. Be trustworthy! Earn a reputation for being able to do exceptional work with little or no supervision. Come to work early and stay late. Don’t ask for money. Have pride in yourself and your work product. No one likes a complainer and policing is not a democracy so give your input, but once the decision is made it costs you nothing to say “Yes, sir.”

When I run oral boards for the police promotional process I have a training session with panelists. Obviously we are going over the knowledge, skills, abilities and personal traits requisite for promotion. However, in the end I always advise panelists to consider the following, “Would you want this candidate working for you beginning tomorrow? Somehow the candidates who have the intrinsic qualities I mentioned seem to get promoted. Will you? Ask yourself the following questions:

Communication Skills
Is my grammar and vocabulary appropriate to the audience?
Do I use good taste, manners, and courtesy when speaking with others?
Do I approach others in a cheerful, warm tone of voice?
Do I respect the opinions of others even though they may conflict with my own?
Am I a good listener, or do I frequently interrupt others when they are talking?
Can I disagree with others without being disagreeable?

Physical Skills
Am I physically graceful and poised?
Do I walk with confidence and good carriage?
How do I look?
How is my posture, stature, physical fitness, and grooming?

Emotional Skills
Do I display my emotions in an appropriate way?
Am I emotionally balanced or do I project a dull or negative outlook to others?
Do I analyze and reason through problems and opportunities properly?
Do I jump to conclusions or reason from facts?
Do I allow prejudice, tradition, and wishful thinking to influence me?

Do I abide by the code of honor I swore to when I pinned on the badge and became a police officer?
Am I ethical, moral, and trustworthy?

How willing am I to help others?
How much of myself am I willing to give without receiving anything in return?

When a man’s fight begins within himself, he is worth something.
—Robert Browning

Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet

Career expert teaches how to prepare for and excel on police promotion examinations.