Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
One thing I've harped on repeatedly is the lack of formalized career counseling within law enforcement. We have guidance counselors in school, academic advisors in college, and financial advisors for investments. In the military, we have career counselors who are often cleverly disgusted as the reenlistment officer.
In Copland, the role is not as clear. I've seen far too many careers derailed or sent down the wrong road due to poor counseling. Often, a trusted Field Training Officer (FTO) or department's training unit performs this collateral duty without preparation, so they have to wing it. So if you're the fabulous new guy/girl (FNG), who do you seek out?
Back in my (politically incorrect) day, there were informal titles for your guardian or connection to success. Fellow officers asked, who is his "hoss," rabbi, or daddy? These people were internal political connections and rather than counselors.
Two types of leaders exist within the human dynamic of groups—those with power and those with authority. Those who are formally appointed to lead and direct by the department are those with authority. They have authority over you by virtue of stripes, brass, and rank. Within the squad is the informal leader, the head of the click and the cool person to be around. They have power.
So much for leadership 101, so who should you listen to? Your supervisor is the one who may approve training or honor a transfer to a special unit. They have the "juice" to get you moving. They can often become protective of their overall mission. Losing you could equate to less success for them, so they give you bad direction or stymie your goals.
Now for the informal leader, whose power may only exist in a smaller realm or could extend outside the precinct walls. They may be able to use their connections to get you where you want, but weigh the costs. Informal political connections have both pro and con columns. If they are the senior curmudgeons, you could get backwash from their list of enemies. So who do you listen to, the sergeant or squad cool guy? The best answer may be both. They both have elements to offer an inquisitive FNG.
Who should you first seek advice from? Find someone within the department that is successful in an area where you wish to achieve toward. Being the FNG, you may not know this person directly. See if your squad power broker can make an introduction. For instance, seeking advice from a career uniform to become a detective won't get you the best advice.
Also read the job description and requirements of your goal and understand the boxes you'll need to check off. If the job requires special training, go to the training unit, get their calendar and seek enrollment (you may need your sergeant on this one). Keeping good connections between all is advantageous.
I learned a valuable story from an old U.S. Army first sergeant years ago. Never plan for your next assignment/promotion when it is posted. You should have been working on this goal the day after you made your last one. It's always alarming that when a promotional opportunity is posted there's an immediate clamor of trying to get dance cards punched in a short time.
Set your long-term career plans. If you know you'll be required to possess several schools or certifications for the next step, get to work on them now. If you've got these done, check to see if you can get started on the next step. There may be many candidates, and you must position yourself to be one level higher. With the advice of your newfound colleagues, supervisors and trusted trainers, you must absorb this information and apply it to your career dreams.
Welcome to the Careers & Training Channel
How Do I Advance My Career?