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How Do I Advance My Career?

November 01, 2007  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Challenges and Assignments

In your career you will be faced with "mandatory opportunities to excel." In other words, your supervisors will position you to maximize your potential. Even if you might not want to, when you're presented with an opportunity, take it. This is your chance to prove your worth.

The Field Training Officer (FTO) program is the best example of such an opportunity. Your life is good and then the sergeant comes in and "offers" you the FTO school. You think, This is a fairly hard school. Who wants to be an FTO? You'd have to train and put up with rookies. You enjoy your freedom and solo status. And this new position would mean extra work. Stop and think. Being an FTO is considered a one-on-one supervisor; this looks good for promotion.

Instructor school is the same; it is difficult. You have to work hard to research and prepare your lesson plans. But it looks good on your record, for an instructor is a leader in the classroom. Fulfilling this role proves you have public speaking skills. So, if you have an opportunity to attend, go. There may be other assignments or opportunities to excel that come your way. Seize the opportunity to show that you are up to the challenge.

Upon looking back at my career, I gave up a few choice assignments for a few tough ones that later positioned me for even better ones. My mentor chief told me, "Never get comfortable in a job, for if you do, you are not learning." Sage words of advice. He called me one day at my office and asked me on the telephone if I was comfortable and I replied that I was. I was transferred after lunch. Years later I now thank him a great deal for that.

Promotional Exams, Assessment Centers and Oral Boards

There are as many promotional processes as there are agencies. I will not even venture to say which one is best, fairest, or most adaptive to police work; there are no right answers. Some agencies have civil service boards, some use promotional points schemes, some may still use seniority.

The first step is to fully acquaint yourself with the process your department uses. Some progressive departments provide training for the promotional process. If this is offered to you, take it. Ask fellow officers who have gone through the process before for their insight. This is not insider information or cheating. Go to the academy or the local university and research the type of promotional process you are facing. Libraries, book stores, and the Internet are full of information on these processes. Also, your departmental supervisor or mentor should give you valuable insights. Take full advantage of every tactical edge you can get on this process.

I have some test preparation tips that have served me well. Set up a study timeline and study daily. In other words, do not cram! Most oral boards or written exams are policy and procedure based. Your department only has a few hundred or so, right? Start at the time of the announcement and study throughout the entire time. The key here is to pace yourself. (Besides, you should already know most of these anyway). If there is a suggested reading list, read it. They  did not give you the list for recreation purposes.

Now, this is very important. For an oral board, do not go in cold. Practice some personality performance-based questions. For example, imagine telling the board of a time that you failed and how you overcame this failure, or explaining an instance when you observed a problem and how you handled it. Have a friend test you with these types of questions or others to prepare you for the pressures of oral boards. I repeat, never enter an oral board for the first time cold.

No Guarantees

You may fulfill all of the academic requirements and take all the training and assignments you can. But you still have to keep your house in order. Your personal conduct, evaluations, and internal investigation all have to be within boundaries.

Before you scream, "Not fair!" listen to me. You have got to do your job and do it within legal, ethical, and

moral boundaries. You do that, fine. If you go out and live a colorful lifestyle you can expect it to cloud the promotional process. In a large city where there is great autonomy, maybe not. In a small- or medium-sized agency, expect it. That's life. Some media or citizens will not forget, so be careful. Do your job, but do it right.

Also find out if your agency is still under any consent decrees for past promotional practices. You can be the best and brightest with all of the promotional points, but if the decree is still in effect, you may not get the promotion. And that's just how it goes.

If you don't get promoted right away, don't stomp around and say ill things. You never know who is watching you. How you handle adversity in your life is how you are judged. Take your lumps, go to the promotion ceremony, and congratulate the victor. Go on with life. How you heal will exhibit how well you can handle the stress of command. Being dysfunctional will prove that you were not the right choice.

Demonstrate maturity and integrity and follow a focused plan to reach the next rank. Your time will come and I'll be able to say, "Congratulations, Sergeant!"

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