Five Rules to Follow When Preparing for Promotion

By:  Lieutenant Andy Borrello


Oral Panel: Please tell the panel what you have done to prepare yourself for the position of Sergeant.

Candidate: I have ten years on and I have worked many assignments including patrol, as an FTO, and am currently assigned as a Burglary Detective. I am also one of the department’s Range Masters and I provide training to all sworn personnel. I have an A.S. Degree in Criminal Justice and I attended a course on supervision sponsored by our city. I am also an Explorer Advisor and teach in our Citizen’s Academy.

At first glance, this candidate appears to be a viable competitor for promotion with a good background and diversity of assignments, some education, and involvement through teaching. However, when contrasted and compared to what the potential preparation could be, this candidate’s preparation would drastically pale in comparison. At best, this is a “C” grade answer that will blend the candidate in with all the others testing for those few ranking positions. Spoken aloud, this answer takes only about 15 to 20 seconds to deliver. Thus, it appears minimal, topical, cosmetic and lacking depth.

The example above is average and represents little more than an assembled collection of one-liners plucked from one’s resume. This answer does not illustrate a candidate whose efforts will impress panel members. What if the promotional candidate had a broad perspective of the preparatory possibilities? This is big picture thinking. Preparation for ranking positions in law enforcement must be diverse and the process must take a multi-prong approach. Promotional preparation takes time. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon and there are no magic bullets or shortcuts to replace tangible focused effort. There are many parts to such preparatory efforts, but fear not. These collective efforts when broken down into pieces are simple and easy to do. The key to success is to pause and…

Remove Your Blinders

Yes, we all suffer from varying levels of narrowed vision, seeing only some of the many preparatory options. Using the color-inside-the-lines approach used by most others can limit our ability to be a diamond amongst the rocks.  Additionally, the preparation as a whole may seem overwhelming. However, if we remove the blinders and break down the process, preparation is simple and manageable. If you want to build a masterpiece, you must first master the pieces.

After removing our blinders and viewing the preparation process in doable parts, we can explore how diverse and creative the components of preparation can be. This is what separates excellent from excrement.

Oral Panel: Please tell the panel what you have done to prepare yourself for the position of Sergeant.

Candidate: I have been fortunate enough to have been selected for several progressive assignments over the past 10 years that provided a strong foundation of experience. I worked as a patrol officer and FTO and developed my skills at training, coaching, and evaluating performance, which will benefit me when I become a front-line supervisor. I am currently a burglary detective with collateral duties that include serving as a range master, explorer advisor and instructor for our citizens academy. I earned my A.S. degree in criminal justice and have enrolled in my bachelor’s program, pursuing a degree in public administration.

I have also completed many things to prepare for this position. With regard to training, I attended a promotional command staff panel for Sergeant through CPOA. I attended a three-day course on internal affairs investigations and a seminar on AB301. I have also completed courses on risk management with Gordon Graham and leadership development with Dr. Jack Enter. I take advantage of my commute to work by listening to audio books and currently am listening to Lincoln on Leadership. I stay current on case law updates through a variety of resources including Jones and Mayor’s client alerts. I read electronic magazine articles that include Law Enforcement Technology, the Police Chief, and the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin to gain a better organizational perspective. I regularly watch webinars presented by notable experts from the American Management Association on supervision, motivation, leadership, and communication skills to name a few. I joined several associations; CPOA, PORAC, and became a board member on our police officers’ association. I also prepared myself by conducting formal interviews with several senior sergeants and lieutenants in my organization and asked them focused questions about becoming a successful sergeant. Lastly, I have read two articles each week for the past year on subjects that pertain to supervision and management. I have saved these articles in an electronic library to serve as a resource and to pass along to the professionals under my leadership when I become a sergeant.          

When comparing this answer to the previous example, the qualitative difference between the two is enormous. This answer is multi-faceted, comprehensive and demonstrates big picture thinking. The described preparation is also easily performed; watching free webinars, reading free electronic magazines, listening to audio books while driving, interviewing those you work for and so on. Training courses and seminars are not hard to find, yet many law enforcement professionals do not take the time to attend such valuable training. They then wonder why achieving a competitive score is difficult.

Preparing for advancement through the ranks is more than just knowing what to do, it’s doing it. It’s more than just doing it, but also knowing how to do it better than others. I once heard that participating in the promotional testing process (oral interviews, written exams, assessment centers) is gamesmanship. The better you understand the rules of the game, the better you are able to play it.

Most law enforcement personnel only promote once of twice in a 30-year career (sergeant and lieutenant), so if you want to promote, treat this like an Olympic event and go for it. The term, “Go big or go home” works well here. If you are going to make the effort, take the extra steps for the best chances of success. So, when it comes time to prepare, please consider these valuable five rules for success:

Rule #1: Be diverse and develop a strong bias for action.

Rule #2: Don’t wait to prepare. Many officers wait to prepare for the oral interview only after they pass the written exam, which only gives them a few weeks. This is a recipe for failure. The more time you have to prepare, the better.

Rule #3: Take advantage of training resources. CPOA offers sergeants and lieutenants promotion panels where experienced command staff personnel are available for a candid Q&A session. Currently, CPOA is offering a course called Promotion Testing Dynamics: Advancing Your Rank that covers the oral interview and assessment center testing. Add these trainings to courses on the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (AB301), a course on internal affairs investigations and case law update training to gain tremendous preparatory knowledge.

Rule #4: Take a multi-prong approach to your preparation. Consider the elements of the second answer example and the simplicity of each component. Free webinars, downloaded audio books, case law updates, electronic magazines, reading articles, interviews of ranking staff and so on. These efforts are easily accomplished. While these are impressive, they also provide you much needed knowledge to be a successful leader.

Rule #5: Practice, practice, practice. Speak into a digital recorder. Speak in front of a mirror. Video record yourself. Set up mock orals (best method). Put three teddy bears on the other side of the table and deliver answers to their little button eyes. Use flash cards until you don’t need them anymore. Visit to become comfortable with the room you will be testing in. For every great answer I delivered in an oral interview, I answered dozens of times in practice.

If you want to be better prepared than your competition, then prepare better than your competition.

Andy Borrello is a Lieutenant and 25-year veteran with the San Gabriel Police Department. He is the book author of the Police Promotion Super Course, a POST Master Instructor, and has been teaching career development and presenting police promotion seminars and consultations for the past thirteen years. Andy welcomes comments at