Within almost every major industry, the professional jobs that define it have a trajectory to move up the corporate ladder. With some professions, that map is easily defined and understood. Within other professions, that roadmap is less clear—subject to changes and evolving polices. For those in the law enforcement, career advancement relates more to military promotions than other civil industry occupations. Rising through the ranks of law enforcement relies on a known roadmap with an efficiency and logic to the advancement structure of a police department.
If your personal career objective is to move forward and upward, the good news is your department embraces a doctrine of moving key employees into the hierarchy of police ranks. Though all officers complete a training program through their academy, further advances aren’t guaranteed. Your success at promotional testing will play a vital role in how well you achieve your advancement goals. This blog will help you understand the structure of the tests and offer some solid advice on how to increase your success with them.
STEP BACK BEFORE YOUR STEP IN
If you haven’t already, the first step is to become familiar with the naming conventions and rank structure of your law enforcement agency. Federal, state, and local organizations do differ in their structure. Most municipal police organizations adhere to a corporate ladder that easily understood and charted. Though specific titles and duties may differ depending on a department’s size and needs, all offer opportunities for career advancement. Here’s an example of a typical police organizational structure:
1. Police Officer/Patrol Officer/Police Detective
2. Police Corporal *
3. Police Sergeant
4. Police Lieutenant
5. Police Captain
6. Deputy Police Chief
7. Chief of Police
* although not a recognized rank by law/statute, many departments utilize this rank by virtue of a collective negotiations agreement or departmental practice/policy.
KNOW YOUR POLICE DEPARTMENT’S RANKS BEFORE STARTING TO CLIMB THE CORPORATE LADDER
It is important to know how your agency embraces promotion advancement. Is it based strongly on seniority, or a logical approach of a point system defined by testing? Understanding both the history of your department and the current leadership will help you navigate and set realistic expectations on a more productive route to career advancement.
What is clearly in your corner is your ability (with you at the controls) to make the most of the promotional testing that’s required for every job posting. It’s important for you to become familiar with the individual test itself and how, with training and application, you can master each of its three components:
• Written exam
• Oral interview
• Performance-based scenarios
TWO TRACKS TO
IMPROVE YOUR TEST RESULTS
One of the goals of the FOP in New Jersey is to provide our membership with applied education to improve the lives of their families and themselves. Toward that goal, we’d like to offer two tracks we feel will measurably improve your test scores while working long-term to improve and define your value within your department.
TRACK ONE: COMMON SENSE TATICS
Often a solution to a problem is so obvious it goes undetected. When working on advancing one’s career, it’s relevant to state the obvious—there are certain activities and assessments that common sense tells you they matter. Ones that either plant a seed in the mind of your superiors or confirm to them your value and/or their validity for choosing you for advancement. Here are some “common sense” tactics to embrace:
EXCEL IN YOUR CURRENT POSITION.
If you’re not doing great at your current position, your chances of that promotion are greatly diminished. The measurement here should not be “good” or “satisfactory.” Your current job performance should reflect someone who already preforms the stated duties to a high degree, and can be counted on and functions without a lot of supervision. Keep reminding yourself you are competing against your fellow officers. All the more reason to excel in your current position.
HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Residing right next to a great job performance is having a great attitude. No one likes someone who complains, blames others, or operates with a “chip on his shoulder.” Leadership positions (which every promotion carries), demands a positive pro-active attitude. A healthy attitude is contagious—your fellow associates embrace it and so do your superiors. If your attitude is not positive, find ways to improve it.
GET READY TO ANSWER THE BIG QUESTION
Depending on your preparation, the oral part of testing will put you either in a hot seat or an easy chair. Your past and current experience should prepare you for a new job position. Anticipate the question “how does your current job position you for this new job?” Your on-the-job training and education need to link to the requirements and responsibilities of the new job. Have ready a detailed verbal explanation of the alignment your current experience has with the responsibilities and requirements of the new position.
BEING UP TO DATE IMPROVES YOUR CHANCE OF MOVING FORWARD
What the oral testing can do that the written test cannot it to insert the most current news-worthy events, issues, or positions into the testing process. How a certain issue affects the performance or direction of a new position is a timely and telling measurement of your education and understanding of current issues. Whether it is defunding police departments, community policing issues, use of force tactics or other national, regional, or local issues or incidents—make sure you are updated and posed to recite and align a valid response to a question concerning a current topic.
BE READY TO READ IN BETWEEN THE LINES
Of the five tactics listed here, this one is the most challenging to master. As mentioned earlier, law enforcement advancement does align itself to the military. Common to both approaches are definite black and white answers to specific questions. Doing your homework will help prepare you with the knowledge to the correct answers needed to satisfy the oral examinations. But to really impress those asking the questions, a inner perspective and mind-set will need to surface and shine. Testing you with questions that do not have a yes or a no answer will tell those in charge whether you have the intelligence and comprehension to properly understand and execute the new responsibilities. Be ready for this challenge by embracing a holistic perspective as to options and solutions to important issues. Ask yourself who you are, what you believe in and what course of action you might employ to solve a problem.
TRACK TWO: SELF EDUCATION
The recommendations covered under the TRACK ONE: COMMON SENSE TACTICS need to happen weeks, months maybe even years before you take your first test. Forming (and achieving) the right impression doesn’t materialize a couple weeks before testing. It’s never too early to apply personal improvement measures.
A more immediate and useful set of activities exist in what we refer to as Self-Education Activities. There is a library of self-help aids that can help with improving the career advancements for law enforcement employees.
PUT REFERENCE MATERIAL TO WORK
Since traditional, standardized tests still play an important role in gauging the performance of aspiring candidates, certain content can be identified for you to become familiar in appreciating how it might be asked, and the current answers they’re looking for. Since most testing is usually timed, a prepared candidate gains a valuable advantage being familiar with the process and representative content.
Your online research will identify reference material available for purchase that offers valuable help. Whether it’s a digital delivery or traditional printed book, a qualified independent publication is a valuable learning tool. There is material that offers in-depth instructions to helping with both the oral and written examinations on how to study, prepare and execute tangible actions to improve your test-point achievements. Packaged tutorial guides that offer real-world instructions and easy-to-apply methods are also available online.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING PRO-ACTIVE IN THE QUEST TO IMPROVE YOUR TEST RESULTS CAN’T BE OVERSTATED. THOUGH TEST RESULTS, AS VITAL AS THEY ARE, DON’T REPRESENT THE COMPLETE ASSESSMENT PROCESS, IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THOSE CANDIDATES THAT PREPARE FOR THE TESTING GAIN REAL ADVANTAGES.
Every year candidates are vying for promotions. Most, like you, are qualified with experience and on-the-job training. Being optimistic is a healthy attitude to embrace and will serve you well in the long run. Being prepared gives you the best outcome. Keeping a positive perspective today, and tomorrow, prepares you for a better future in your career.