The focus of this fourth blog in the series of ‘7 Things interview boards also look for in promotion candidates’ is the underpinning preparation required to move beyond ‘shallow’ responses in interview. As a reminder, here are the 7 key traits which police promotion boards inherently value:

  1. Good awareness and understanding of vision or mission
  2. Self-aware, understanding personal values and development areas
  3. Demonstrates awareness of the current policing context
  4. A response that goes beyond the theoretical
  5. Able to evidence leadership impact in & beyond your team
  6. Well-structured and considered responses
  7. Demonstrate strong leadership skills grounded in service delivery

So let’s get to Thing 4…

Thing 4: A Response That Goes Beyond the Theoretical

“It’s hard to prove yourself when the substance isn’t there.” – Travis Fimmel

Asking six questions in approximately 45 minutes provides a promotion panel with a snapshot of you. That’s not a lot of time. A promotion panel can only scratch the surface of your potential as a future leader. They do this by asking questions and writing down what you say, whilst listening to how you say it.

Successful promotion candidates have better interview skills, generally resulting from dedicating more time and effort to their interview preparation than others. You need not spend too long to appreciate that promotion panels recognise well-prepared candidates, by the content and delivery of responses to the interview questions posed.

“People rarely travel far enough along the path of self development to realise their potential.” – Sir John Whitmore

I referred in ‘Thing 2’ to the potential board question:

“What have you done to develop yourself or anyone else in the last 12 months?”

Less prepared candidates may provide a superficial response, sometimes even struggling to grasp the relevance of the question. For example they might say, “Oh yes, I value my CPD and others around me. I often look for opportunities to learn.”

But to borrow a football analogy, this question is an open goal, a fantastic opportunity to score. Well-prepared candidates who have committed to a depth and breadth of preparation will recognise the opportunity presented and are equipped to respond more comprehensively to it.

Open goal question
An open goal interview question: “What have you done to develop yourself or anyone else in the last 12 months?”

So lets look below the surface at how you might prepare and equip yourself…

“If you’re wasting your time by not investing in yourself, that is the greatest waste of all.” – Richie Norton

Sharing the Same Lay-by


Qualifying for promotion often requires months, sometimes even years, of disciplined study. You might then think it unbelievable that vast cohorts of successful individuals  make a conscious decision to ‘ease off’ the accelerator afterwards. They gradually grind to a halt in the months that follow, sharing the same lay-by and similar complacent thoughts:

  • “That’s the exam under my belt”.
  • “I’ve worked hard; I need and deserve a break now”.
  • “There are no promotion boards on the horizon, so I’ll give it a rest and just see what happens”.

Promotion to Sergeant and Inspector can be thought of as a ‘game of two halves’. The ‘half time’ gap between passing the exam and a promotion process arising is where traction towards achieving promotion often dissipates.

“The first step binds one to the second.” – French Proverb

Maintaining momentum via a development plan is important. Yet typically, I speak with lots officers who have done little since passing their exam. This ‘space between’ is significant, a valuable opportunity to work on becoming ‘match fit’ and once there, remain conditioned.

A Double Whammy

“While we are making up our minds as to when we shall begin, the opportunity is lost.” – Quintillian

Qualified officers are frequently under the mistaken impression that you have to have had acting or temporary supervisor experience to progress towards promotion. That is not the case. Many officers pass their promotion interviews without acting or temporary rank experience; you can see plenty of examples here.

In fact, acting or temporary experience is of limited value if you are not exploiting the learning opportunity. For example, your daily activities of attending incidents, managing resources and making decisions can be aligned to the personal qualities, competencies or behaviours you will be assessed against for the next rank.

It’s a double whammy if you are not doing this, because not only are you passing up the daily opportunity to develop a broader understanding of the role, the impact only hits when you are sat in front of the panel and realise you are out of your depth.

“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops… until your promotion interview.”

OK, so I adapted the above quote a little, but you get the point.

If you are reading this now, with OSPRE in the bag and you still aspire to promotion, one action you can take right now is to ensure that you have a personal development plan; even if it’s only some purposeful reading for now.

Whether you perform acting/temporary duties or otherwise, make notes as part of your development plan. You could use the following questions to help you prepare valuable evidence, providing content for both your application and interview responses:

  • What did you deal with? – (Be specific)  – The Position or situation?
  • What was your responsibility? – (Be specific) – Your task or objective?
  • How did you do it? – (Be specific) – Your actions? 
  • Why are you doing it? – (Be specific) – What’s the point?
  • What was the outcome? (Be specific) – What was better? Improved? Avoided? Learned? Changed?

This is a great way to be proactive and build momentum ahead of both a promotion selection process. When it comes to the application or board, you can then align it into a memorable and clear structure, for example Problem, Action, Result (PAR). So let’s look at a detailed example from my “25+ Examples of What Works” guide for PC to Sergeant candidates…

Structuring your evidence: An example

This evidence by a neighbourhood Constable was used successfully towards achieving promotion to Sergeant. Notice how it aligns closely with the Policing Professional Framework (PPF) for the role of Sergeant and the competency descriptor for Public Service.

Here’s the framework guidance:

[Demonstrates a real belief in public service, focusing on what matters to the public and will best serve their interests. Understands the expectations, changing needs and concerns of different communities, and strives to address them. Builds public confidence by talking with people in local communities to explore their viewpoints and break down barriers between them and the police. Understands the impact and benefits of policing for different communities, and identifies the best way to deliver services to them. Develops partnerships with other agencies to deliver the best possible overall service to the public].

And here’s the officer’s evidence:

“As ‘Anytown’ Neighbourhood Team Leader (NTL), I dip sampled crimes and incident logs identifying an increase in crime and Anti Social Behaviour (ASB). My objectives were to investigate crimes and alleviate ASB to raise resident’s confidence.

To gain better understanding of underlying issues, I requested analytical work from police/council. I arranged meetings with partner/voluntary agencies to develop/implement a clear plan to improve areas, setting out responsibilities under Crime and Disorder Act. I represented the organisation at multi agency, residents and Council meetings. I ensured SMT understood the actions being taken and resources required. Community intelligence identified offenders. I directed resources to key areas to engage directly with the community, conducting surveys to identify specific issues of concern, signposting agencies where suitable. As areas were socially deprived I prioritised tasking of resources to target key locations and instigated preventative educational inputs on impact of ASB and crime to schools. I secured funding from partner agencies to install security fencing, CCTV and improved lighting/highway furniture. Due to my positive influence the local community organised a clean up operation, taking pride in improving their neighbourhoods. I respectfully challenged Housing Association Senior Managers, successfully instigating a change in policy across the region, which reduced community tension and increased public confidence. I arranged a community meeting with key representatives from Council, Housing Association and Fire Service to address specific community issues being raised, in a transparent and publicly accountable way. I arranged for media to be present to highlight positive news stories and encouraged community engagement for long-term positive outcomes.

Over a six-month period, analysis shows an overall reduction (40%) in ASB and criminal damage across Any-town. The ASB reduction is sustained. Community feedback reflected that police/council were now coordinating locally. Surveys confirm a significant increase in public confidence”.

Insight: This is an officer who clearly understands the relevant drivers of public confidence, including the effective investigation of crime, alleviating anti-social behaviour in communities and telling the public what police and partners are doing. There is a clear focus on delivering the best service possible to the community with available resources. 

Partnership working

A gift to yourself

Now imagine the same officer is asked in a subsequent promotion interview:

 “Please provide an example of when you have worked in partnership to solve a community problem?” (or a variant of this question).

You can see that preparing specific evidence serves as very helpful content to practice interview responses. Even if you are not required to submit an application in your force selection process, preparing your evidence in this way is a gift to yourself.

It’s a great use of your time, allowing you to pick up insights into yourself and the process, to align your evidence to your promotion framework and importantly it’s an investment that will pay dividends because you will be more equipped to deliver informed and considered responses in interview.     

Take Action; it’s always an option.

If you found the above example helpful, why not download a digital guide NOW, for example…

  • 25+ detailed, structured examples of good evidence and what works in promotion applications
  • Bespoke ‘Guide to Passing Your Police Promotion Interview.’

Good better best

Good candidates may answer the question. Better candidates are able to add context and/or make wider links. The BEST candidates as alluded to earlier, prepare gifts for themselves beforehand.

Do the work and as with James’ feedback below, you could even feel comfortable in showing the board your personality and passion, whilst delivering meaningful responses, not just theoretical! 

“Gave me a different way of thinking. I realised that I couldn’t rely on delivering evidence in a robotic and systematic way. This was fortunate as the board was not like that at all and turned into more of a conversation for which I had answers prepared…. I also felt comfortable showing my personality and passion, which I might otherwise have kept back.” – James, A/Sgt, passed Sergeants Promotion board

Kind Regards, Steve

Wherever you are on your promotion journey, can help with guidance and support.