“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

There are many valuable opportunities being missed for promotion to inspector. I see many common mistakes made every year by unwitting, self-sabotaging sergeants. There are also various reasons for failure in the inspector’s promotion selection process. This blog outlines the top themes from my experience of helping aspiring sergeants succeed.

Clients I coach often ask me the following question:

“What’s the best way to prepare and structure my police promotion evidence?”

The short answer is that there is no single best method, but some of the structures you might know and that you can use to draft or lay out your evidence include:

  • Problem, Actions, Result (PAR)
  • Situation, Task, Actions, Result (STAR)
  • Situation, Objective, Actions, Result (SOAR)

These can prove invaluable at the point you are starting to think about what evidence you have to support your bid for promotion. The great thing about using them is that they can serve you again when developing your interview responses.

Now let’s get to those top reasons for failure…

1. We Don’t Do Promotion Applications Round Here

“That’s not the way we do things round here.” – Seth Godin

2018.05 ApplicationPickMe_MSoftThe relevance of being required to submit a written competency based promotion application is an ongoing debate. Some forces have removed applications as an element of the selection process. On the face of it, that sounds great, one less hoop to jump through!

However, the same kind of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion immediately returns at the point you ask yourself: “What evidence do I have to support my bid for promotion?”

It’s a recurring issue in conversations with both sergeant and inspector candidates. A typical call might go something like this:

“Hi Steve, we don’t do applications here, but I’ve just been ‘written up’ and recommended for promotion. How would you suggest I start preparing?”

Groundhog Day in promotion applicationsThat’s a bit like Groundhog Day for me because the same thought goes through my head, namely that meaningful preparation for promotion should start way before being ‘recommended’. I’d suggest you start shortly after you pass your promotion exam. Not doing so is simply a missed opportunity! I can still help of course, this is just a phenomenon I witness rear it’s ugly little head almost every week, with astounding repetition.

It must also be like Groundhog Day for the officers who contact me as a last resort, having been unsuccessful in promotion processes previously. Some candidates have tried and failed up to 8 times! Clearly that takes mental resilience, but just imagine for a moment the time, effort and emotional energy involved.

Yet with some small adjustments as part of a fresh approach, the same officers get through, sometimes coming out top!

A missed opportunity…

“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even ones we miss.” – Eric Roth

Here’s a thought. Whether you are required to submit a promotion application in your force or not, a massive opportunity exists: Draft one anyway!

What? No officer wants to hear that. It takes time and hard work. Why would you do that when it’s not required? And there’s the gap. Right there! Promotion candidates are often ‘time poor’. Unsurprisingly, individuals who don’t have to submit an application don’t prepare one! They sell themselves short in doing so, missing a valuable learning opportunity and self-sabotaging a great chance to get ‘match fit’ for a selection process.

Let’s face it; one reason promotion applications were ‘done away with’ is because many officers didn’t like doing them. The irony is that psychometric and other tests that have replaced applications are also disliked, with officers questioning the ‘relevance’ of them to promotion selection. It’s almost a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Whatever the promotion process or framework you face, I’d encourage you to write an application as part of your preparation… it works!

Sergeant promotion toolkit

2. Their Ducks are all to Quack

“Organising is something you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A. A. Milne

Getting promotion ducks in a row

Sergeants often struggle to bring sense and order to their promotion evidence. If you like, they don’t have all their ducks in a row!

Candidates describe the uncertainty and anxiety arising ahead of a promotion opportunity as “internal noise” or even “the monsters in your head”. So drafting your evidence in advance brings a helpful ‘sense and order’ to thinking. You have something tangible to focus on.

Those who argue that promotion applications are not relevant may have a point, until you realise that anything, which can be digitized or automated in the next few years will be. Things that can’t be, will become even more valuable. With that in mind, creativity, imagination, ethics, empathy, values and compassion are all attributes used in compiling your promotion application and are therefore perhaps more relevant to policing and wider humanity, than some might believe. That ‘stuff’ can’t be done by robots or Artificial Intelligence (AI) and underpins communication, relationship building and importantly, leadership!

Intuition and trust are also qualities used to build relationships, so interviews as a logical element of promotion selection processes are likely to remain relevant too. Whether you agree or otherwise, it’s certainly food for thought!

“Computers are for questions, people are for answers.” – Kevin Kelly

Some additional benefits of using your more ‘human’ skills to draft evidence in advance of a promotion opportunity include:

  1. Writing your evidence down will help clarify the relevance and quality of what you have or do not have to offer.
  2. It will help with an initial structure, layout and flow e.g. a beginning, middle and an end aka problem, actions, result.
  3. It facilitates cross referencing of what you have drafted, to better ‘fit’ with and align to specific competencies (behaviours) being assessed.
  4. Enables you to add, alter or amend detail to improve and to add value.
  5. Once laid out, you have the opportunity to read, re-read and think it through, to make adjustments and to reflect and understand what ‘evidence’ you have.
  6. It will capture the ‘depth and breadth’ of your evidence in one piece of work.
  7. Last but not least it will serve you as a highly valuable aid when developing, practicing and rehearsing responses to potential interview questions.

3. They Lack Strategic Perspective

“You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” – Leon Trotsky

Inspector pips

The inspector’s role is one that features a strategic element or dimension, but what does that mean to you? What are your thoughts about that?

Strategic awareness is something assessors/promotion panels look for. Strategic thinking and perspectives change the higher up in the organisation you go. As a sergeant aiming for inspector rank, being able to draw and verbally make links between force strategic policing plans/priorities and your examples/evidence is a good start.

Putting forward “good sergeant” evidence won’t work! Taking time to elevate your understanding of the strategic aspect to your evidence is definitely time well spent. It applies to both application and interview preparation.

Some people struggle to figure out what the word ‘strategic’ actually adds. What meaning does it have in the context of any evidence you may have? Here are a few tangible pointers to help clarify the concept:

  • Strategic means taking an interest in your own force and the police service as a whole; not just your own department, area or unit.
  • Strategy is usually distinguished from tactics.
  • Strategic means a leader who does less themselves and more through others.
  • Strategic means operating within longer term horizons. For example the inspector’s role includes ‘developing and implementing plans’, some of which may take time to achieve.
  • Referring to short-term gains aligned to longer-term performance aims may also reflect strategic awareness.
  • Building in milestones/reviews demonstrates strategic thinking.
  • One attribute which distinguishes strategic leaders in public service, is learning; recognising that what has made you successful to date will not necessarily guarantee future success.

4. Lack of Role Awareness

“Omne, Trium, Perfectum.” (Everything that comes in threes is perfect)

Sergeants often apply for promotion ‘doing what they’ve always done before’, lacking awareness of the real step up to the role of inspector. There are three key points to remember in elevating your evidence to inspector: Level, Complexity and Outcome.

LevelInspector level

Where possible, it will help if your evidence is at the level of inspector and/or reflects the role responsibilities. If you acquired promotion evidence whilst performing acting/temporary inspector duty, then say so! Ensure the content is at the right level. Starting your example with “As acting/temporary inspector…” helps clarify to an assessor or interview panel that your evidence was gained at the level of the rank aspired to.

It doesn’t mean that you must have experience of acting/temporary duties, but you will need to develop a good understanding of the role functions so that you can include and reference aspects. For example, developing and implementing plans, identifying and managing operational threats and risks, managing resources and decision-making into your examples. It’s an opportunity frequently overlooked in promotion applications and even more frequently forgotten in the limelight of interviews.


Inspectors need to demonstrate strategic awareness, so intuitively your evidence/examples are more complex if assessors can draw wider ‘links’ to policing priorities, leadership, performance and service delivery.

“Without complexity, there is no intensity.” – Alexandra Adornetto

Complexity of Inspector roleIn general terms, complexity tends to characterise something with many parts. Addressing this before submitting your application and whilst rehearsing your interview responses guards against you offering very simple or basic evidence. Do not mistake complexity for being overly verbose. It is entirely possible, with practice, to demonstrate complexity in the subject of your story in a succinct manner for the benefit of your panel. Of course in turn, it will benefit your chances of scoring well!


Promotion response outcomeThe structure for each of your promotion examples, or your response to rear-facing interview questions, requires at least a result to complete the story. A result can be one-dimensional, for example where team performance was improved. An outcome is better; think of your outcome as a result with muscles.

So consider how you might add value or impact. The wider outcome may include other dimensions, such as…

  • What was improved as a result of the actions you took?
  • How are things different now?
  • Who benefited and how?
  • What learning was identified and shared?

5. They Don’t Know What Success Looks Like

But do not despair! Here’s an example of what works. If you like this, you’ll find many more in my ‘Inspector’s Toolkit’…

“Please provide an example of how you have actively engaged and developed a multi agency partnership initiative in order to contribute to achieving force aims and objectives.”

As acting inspector, I volunteered to lead on the ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable People Review’, thus contributing to the force’s future vision, Protecting Vulnerable People. I did so being aware of political complexity around existing safeguarding service provision, equality/diversity issues and potential risks to force reputation.

I led the engagement with 150 internal cross-functional staff, SMTs and Chief Officers. I ran 30 force-wide external consultation workshops with independent Advisory Groups, critical multi-agency and 3rd sector stakeholders, building a coalition of support. I listened to and recorded the views and priorities of many different communities focusing on public concerns. I directed staff in comprehensively mapping the existing safeguarding process, identifying good practice and inefficiencies. I environmentally scanned national best practice to improve provision of services for different communities. My findings were instrumental in producing the final design. I maintained visibility in person and kept staff updated utilizing force IT systems. I sought regular feedback and managed welfare needs. By creating enthusiasm with stakeholders face to face and through clear communication I built effective working relationships and pathways inspiring them to review their own working practices to meet future challenges collaboratively. My innovative design is described as groundbreaking because it encompasses stakeholder, community and organisational needs.

My new/different proposals enhance service provision, productivity and morale. I have changed some management structures, introduced a force-wide Safeguarding Directory, created a Vulnerability Screening Tool implemented force-wide. I have simplified processes and reduced unnecessary demand whilst identifying over £2million efficiency savings.

In summary…

In summary, get your ducks in a row by compiling a written application, regardless of whether one is requested by the force. Take time to ensure your evidence is structured and at the level of inspector, that it has the complexity of wider links and you have demonstrated a strong outcome.

If you’d like more insights into what works including specific structured examples, tips and guidance, interview preparation or you’ve decided to take action right now to develop ahead of an inspector promotion opportunity, here’s a downloadable digital toolkit to help!

Police Promotion Guides

Kind Regards, Steve

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