In Part 1 of this two-part blog on police promotion processes, I covered some of the challenges facing candidates in this zeitgeist of UK police promotion, whereby officers must adapt to the postcode lottery in place within their force. Reacting to the change and saying ‘It’s not fair!’ is simply not a productive approach. You should certainly ‘be careful what you wish for’ to take its place!

In this blog I will summarise my ‘Routes to Promotion’ infographic to show the lay of the land, demonstrate that change is the only constant within UK promotion processes and frameworks, then give you a perspective on useful approaches to best navigate whatever gets thrown at you.

“It is very difficult to teach navigation to someone who clings to the shore.” – Carol Bly

Note that I have also published a couple of YouTube videos about this postcode lottery; view them on my Rank Success channel and subscribe to stay up to date:

8 Key Routes to Police Promotion

UK promotion process

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

Here’s a summary of the main routes to promotion, which I’ve peppered with resources and further reading to help supercharge your preparation:

Written Applications: This could take the form of anything from a letter to the Chief Constable (essentially answering the promotion question “Why You? Why Now?”), a personal statement, a recommendation report from your line manager, or a more traditional competency-based booklet application. Either way, promotion applications can be brutal and word limits are important! Preparing a personal statement is always a useful exercise.

Interviews: You might face a formal promotion board or a more ‘informal’ discussion. Your preparation will determine whether this feels like a professional conversation or a hellish experience! Mock boards can help build confidence. You may face forward- or rear-facing questions. A newer addition has been strengths-based interviews. Police promotion boards are also looking for other attributes in candidates, as I outline in my ‘7 Things’ blog series. In addition, the interview questions are predictable, particularly with the detailed question bank in the Rank Success Interview guide.

Assessment Centres:  These are a mixed experience of assessment tests, psychometrics, role-plays, and/or interviews. Whatever you’re facing, help is at hand. For example, getting some structure to your briefings, or practicing the kind of assessment tests you will face in police assessment centres.

Presentations: These might form part of an assessment centre, interview or a bespoke step in the force promotion process. The ‘Rule of Threes’ is a useful place to start your preparations. You may also want to raise your awareness of strategic thinking tools, e.g. a policing PESTLE.

Aptitude Tests: Various psychometric tests might involve things like Situational Judgement Tests, Written Exercises, In-Tray / E-Tray exercises and more. You can prepare by familiarising yourself with and practicing the tests you will face.

Behavioural Framework: UK police forces still vary in the behavioural framework used to assess candidates in interviews, written applications and assessments. Most now use the CVF, but some have local adaptations. For example, Police Scotland specify different values, while I know of one force who this year have decided to assess Sergeant candidates at Level 1, rather than the usual Level 2! I encourage Chief Inspector candidates to be aware of Level 3 of the CVF. In my guides, I lay out the role of Sergeant and Inspector in a timeless fashion. ‘Learning to love’ the CVF is a good starting point. Police Scotland candidates face a local adaptation of the CVF.

Your PDR / Performance: Some forces use your recent annual performance rating, or comparison against your in-year objectives, as part of the promotion process. This is contentious and criticised by many who dislike the PDR process, which varies massively between forces. However, as discussed later in this blog, be careful what you wish for because…

Chief Constable’s Discretion: How about UK policing goes back to when Chief Constables used their power of discretion? They promoted individuals there and then, on the spot. “Come by my office on Monday, you’re now an Inspector. Congratulations.” A swift promotion ‘In the field’ based on subjective perception, discretion or judgement is not unheard of; some might argue swayed as a ‘reward’ for loyalty, delivering a piece of work, nepotism or more nefarious motivations. What say you?

Promotion support for inspectors and sergeants
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Plus Ca Change…

Promotion processes are similar

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” – The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In one sense, the more things change with promotion, the more things stay the same. Over the last few years for example, Metropolitan police promotion candidates in particular have had to navigate more assessment methods and frameworks than you can shake a stick at. The Metropolitan Performance Framework (MPF), its successor the Metropolitan Leadership Framework (MLF), then finally adopting the Competency & Values Framework (CVF)!

Other forces in England & Wales went through the Integrated Competencies Framework (ICF) to the Policing Professional Framework (PPF), before arriving at the CVF. Police Scotland operated a local framework of competencies before implementing a tailored version of the CVF. The only certainty is that forces will change selection processes regularly.

With most UK forces now adopting the CVF, there is some consistency at least, but guess what? Some candidates like it, many don’t.

“Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours. – Richard Bach.

It doesn’t help when nearly 50 forces chop and change, mix and match and apply their own ‘flavour’ to selection processes. However, forces may argue they are being progressive, listening and trying above all not to discriminate and to be as fair as possible to all those who wish to progress their careers. Chief constables cannot please everyone all the time, and are experienced enough at least not to even think about trying. 

The simple situation in all forces is that there are more qualified, aspiring, determined, enthusiastic and ambitious candidates than there are Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector vacancies available. Ergo, competition.

Reactions to Change

Approaches to police promotion

“Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving and progressing. – Mandy Hale

People react to change and the challenge of a promotion process in a variety of ways, commonly seen among candidates preparing for promotion:

  • Victim: Victims panic about impending change, alarmed and/or upset that what served them before may not work in future. Whether resisting, reverting to old ways, or taking it personally, it’s not a path to success.
  • Critic: Critics focus on the flaws of new methods, putting their energy into resisting or being a vocal opposition. Whether it’s criticising what’s in place or what’s coming, they’re everywhere. As I describe in Part 1, it is the critics who also instigate changes in the promotion process, adding to the ‘routes to promotion’! This attitude is distracting at best, diverting your energy, drive and enthusiasm in the wrong direction.
  • Bystander: Reluctant to take charge of their destiny, bystanders wait for it all to blow over. They rarely adapt their style or preparation to the challenge they face. They often find themselves a mismatch to the type of candidate their force seeks and fail to make the commitment required.
  • Navigator: Navigators don’t let themselves become embroiled in emotional reactions or theoretical debates. They recognise it’s a competitive process and set about finding a route through. Like the Einstein quote, they apply themselves to ‘learning the rules of the game, then playing better than everyone else’ in order to prevail. It’s also a mindset that will serve any leader well once promoted.

Whatever your promotion process looks like, your aim is to become unconsciously competent!

Flight of the Navigator

Navigate police promotion successfully

“Becoming is better than being. – Carol Dweck

Nostalgia alert: Remember the original ‘Flight of the Navigator’? This 1986 sci-fi film is about a boy abducted by an alien spaceship, finding himself years later caught in a world that has changed around him. He takes a big risk to successfully navigate his way back home, while holding a great deal of useful information intuitively within his own mind. A remake is planned.

Officers may feel the promotion process in their force is somewhat alien, compared with extensive practical experience as a cop. Coaching can help tap into existing knowledge and potential of candidates. I believe mindset and motivation are key to successful promotion, and so cover these topics in my promotion masterclasses and digital guides. It isn’t just good theory – it clearly works! The above quote is from Carol Dweck, a leading author on the importance of mindset. I have blogged before on mindset, but it can be summarised through the following graphic by Nigel Holmes:

Growth mindset to promotion

When change happens, some officers begin familiarising themselves with it. For example, aligning existing supporting evidence against new competencies, making a case for being promoted. Others view it as a new barrier or obstacle. Mindset is clearly a major factor – what will yours be?

There is no single best way to promote officers. Whichever selection process or combination of tests are introduced, those who are in the promotion ‘game’, will need to learn the rules (whatever they are) and then play them better than anyone else. This has always been the case to stack the odds of this ‘postcode lottery’ in your favour. Some might argue that just by availing yourself of a digital promotion toolkit, you have gained for yourself an unfair advantage: with detailed information about the role, various promotion processes, practice police promotion questions, example evidence and helpful information on effective techniques.

See you later, navigator!


If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend my Police Promotion Masterclass or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a bunch of free guides plus free blog content both here on my Rank Success Blog and via my Police Hour articles.

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