What's Keeping You From Getting Promoted?

Aug. 1, 2008
Learning from mistakes and misfortunes for the fire service promotion.

Are you someone who was not promoted the first time you took a promotional examination? Are you a future promotional candidate who wants to learn what successful (and not-so-successful) fire service promotional candidates have done to get them into their present positions? Or, do you just want to learn as much as you can about what it takes to get promoted? Regardless of which category you fit into, there is always something more a promotional candidate can do to get promoted. The key is learning from your mistakes or misfortunes, as well as the mistakes or misfortunes of others, to ensure you are successful at future promotional examinations.

Many fire service promotional candidates cannot take responsibility and instead start blaming others for not getting promoted. If this is you, take a deep look at yourself and determine what you need to do to let go of your "baggage," and ultimately get promoted. Methods and techniques to accurately perform a self-assessment/evaluation and determine what it takes to make you go from being the person who died on the promotional list, who didn't make the promotional list or, even worse, was passed over to someone who smokes the promotional process the next time it is offered are the focus of this column. Nobody said it was going to be easy getting promoted. Until you realize you are part of the problem - and more importantly, part of the solution - you will not be successful at getting promoted!

It is imperative that fire service promotional candidates spend significant time and effort preparing for not only the promotional process itself, but more importantly for the position they aspire to. I think this statement is so important I will repeat it again to ensure you know how important it is: prepare for the position, not the promotional examination!

Most fire service promotional candidates never figure out what is keeping them from getting promoted. Look in the mirror, the answer is right there; something you are doing or not doing is keeping you from getting promoted. You need to set yourself up for success well before the promotional process to help reduce the chances you will have to take the promotional exam again.

If you do not take complete responsibility for your actions or non-actions and develop a plan of action to get promoted, you're going to continue to be the person who watches from the sidelines, second-guesses everything, remains bitter and frustrated, and is never able to let go of the fact you were not promoted. Why let that happen to you? Instead, do what it takes to let go of whatever is keeping you from getting promoted and do what it takes to turn yourself and your career around and pointed in the right direction!

What's Stopping You?

What keeps people from getting promoted?

A. First, I truly believe there are only two reasons people fail (or not do as well as they would like to do):

  • They are nervous.
  • They are unprepared.

You have the ability and the power to overcome both of those reasons. However, it won't be easy, and it will require some hard work and effort on your part.

B. Before we go any further, we need to look deeper, and realize that many things can cause someone to be nervous or unprepared. I like to think of those things in three separate categories, all of which will be focused on in-depth in the upcoming paragraphs:

  1. Promotional process-related items.
  2. Professional/career-related items.
  3. Personal/family/off-duty-related items.
  1. Promotional process related items:
    • Inability to meet the minimum qualifications.
    • Inability to meet any or all of the highly desirable qualifications.
    • Inability to complete the promotional application.
    • Inability to follow instructions/directions throughout the testing process.
    • Inability to pass the written examination.
    • Inability to pass the assessment center.
    • Inability to demonstrate you can hit the ground running, not as a "safe beginner," but as a promoted person who looks prepared for the position.
    • Inability to think "big picture."
    • Inability to understand or demonstrate the dimensions you are being evaluated on.
    • Inability to understand really what you are getting yourself into.
    • Inability to understand the entire job description of the position you aspire to.
    • Focusing too much on the promotional process and not focusing enough time on preparing for the position itself.
    • Inadequate fire behavior, building construction and strategy/tactics knowledge.
    • Lack of command presence.
    • Inability to prioritize what is really important.
    • Inability to make decisions.
    • Inability to adequately solve problems.
    • Inability to properly delegate.
    • Inability to demonstrate leadership ability.
    • Inadequate oral communication skills.
    • Inadequate written communication skills.
    • Inadequate time-management skills.
    • Inadequate organizational skills.
    • Inadequate planning skills.
    • Inability to take constructive criticism from your evaluators or your administration during or after the process.
    • Immaturity or lack of professionalism in your past or present or during the promotional process.
    • Inability to dress appropriately at any point of your career, past, present, and during the promotional process.
  2. Professional/career-related items:
    • Inability to follow instructions throughout your career.
    • Continued track record of being a part of the problem, and not the solution.
    • Getting involved in department-related functions, but only to build the resume.
    • Inability to build good working relationships with your co-workers, your supervisors, your union officials, your community, and your subordinates.
    • Not being open to others, regarding your interest and desire to get promoted.
    • Having a history of being tardy, or being absent on multiple occasions.
    • Having a history of discipline related problems throughout your career.
    • Having a history of starting and not completing projects, classes, etc.
    • Inability to set or follow through with professional goals.
    • Lack of formal education.
    • Lack of department involvement.
    • Lack of community involvement.
    • Lack of union involvement.
    • Lack of training and education (certifications/licenses, etc.)
    • Lack of work-related experience.
    • Lack of life experience.
    • Lack of "well-rounded" experience.
    • Inability to remember - the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior!
    • Inability to remember that the promotional process raters will typically come from neighboring departments. If they are aware of your past - and especially if it is less than stellar - it can work against you. Yes, the raters are supposed to be unbiased and not hold things you have done in the past against you. However, it is almost impossible for them to not be influenced positively, or even worse, negatively, which may have an outcome on your final score.
  3. Personal/family/off-duty-related items:
    • Ongoing history of family-related problems that continuously bleed over into the workplace and candidate's mental and/or physical status.
      • Can be personal medical problems.
      • Can be family medical problems.
      • Can be divorce- or separation-related problems.
      • Can be problems your children are having at school.
      • Can be financial problems.
      • Can be guilt from not spending enough time with your family.
      • Can just be life in general.
      • Can be past or recent problems.
    • Family commitments not allowing adequate time to prepare and study for the promotional examination.
    • Family commitments not allowing adequate time to get involved with your department - not only on duty, but off duty.
    • Family commitments not allowing adequate time to get involved with your community.
    • Family members that are not able to realize it is a full-time job getting promoted; you must almost live, sleep, breathe and be the position you aspire to.
    • Inability to have the support and by-in from your family to prepare for, let alone participate in a promotional process.
    • Personal negativity because of you having to miss a vacation because of a promotional process or, even worse, bypass the promotional process to take a vacation you were unable to reschedule.
    • Personal negativity because you are feeling your career is passing you by and that younger, less-experienced firefighters are going to pass you by and eventually be your supervisors if you don't get your act together.
    • Thinking that you're just wasting your time because the department already knows who they want to promote. Yes, that may be the case, but you can never be sure.
    • Fearing you may look bad in front of your supervisors and/or peers if you do not perform flawlessly. I hate to say it, but very few promotional candidates are ever flawless. Some are very well prepared, but nobody is perfect and the raters know that and don't expect you to be perfect, just yourself.
    • Feeling that another candidate is better than you for whatever reason. Maybe someone else or a group of candidates have more education, more experience, more training, more department involvement or anything that may make you look less qualified on paper. This is where many candidates miss the point: it is not you against them - it's you against yourself! If you don't do as well as the others, it's not their fault; it's because they obviously did something that made them look better than you.

Promotional Candidate Action Plan

Yes, I understand the above list is very long, and all of the above may or may not apply to you. How do you find out if they do apply to you and more importantly, get yourself from the rut of being negative into the sphere of being positive and, more importantly, successful?

  1. Start talking to those people in and above the positions you aspire to; get their feedback and constructive criticism. Encourage them to be brutally honest, open, up front and objective to how they perceive you. Also, ask them for their opinions on what you should be doing from this point out to get promoted. You may be surprised to hear what they have to say - and you also may not like what they say. However, be careful what you ask for!
  2. From this point out, stop blaming others and start taking responsibility and accountability for your actions and your future. Only you can get you promoted. It's amazing what a positive attitude can do for someone, not to mention how well others will now perceive you.
  3. Realize it is not going to be easy to get promoted, especially if you are finding yourself to be a continuous test taker or someone who keeps getting passed over by the person doing the promoting. There are obviously some reasons (hopefully those reasons are not illegal, unethical, immoral or just not right) you are not getting promoted. Hopefully, those in positions above you can open your eyes and you can do what it takes to "prove them wrong," and that they should take a chance on you in the future.
  4. Do not let yourself get frustrated, bitter, resentful, negative, or anything less than positive, mature and professional at all times. Doing so will only confirm the concerns others have about you and your ability to become a positive role model for the position you aspire to.
  5. Most importantly, prepare for the position you aspire to (actually one rank above the position, so you understand what your new supervisor will expect, and also because you may have to act in that capacity). Preparing for the position, as opposed to the promotional process, will allow you to handle anything that is thrown at you during the promotional process and, more importantly, after you are promoted.

Getting promoted in the fire service is not easy. What you get is what you give. I don't think anybody is a natural-born test taker or a natural born leader or officer. It takes a lot of hard work, effort, energy, time and even a little bit of luck to get promoted in the fire service. However, until you realize you are a part of both the problem and solution, you're never going to get promoted. Learn what it takes to really take a good look at how you are preparing yourself and how you are presenting yourself, and it may provide some great insight into what you need to be focusing on.

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, CFO, is a 16-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department, where he has worked since 1995. He is also an instructor in the Chabot College Fire Technology Program, where he teaches fire technology and EMS classes. Prziborowski is an executive board member and past president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. He has a master's degree in emergency services administration and is a student in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. Prziborowski is a state-certified Chief Officer and Master Instructor, and has earned designation as a Chief Fire Officer through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. To contact him, visit his website at www.chabotfire.com

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