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So You Wanna Be a Sarge?

In a time when many officers are stepping down, you’re stepping up. Congrats. You have heard the call and you are answering. Not only do we need more GOOD cops, we need cops who can LEAD.

Whether you are a “born leader” with the chops for the job or whether you are still forging yourself to take the mantle, there are mindsets to adopt and skills to develop. Having the esteem of your peers and the resume to back it up won’t be enough.

Nearly all organizations have a promotional process governed by a combination of civil service guidelines, policy, external evaluators, and civilians from the community. Make sure you have your preparation dialed in, and like most things in our profession- training, practice, and preparation will help you win the day.


Who are you: as a cop, a person, and as a leader? If you are pausing to come with a fluffy interview answer, then you have work to do. Good news- we can start now. The most important thing in leading is your values. Your values are your compass. They help you navigate hard times and tip the scale during difficult decisions.

There are values that top our lists in police-work. Integrity. Service to others. These are great, but go deeper. What do they mean for you? Integrity may mean committing to goals you help your team set. Service may be creatively finding solutions instead of fixating on what we “can’t do.” Personalize your brand.

Your Brand

When you think of a major clothing manufacturer, chain restaurant, or car company you immediately start seeing images. You see people associated with those products. Types of lifestyles, personalities, and associations. We all have a “brand.” Whether or not you think about it, everyone in your life has a brand that is formed between what they put out and what you pick up.

Starting with your mindset, you can shape and form your brand. Your goal is to exude this attitude in your interactions, at work and at home. This is what you are all about. This is the type of cop you are. This is why you are the best candidate for promotion. When you live and act on your values in a meaningful way, people will pick up on it.

When you go into a promotional process, focus on this brand. Your goal should be for each assessor or interviewer to leave with a sense of “Candidate D.. that’s right. She was squared away. She talked about people first and worked a lot of her own cases. She always made it about the people she served.” “Ok, let’s look at Jones.. he was definitely a leader from the front. He was on the tactical team and developed training for all the guys on his shift.”

Often times you may be reviewed by a host of different people in various exercises or components of the process. Make sure you find ways to share your brand with them in the answers you provide or the presentations you compose.


Russell Wilson said “The separation is in the preparation.” He’s right. When it comes to officers that I’ve coached, at my own agency or from without, there is a strong correlation with those who prepare and rank highly on the list. This isn’t simply studying your policies or practicing answers to interview questions with your spouse or buddy. It is a combination of the themes mentioned prior and the categories listed below.

Know the Test. Most processes involve an orientation or at least a summary of the steps involved. Read this closely. If you are able to summarize it to someone else, then you have a strong understanding of it. Break it down and make notes and a plan to make sure you address each part of the test.

Reach Out. Chances are, this test isn’t one of a kind. Other people in your agency have taken something similar. Discuss and receive advice or feedback. This isn’t cheating. This is learning. There is a difference between asking for the answers to the test and asking for guidance on how you should prepare. That is what makes the difference between good officers and supervisors in the field- they know how to access resources and take the initiative to do so.

Study. Many processes involve a written exam component. This is where you hit the books. They should outline the material you are responsible for. If not, hone in on key criminal law, standard operating procedure, department polices, case law and even union contract rules. Make/print copies, highlight, take notes and make flash cards. Study with a friend who is testing as well- wouldn’t hurt to take the #1 and #2 spots on the list, right?

Anticipate. After you’ve been working through the above sections, you can plan on the types of questions or problems you may run into. This can come in the form of interview questions and scenarios. Most interviews ask about things they want you to prove. Think about what your agency wants in a leader. Problem solving? Working in a team through conflict? Accessing resources and engaging stakeholders for a solution? Of course. Man, that sounds good… write that down!

It pays to come up with those big calls or cases where you made the integral difference. The problems that arose where you facilitated and saw through a creative response and took the lead. Where you organized people and/or tasks to make things better at the present time- or better yet- the future.

Practice. “Practice makes perfect.” Some wiser people reframe, “Perfect practice makes permanent.” Focus on quality reps to ensure optimal performance. This means focusing on delivery of your role-playing scenarios and answering your interview questions. It might be helpful to write an outline of your desired responses, and ramble through the main points you want to hit in your free time. Eventually, it will make a critical difference when you graduate past this. You will want to take time to sit upright at a table, with ideal posture, inflexion, and a charismatic smile and body language. You will want to practice the flow and pace of your answers so you don’t sound scattered or choppy. You will want to get a sense of how long it takes for you to present your ideas, so you don’t rush or get cut off when you hit the time limit.


There are many components to most promotional processes. A holistic preparation for top performance will take preparing in a variety of modes. Investing time to study, plan and practice will allow for the greatest opportunity for success.

A leader is someone who goes the extra mile. True leaders foresee challenges and opportunities. They invest effort to refine and develop their skills so they can rise to the occasion and deliver for their teams. An effective testing process with an effective tester thus will produce a credible candidate list. Where you end up on that list is namely up to you. Good luck- or as Harvey Dent suggests in The Dark Knight- make your own.

You got questions? I got answers. Send me a message, comment, or hit me up @bluegritwellness on IG or . Your questions or topic could be featured!

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