After a lengthy public service embargo the competition is tough for promotion and lateral appointments. Sergeant Paul Franey presents a road map for success.
The sergeants list was published in May; if your name wasn’t on the list it’s time to start planning the next stage in your career progression. Leaving it to luck, chance or a simple belief it might just be your turn and sticking in a form when the next competition is advertised is not the most effective approach to getting promoted. Internal promotion competitions have very high numbers of applicants for a limited number of spaces. Those who want to be promoted in the next few years need to plan their strategy now.
Being a sergeant provides an opportunity to help build effective units and turn junior members into great Gardaí. The unit sergeant is probably the singularly most important promoted position in the organisation. Sergeants are tasked to keep the frontline going: If you have an interest in people and want to see policing done well, it’s likely to be the job for you.
It’s worth thinking through the goal to make sure it’s the right time for you. If you love operational policing, the office environment might not suit. While there are sergeant roles in charge of task force, community policing and detective units, almost all newly promoted members will be an SHO or unit sergeant for at least a few years. If you’re not ready to leave the patrol car behind then maybe a specialist unit might suit you better.
If you were to find yourself parading a unit of 15 members in a city-centre station on nights in a month’s time would you feel comfortable – or does the idea scare you? You should feel ready. Being nervous starting a new role is natural but you should be able to clearly and comfortably see yourself in the role. If you haven’t got a clear picture of what you would look like as a sergeant, you need to develop one; if you don’t see yourself as a sergeant nobody else will.
Before making any career move it’s good to write down and examine what drives you. Ask yourself the following questions: What motivates me? What work makes me feel valued? What work am I most proud of? What work do I enjoy so much that I don’t see time going by? If that work involved leading teams, setting standards and helping others develop; your motivation is aligned to a supervisory role. Career progression can be lateral as well as horizontal. Success is not all about promotion. There are also practical implications like family circumstances and possible travel times to consider.
Focus on Performance
There’s good and bad news on the goals front. Starting with the bad news, you have no control over the end goal, whether or not you get that promotion depends on the decision of an interview board. You’re wasting time if you’re obsessing on the end goal. While you should have a clear vision of yourself as a confident and competent sergeant, you will benefit more from a performance-related focus.
What you do have control over are the multitude of performance goals that you will need to set and achieve if you are to proactively build a strong case to influence the interview board into selecting you. Every arrest, every court case, every operation or incident you go to is an opportunity to display your confidence and competence. Getting to the end goal of promotion is the consequence of a series of competently executed performance goals over a period of time; goals you do have control over.
There are eight competencies on the Garda to Sergeant promotion form. These took a team of experts months of interviewing members across the organisation to develop and while they are around almost 20 years, the fundamental building blocks of the sergeant’s role haven’t changed very much. These present eight opportunities for you to sell yourself. You will need at least two relevant examples for each competency to walk comfortable into an interview and sell yourself. This is where planning ahead is key. Waiting until a competition is advertised to start filling out a form is often too late.
Ideally you should be planning your career development path at least a couple of years in advance. If you don’t have two excellent examples for each competency you need to be proactive and get yourself some. It’s also vital to remember that you are going for a sergeant’s role. Your examples should reflect the role that you are applying for and not the one you are doing. If you want to be a sergeant, you need to show you’re operating at a level above where you are now. Excellent examples are ones that are very relevant to the supervisory focussed indicators being measured. They don’t have to be exciting and dramatic; they have to reflect closely what is being looked for.
People who develop clear plans in writing are much more likely to achieve them. Thinking about your career development is only useful to a point. For you to really excel, it is highly recommended that you have a plan, on paper, clearly setting out where you want to be and the steps that you are going to take to get there. It provides goal clarity in your subconscious mind, you essentially make a contract with yourself. It also gives you something concrete to review and update as you make progress.
Proactive Goal Setting
Set yourself goals that will show you as both competent and proactive.
1) you’ll be able to clearly demonstrate a competency for the interview board and talk it through in detail;
2) you’ll appear proactive and professional to the sergeant and superintendent who are tasked with writing on your interview form and marking you on each competency;
3) setting goals and achieving them makes you more confident. It can start a cycle of achievement and success that builds upon itself.
For some inspiration have a look at some of the top gardaí in your Division. Are you one of them? If not what are they doing differently to you? There are members in every area of policing going above and beyond and doing excellent ‘proactive’ work. If you want your career to progress you need to be one of them.
The goal can be a policing operation targeting a local crime problem, a community policing initiative, a short awareness/training project or taking on the role of tutoring a probationer Garda. Find a local – or national – problem that needs tackling and do something to address it. If you’re struggling for ideas, talk to your colleagues, your sergeant, inspector or superintendent. Your sergeant and superintendent will be rating you and you can be guaranteed they’ll have plenty of suggestions.
Qualifications and Courses
The only academic qualification you need for promotion to the rank of sergeant is the Sergeants Promotion Examination. You don’t have to have a degree in management to go forward and be successful. If you don’t have any relevant third level qualifications it might be an idea to look at doing a course to support career advancement. If money is tight there are some excellent on-line courses in a whole range of disciplines, many of them free. They might not be as widely recognised as a management degree from a national university, but they do show an interest.
If you have a clear plan outlining your end goal and the performance goals you are going to undertake to help get you there, you need to decide how much effort you’re going to put in to achieve it. Truly career-focussed individuals work every day to be the kind of employee they see in the role they want to be in next. If you want to be a sergeant you need to start thinking and acting like one. If you’re not sure what that looks like, pick out the supervisors in your Division that you respect the most. Identify what’s really good about them and it will help you set a clear target to achieve.
Do your colleagues think you’d be a good sergeant? Does your sergeant think you’d be suitable for the role? Does your inspector or superintendent see you as someone they would want running a unit in the District? Does your Divisional Officer know who you are? If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’ you need to ask yourself “why?” The general consensus of your colleagues should be that ‘you will be on the next sergeants list’.
Talk to People
If your supervisor and managers don’t know you are interested in promotion they are probably not going to see you as future leadership material. The first your superintendent hears about your interest in career progression should not be when your form lands on their desk with 20 others for rating a week before a competition deadline. A key way that really successful individuals become successful is by identifying people who have excelled in a relevant field and then modelling themselves on them. Talk to people who have had successful careers about how they did it. It’s that simple. People generally enjoy talking about themselves so ask their advice on the best way forward.
The minute you start having that conversation with your managers they start to see you in a different light.
Very few people get promoted first time round and many don’t get promoted the second or third time either. Many managers had to go again and again for each rank. If you get a letter saying you haven’t been successful, seek feedback and start again on your plan.
Focus on performance rather than end goal; you should be in a much better position to sell yourself as the candidate of choice.
See the previous article in this series: Promote Yourself
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.