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4 tips for correctional officers who were passed over for a promotion

A career is the sum total of your experiences, positive and negative


It’s a phrase often used by parents: “You can be anything you want to be.” This is wonderfully inspiring, but absolutely untrue when it comes to promotions. There will always be more qualified applicants for promotion than positions available. That will be the reality for every candidate, for every position from correctional officer all the way up to warden.

There are many articles that suggest ways to advance through the ranks via promotion. Instead, this article will detail insights and reflections for great correctional officers who discovered that even after their best efforts had been expended, the promotion belonged to someone else.

Mind you, this is coming from a man known as “Lieutenant Dan” who outlasted two chiefs that declared him too street oriented to ever be promoted to sergeant.

Here are four steps to follow after not being promoted.

1. Stay positive
Too often those who do not receive a coveted promotion are terribly demoralized by what should be seen as merely a set-back. As a result, these officers cause serious long-term damage to their career by outwardly showing negativity and sometimes even contempt.

In the midst of your justifiable disappointment, avoid saying things that may hurt others and that may also hurt you in your future career pursuits. It is easy in the heat of the moment to be a sore loser.

Avoid the temptation to be nasty to the person selected. Sadly, many important moments in our fellow officers’ careers are ruined by friends they hoped would be happy for them. Valuable friendships are irreparably damaged by a negative reaction.

Instead, prepare an acceptance speech in the event that you need to accept the disappointment of being passed over for the opportunity. Try this sound bite after being told of someone else’s promotion: “Thanks for letting me know.  I know he or she will do well. I will have to congratulate him or her.”

Then put this statement into action. Contact the person who was promoted and tell him or her that you are happy for them and they are deserving of the opportunity.  Recognize their strong work ethic and offer to be there for them if they are ever in need. Here is the trick though — you must be sincere.  You can even put it in writing or (better yet) send a card.

Being gracious not only impacts positively on others, but positively on you. Officers that miss out on a promotion rarely realize how close they may have come to being selected.  Your boss may be dying for another opportunity to promote you, but if you openly exhibit hostility and petty jealousy, this will negatively impact that intention.

Yogi Berra, the universally beloved New York Yankee catcher and manager, once observed that, “90 percent of the game is half mental.”  

Choose to stay positive.

2. Stay consistent
Avoid taking the path of the ROAD (retired on active duty).

Instead, do the job the way you always have done the job. Be the professional. Even better, take this opportunity to ask yourself and your immediate supervisor if there anything you can do to improve.  If advice is given, take it with gratitude.

Remind yourself that the good news is you get to continue to do what you love for a little while longer.

Never stop being the great correctional officer you always have been. It is the healthiest path.

Choose to stay consistent.

3. Stay persistent
Instead of becoming permanently damaged because of a decision that did not go your way, refuse to give up. After an honest assessment, if the promotion is what you wanted, try again and again and again.

Life is not a destination, but a journey. Take it from an old salt whose career is in the rear view mirror. A career is the sum total of your experiences, positive and negative. You can’t truly enjoy the positive without experiencing and surviving some negative.

Eventually you might conclude that not getting the promotion was the best thing that never happened to you. For every major change in life there is something gained, but also something that you must leave behind and quite possibly give up forever.

To illustrate this point we once again turn to Yogi Berra, who said, “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.”

A missed promotional opportunity may help you decide if you are ready to give up what you have now for what you will achieve. If you decide to try again, then you will be a more prepared and experienced candidate.

If you stay positive in attitude, consistent in your performance and persistent in your efforts to pursue that promotion, decision-makers will take notice.

Choose to stay persistent.

4. Make a decision
After taking the time for introspection, you might decide that you are happy where you are at and no longer need to pursue one more promotion. There is nothing wrong with this decision. Being truly satisfied is a sublime human condition.

On the other hand, if you find that you want something different, then go for it.

Deciding to pursue a promotion is as important a cross roads in a career as deciding to take the promotion.

If you discover at the next promotional opportunity you are unsure of what to do, you can refer to Yogi one last time. The brilliantly dyslexic wordsmith had this to say for this exact circumstance: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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