Promotional processes: Elements to consider

Promoting the people with the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to the right roles at the right time is a key component of any talent management strategy. After all, people are the most important asset the fire sector has.


A workforce plan should analyse the current workforce, determining future needs and identifying any short-, medium- and long-term gaps. Each service should then be aware of these gaps at each level and engage in proactive succession planning, which will play a key part in ensuring that employees are nurtured and developed ready for the opportunities ahead (see the NFCC Workforce Plan guide and Workforce Planning Policy).


An open, fair, transparent and robust promotional process is essential to identify and develop people with potential who are keen to progress.


Benefits of a promotional process

Having a promotional process in place:

  • Provides consistency and transparency, removing bias
  • Links development to progression and promotion
  • Supports employees’ ambitions
  • Promotes succession planning and ensures the people with the right skills are in the right roles
  • Enhances employee engagement, attraction and retention
  • Fosters a culture that supports employees’ development and progression


The stages of a promotional process

A promotional process may include some or all of the following stages.


Eligibility Consider any essential criteria required prior to application. These could include but are not limited to:

·         Qualifications

·         Operational and professional competence

·         Performance record

·         Any outstanding disciplinary or capability issues

·         Line manager support

·         Existing grade, level or role

·         Time in current role


Application process and sifting Think about the purpose of the application process and what it needs to achieve:

·         Is it purely to sift and select candidates?

·         Is this also a development opportunity? If so, how will development be achieved?

·         How will candidates be selected?

·         What are the selection criteria?

·         How is this part of the process fair and transparent?


Consider how candidates will be sifted and progressed following the application process. Ensure that the process is:

·         Transparent

·         Fair

·         Consistent


Provide feedback and development opportunities to those who are unsuccessful at this stage.


You will find more information, guidance and examples on the NFCC Recruitment Hub.


Assessment Most processes will include one or more methods of assessment; some examples appear in the table below.


Skills, knowledge, capabilities, behaviours and potential can be difficult to test in an interview alone, so consider using additional selection methods involving an Assessment and Development Centre (ADC) to help identify the best candidates.


ADCs allow candidates to demonstrate their skills using a range of objective methods.


It’s vital to determine the assessment criteria at an early stage in order to be transparent and consistent. Considerations include:

·         The NFCC Leadership Framework

·         The service’s competency framework

·         The service’s values

·         The Core Code of Ethics


Scoring It’s important to ensure interviewers and assessors score and evaluate in a consistent way. This can be supported by:

·         Using a standardised template to record responses

·         Taking factual notes on what was said rather than recording impressions or making judgements

·         Using a rating scale and applying it consistently to all candidates

·         Making sure that all candidates are familiar with the application of the rating scale and behavioural indicators relating to each selection criterion

Development Promotional processes are about more than selection and promotion. Evaluating and supporting development needs is an essential part of the wider talent management strategy.


Creating talent pools allows the structured development of successful candidates before they begin a new role (see the NFCC Talent Pool guide).


When deciding what to include in any development programme or career pathway, one important factor to consider is alignment with the NFCC Core Learning Pathways.


There are many ways in which individuals can develop. The Talent Management Toolkit provides guidance on some of these.


Selection and allocation of roles A clear and transparent process on how roles are allocated following any promotional process should be communicated widely.


Feedback Feedback is an essential part of any promotional process, and it should be offered to all applicants, regardless of the outcome.

Without feedback, incorrect assumptions can be made and candidates will not develop and grow from their experience.


Feedback should be based on what has been observed and should be factual but not judgemental. It should include specifics, which can illustrate the feedback and avoid any ambiguity.


Following any kind of assessment, feedback on the following areas will enable the candidate to develop and grow:

·         Full details of the candidate’s performance in the assessment

·         Summary of key strengths and development needs

·         Suggestions and support for compiling a development plan

More information on how to provide feedback to candidates is available on the NFCC Recruitment Hub.

Evaluation Reflecting on the success of any promotional process is worthwhile and encourages continuous improvement. It can provide invaluable information, especially if feedback is constructive and provides new ideas on how things are being done.


Feedback should be sought from candidates, assessors and hiring managers, along with any other key stakeholders. This will then aid reflection on what worked well and what needs to be improved when amending or developing future processes.


Some examples of data or management information (MI) that it could be useful to collate are:

·         The impact of specific talent management activities on underrepresented groups

·         The time and cost involved in filling roles, especially business-critical ones

·         Cost savings as a result of effective succession planning (period of time position is vacant, internal versus external recruitment costs, etc.)

·         Implementation and embedding of clear and transparent processes

·         Tangible outcomes from development programmes and talent pools

·         Success rates of promotional processes

·         Appointments from fast-track and talent pools

·         Appointment of planned successors

·         Average time in roles prior to progression


Appeal process A clearly articulated and widely shared appeal process will enable candidates to appeal against decisions in respect of promotional opportunities.


Consider on what grounds appeals will be heard – for example, when a candidate feels that due process has not been followed. Appeals due to general frustration at non-selection should be avoided.




Throughout the process, it’s important to ensure that support is available to all potential candidates and that reasonable adjustments are made wherever necessary.


Using an Equality Impact Assessment to assess a promotional process will help identify potential areas to address and plan how to remove any identified barriers.  



Methods of assessment

Interviews Several types of interview question can be used depending upon the area of focus.


Competency-based questions

In competency-based questions, the focus is on the things that candidates can do, so they would be expected to give examples to demonstrate this. These can draw on either their work environment or their personal life. Questions should be clearly linked to the competencies identified as being most important to the role.

Consider how a successful answer will be measured and scored, too. In most cases, the questions should be aligned with the NFCC Leadership Framework, the service’s internal competency framework, the Core Code of Ethics and/or specific role requirements.


Strengths-based questions 

This type of question explores what the candidate enjoys doing or does well and gives them an opportunity to talk about their practical or team working skills and/or how they perform under pressure.


Technical questions 

These questions test job-related knowledge and the candidate’s understanding of work processes, and so implicitly require some related work experience.


Situational judgement questions

This type of question asks candidates to describe how they would react in a typical work situation so they can demonstrate their ability to solve problems, make decisions and work with others.


Values-based and behaviour-based questions

These can be used to identify whether the candidate shares the service’s values, exhibits appropriate behaviours, understands the culture and will be able to live and work in line with these. The questions are designed to allow candidates to demonstrate their values and behaviours and how they approach different situations.



Motivational questions 

This type of interview question helps assess what motivates or drives a candidate and thereby evaluate whether they will find the job role satisfying and rewarding to make sure they fit in well in the service.


Refer to the interview question database on the NFCC Recruitment Hub for further information.


Role play Role play exercises can be carried out in several different ways, such as a one-to-one meeting, a multiple role play (with more than one other participant), face-to-face or over the telephone.


Candidates are given a particular role and asked to deal with other people in a specific scenario. The scenarios should reflect common work situations and can be used to assess how a candidate can perform in this situation and under pressure.


Role play actors may be used and assessors observe the candidates during the exercise.


Technical assessments A technical assessment is likely to include some elements of the role for which the candidate is applying. It could include analysis, undertaking part of the role or a demonstration.


Report writing and written exercises Written exercises are a useful tool to help you assess a candidate’s verbal comprehension and communication skills where these are a crucial part of the role. The exercise can take the form of writing a report, composing emails, or any other job-related written task. Written exercises also make it possible to assess a candidate’s ability to work quickly, accurately and decisively under time pressure.


Presentations Presentations are especially useful where formal communication is part of the role; however, they can also be used to assess oral communication, specific areas of knowledge and the ability to plan and organise information.


The most common approach is to provide the presentation topic in advance of the assessment and ask the candidate to supply their digital presentation a few days in advance, allowing a reasonable length of time to prepare. This will enable you to assess their ability to prepare, meet deadlines, use IT, research and communicate a prepared message and understand a specified topic.


In order to assess a candidate’s ability to communicate in the moment and under a certain amount of time pressure, ask them to arrive 20 minutes in advance of their scheduled interview time and present them with a more generic topic, giving them 10–15 mins to plan their presentation with the aid of a flip chart and the notes they have just prepared.


Staff forums A staff forum is usually used at more senior levels. It could include a cross-section of staff from the service or a given department. In a staff forum, colleagues ask the candidate questions on a broad range of topics or a more specific area.


Psychometrics Psychometrics is the science of psychological assessment and psychometric tests are assessments that provide a fair and objective way of measuring a range of attributes, such as interpersonal style and aptitude.


These are often online tests that produce standardised measures of abilities such as problem-solving, numeracy, verbal reasoning or personality preferences and leadership styles.


Media assessments Media assessments will only be used if TV, radio and/or social media interactions are part of the role for which the candidate is applying. They could include a ‘live’ TV or radio interview on a specific topic, or analysing and responding to social media comments.


In-tray exercises An in-tray exercise typically simulates some of the planning and administrative aspects of a role. It assesses organisation and prioritisation skills and involves asking candidates to deal with the contents of an in-tray (which can include things like telephone messages, letters and emails).


Candidates need to identify how they would prioritise the tasks, work through any instructions and make decisions based on the information provided.


Group exercises These are timed discussions where candidates work together to complete a task, solve a problem or discuss key issues and are observed by assessors. The assessors look for how candidates interact with each other.


They can test influencing and persuasion skills, teamwork, creativity or building on and supporting the ideas of others. The exercise can be based on different scenarios, such as reviewing a standard operating procedure, developing a strategy, delivering a service or project or managing an event.


Analysis exercises Candidates are given relevant information to form the basis of a written report, a letter or a recommended action plan. This can be particularly useful for more senior roles, as it can be challenging and require high levels of problem-solving ability. It tests the candidate’s ability to understand, interpret and present information, as well as their communication skills.



More information and examples of recruitment and assessment processes and materials can be found on the NFCC Recruitment Hub.



For every assessment method, it’s important to ensure that support is available to all potential candidates and that reasonable adjustments are made wherever necessary.


Using an Equality Impact Assessment will help identify potential areas to address and plan how to remove any identified barriers.  



Some questions to consider

Are you:

  • Linking the need for progression to your service’s workforce plan?
  • Using your service’s succession plans?
  • Confident that you have consulted and engaged with all stakeholders, including any representative bodies?
  • Providing a promotion panel and assessors that represent your service’s diverse workforce?
  • Collating and analysing data and MI at each stage of the process?
  • Using technology in the best and most efficient way?
  • Communicating clear, consistent and transparent processes for progression?
  • Confident that you are supporting all candidates and potential candidates equally, making reasonable adjustments where required?
  • Using an Equality Impact Assessment to assess your promotional process, help identify potential areas to address and plan how to remove any identified barriers?
  • Building in scrutiny at key stages of the process?
  • Supporting equal opportunities for all employees regardless of contract, role or level?
  • Evaluating and learning from the process?
  • Integrating the new promotional policy or process with career pathways and development?
  • Incorporating your service values and Core Code of Ethics, where applicable?
  • Utilising internal and external specialist support, if required?
  • Providing feedback and development support to all candidates?
  • Always looking at ways in which the process could be enhanced to incorporate internal and external good practice?
  • Using the NFCC Talent Management Maturity Model to benchmark your current and future positions?