A few times a week, I get phone calls or emails from people trying to find out why they have yet to be promoted or hired (if from the outside applying for a position). Either they failed the recent promotional exam or they did not score high enough to get promoted and they seem to want to blame everyone but themselves for their misfortune. Most of the time, when people ask my advice, they usually start off with something to the effect of "what more do I need to obtain in the way of education, training, and/or experience."
After reviewing their resume (which I usually ask them to provide), the majority of the time I say I cannot really see anything else you need to do except do better at the oral interview process. Don't get me wrong, there are some that have no education short of a high school diploma and their experience consists of showing up to work at the fire station every day, basically working 8 to 8 and then out the gate, and not giving anything back to their department or their community on or off duty. There are also some that show the only certifications they ever received were those in the recruit academy 10 years ago when they were hired. That doesn't say much when all you can offer is what your department told you to attend, as opposed to what you chose to attend and actually attended on your own time and dime.
Instead of blaming others for why you're not getting promoted, take an honest look in the mirror (yes, it sucks when you do a reality check and you realize you may be part of the problem - but also part of the solution) and evaluate what you can do differently the next go around. Obviously if there are multiple events during the promotional assessment center (assuming there is one), you need to be able to pass all of those events. The best way to pass all the events is to prepare for the position, not just the test. If you prepare for the position, it shouldn't matter what they throw at you during the assessment center.
Back to the oral interview process. In many departments, the oral interview makes up a big portion of the overall ranking on the eligibility list. Yes, more and more departments are using an assessment center which may consist of multiple events to determine who the best promotional candidate will be, and these events may include but are not limited to the oral interview, a personnel counseling scenario, a writing exercise, and/or a fireground simulation exercise. Regardless of what a department uses to evaluate promotional candidates, it will usually contain an oral interview.
The oral interview panel is not necessarily looking for the most qualified person or the best resume (there really is no such thing - best resume is very subjective. What's the best resume, the most education? the most training? the most experience? See where I'm going?). The oral interview panel is looking for a number of things. They are looking for someone who will be a good fit for the position and for their culture. They are looking for someone who will be low maintenance (easy to supervise and someone who is a self-starter and won't be part of the problem). They are looking for someone who can be a safe beginner who will hit the ground running. They are looking for someone they like, someone that they could work for and work with. Oral boards can be subjective, but that's the good part in some ways, at least from the oral board side of things. Too many times the folks with the "best resumes" (remember, there is no such thing, just a perception by those who think they have the best resume) don't get the job because they're not the best fit or for the above reasons they just click with the oral board. Don't take it personal; it wasn't meant to be.
Ultimately if you don't get the position, don't blame the oral board panel. Blame yourself for not putting your best foot forward. Or maybe it wasn't meant to be. Maybe you put your best foot forward and at the end of the day it wouldn't have been a great marriage to have you work for them. Better to find that sooner than later, especially after you start working there!
Keep the faith, if you want to get promoted bad enough, it will eventually happen when the stars line up - assuming you don't give up. Anything worth having in life takes hard work to get, so keep plugging away and when it's meant to be, it will be meant to be!