A merit promotion, in general, is a deserved advance into a higher position of employment. While many employers elevate workers on the basis of merit, the federal government's civil service system is perhaps the best-known example of a merit promotion system. Civil service means employment with any branch of government other than the military. Determination of merit is based on such factors as previous work performance, education, ability and competency.

Formal Application Process

Merit promotions are decided following a process that's similar in the private and public sectors. In general, a vacancy for an internal job is advertised to existing employees, who can then apply for consideration. This usually results in competition for the job, which allows employers to compare candidates. Applicants are reviewed by superiors and the qualified candidates are identified. A choice is based on a set of guiding principles designed to ensure the promotion goes to the candidate most qualified for the position.

Chief Program Principles

In civil service employment, as well as in other job sectors, certain principles guide the determination of the most deserving person for promotion. One common standard is nondiscrimination. A merit promotion does not discriminate with regard to race, gender, religion or age. It is not given on the basis of a person's affiliations and is not automatically given. Employees are retained and promoted on the basis on their work performance.

Attitude of Fairness

Merit promotions are not based on favoritism or political gain; they are considered fair and equitable. Equal opportunity is stressed in a transparent environment in which all employees can see the reason for promotion or the denial of advancement. The merit system is designed to allow workers the opportunity to move into higher positions by producing high quality work and proving their worthiness in ability. Supervisors are expected to give fair consideration to all applicants in an objective manner.

Controversial Selection Allegations

While the merit promotion process has much to recommend it, it is still a human system that's subject to flaws. Even with guiding principles in place, supervisors can ignore the most deserving candidates and instead choose candidates based on subjective factors rather than demonstrated ability and performance. Critics of the merit program argue that the process takes too long and is overly complicated; they argue that employers can determine the best person for the job without the convolution of a formal system.