One common plot element is a low-level worker who rises to the top of the command structure in his organization through hard work, persistence and skill. This trope is when a low-level worker is suddenly raised to a high position simply because he acted in a heroic manner and saved the day during a dangerous situation, regardless of his actual qualifications.
Consider Bob, a worker on a starship who would like to be captain, but is too young and inexperienced. One day there's a disaster aboard ship and Bob saves everyone by bravely risking his life to shut down the ship's main reactor before it explodes and kills everyone. The ship's captain was killed in the accident and Bob is unanimously chosen as the new captain, even though he's completely unqualified to captain a spaceship.
- You Are in Command Now: Bob becomes captain because everyone higher in his chain of command is dead.
- Closest Thing We Got: Bob becomes captain of the starship because he's the only person on board with space experience.
- Falling into the Cockpit: Bob becomes captain of the starship because he happens to be on the bridge when all of the other bridge personnel are killed.
- Expose the Villain, Get His Job: Bob becomes captain because he found out that the previous captain was the villain and put a stop to his Evil Plan.
- Cincinnatus: Bob is given the power but resolutely refuses to keep it.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Bob is in charge because he can fight really well.
- After the Time Skip, most of the heroes of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann find themselves leading the new planetary government. This is examined in greater detail than in most series: While they're all extremely popular with the people at large, what with the whole liberating humanity thing, the majority have no interest in or aptitude for politics, and hand off the real responsibilities to people who actually know what they're doing.
- Averted in the 2011 Free Comic Book Day story for Atomic Robo. Emma both manages to distract Dr. Dinosaur and get him into position for the team to take him down through an act of recklessness, and finished the life's work of one of Robo's former employees... but he points out that he can't hire her because she's roughly ten years old — he says she has a shot at it once she's older if she plays her cards right, though.
- In Angels & Demons, before it turns out he was the man responsible for it being there the first place, the cardinals seriously consider making Father Patrick McKenna the new Pope for saving the Vatican city from an Antimatter bomb by flying it away to a safe distance in a helicopter.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers starts out as a fresh private who becomes Captain America for propaganda purposes, but is made an official captain after his rescue of imprisoned troops and capture of HYDRA weaponry.
- In the Medals for Everyone ending of Evolution, Wayne is made a firefighter despite having failed his exam at the beginning of the film. He actually shows that he is qualified throughout the film (by driving a fire truck, operating the hose, and being generally heroic), but not in a way that the authority figures would be aware of it.
- The Last Starfighter. During the movie the entire Starfighter corps was wiped out, leaving only Alex Rogan to fight the Ko-Dan Armada. He succeeds in destroying it, and at the end of the movie, the leader of the Star League asks him to rebuild the Starfighter corps. There's just one problem: although Alex is the best Starfighter alive (mainly because he's the only Starfighter alive), he has no particular organizational/military skills or experience, which would be required to perform such a task. (And in this context, "Starfighter" is really another word for "Gunner".)
- In Mannequin, Jonathan Switcher gets hired by the mall after he saves the boss from a falling billboard.
- Protocol: Goldie Hawn plays a cocktail waitress who stops an assassination attempt on a Middle-Eastern ambassador and is therefore hired by the US government as a top level State Department protocol official.
- Star Trek (2009): James Kirk gets promoted to captain of the USS Enterprise after saving the Earth from Nero despite the fact he graduated from the academy less then a week earlier and already didn't have a spotless discipline record. This then gets Deconstructed in Star Trek Into Darkness when it turns out that he's not emotionally mature enough to be the captain, which he himself realizes.
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace:
- Jar Jar Binks goes straight from being banished to being a general after helping the Nabooan humans and the Gungans get along. And then soon after the droid threat is gone he becomes a senator.
- Obi-Wan gets promoted from Padawan to Jedi Knight after defeating Darth Maul, even though he never seems to face the trials.
- In the live-action Thunderbirds movie, Alan Tracy gets made a full member of the team after saving the day... despite the fact he's only 14 YEARS OLD!!
- At the end of Book 2 of the Lone Wolf series Fire on the Water, Lone Wolf is granted the title of "Fryearl" and custody of the lands surrounding the remains of the Kai monastery after he rallied Sommerlund's Durenese allies and slew Darklord Zagarna with the legendary Sommerswerd.
- One of Ciaphas Cain's earlier adventures recounts that the men who were with him during the desperate defense of the local Arbites (police) station against invading genestealers were all promoted in the end. They were there in the first place because they'd become drunk and rowdy in the local bars and brothels; he was just there to get them out of custody. One Guardsman even notes that his new officer stripes just don't feel right, but Cain makes him a lot happier by remarking that a man of his discipline record won't keep them long.
- Used literally in Harry Potter when after the second wizarding war Kingsley Shacklebolt, newly appointed Minister of Magic, decreed that anyone who participated in the Battle of Hogwarts could start training to be an auror regardless of educational qualifications, stating that being in the battle in itself satisfied the skill and personality requirements necessary. This includes Harry and Ron who never went for their final year, and Neville who failed to qualify for a subject generally required for the job.
- General Bubuta Bokh from Labyrinths of Echo was a great hero during their civil war and once saved the King's life. The problem: he was good on a battlefield, but as a chief of police this rustic Boisterous Bruiser is comically incompetent — all the time. The only thing he does well is roaring and swearing at perps... or anyone in range who annoys and does not outrank him, for that matter.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme protests, and learns why
"Are you the new recruit?" said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. "All right. You are engaged."
Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.
"I really have no experience," he began.
"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the Battle of Armageddon."
"But I am really unfit——"
"You are willing, that is enough," said the unknown.
"Well, really," said Syme, "I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test."
"I do," said the other—"martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day."
- Military science fiction Victoria has this, since it takes place during a revolution. While the secessionists have actual generals among their ranks, protagonist John Rumford (a discharged Marine Corps captain and subsequent militia leader) is the man ultimately made chief of the general staff, in recognition of his heroic organizing and guerrilla work so far, which has greatly impressed Governor Adams. Hearing Rumford in person finally confirms to him that he is indeed the right man for the job.
- Merlin: Merlin gets his job as Arthur's manservant as a 'reward' from Uther for saving Arthur's life.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A war hero from the Bajoran resistance to the Cardassian occupation gets a new title dedicated to him, Navarch, as well as becoming the Bajoran liaison to Deep Space Nine. He feels qualified for neither.
- This has tragic consequences in Third Watch. "Doc" is a highly competent and heroic paramedic who regularly declines promotions to supervisor because it is a desk job. He is finally guilted into taking the promotion after nine-eleven but it soon becomes apparent that he cannot handle the job. When he is fired he has a nervous breakdown and ends up taking the fire station hostage.
- In BattleTech, an infantry soldier or vehicle crewmember who managed to capture an enemy Battlemech intact (or at least in a fixable position) will often be offered the option to becoming the mech's next pilot. This also can occur in the event that a mechwarrior brings down an enemy mech that's substantially better than their own.
- In Shadowrun Returns, the Player Character can become Head of Security for Telestrian Industries' Seattle branch due to saving the CEO's daughter (and Seattle) through an act of heroism... But also because you successfully broke into the branch earlier, causing Telestrian to terminate his last Head of Security.
- Noob: La Croisée des Destins inverts this in a "villainy equals job qualification" sense. In real life, Gaea is a Starving Student living off a scholarship that she's trying to stretch as long as she can according to All There in the Manual. In the MMORPG that she's playing, she manages to put a whole in-game faction in debt to her via earning in-game currency as a Con Woman with a thing for Blackmail, saving it for years, spending it all in creating a shortage of basic materials in a time of high demand, and reselling it all at inflated prices. This impresses a minor character enough to offer to hire her into a high-level job in a notoriously corrupt bank.
- An example that shows why this is a bad idea in real life is Ulysses S. Grant, who was nominated as the Republican candidate because of his record in the Civil War, but who lacked the political savvy to keep an eye on his aides, who got the administration embroiled in a series of scandals that marred his reputation. Despite this he has started to become Vindicated by History among some historians.