Interview Help for Police Officer Exam
An interview with a member of the department or with a panel has become prevalent in the police officer selection process. Similar to the background investigation and the polygraph exam, the worst thing you can do during the interview is to lie or to try to create a persona that is different from whom you are. The interview may take many forms; for instance, you might be asked questions that are based on your personal history statement. In another style of interview, you might be asked to describe a past personal or work-related situation that caused you stress, or to describe your best and worst traits. You might be given a typical policing situation, a "hypothetical," and asked what you would do. In some interviews, the content of your answers is of primary importance, in others, the questioners are more interested in how you present yourself, and whether you are able to maintain your composure in a stressful situation.
The majority of police departments include an oral interview in the hiring process. If you are under consideration by a department that does not conduct an interview, it would be wise to treat your background investigator as you would a formal interviewer. How you present yourself, dress, and react to questions may become part of your background write-up by your investigator. Although your investigator is there to help you become a police officer, do not think of this person as a confidant to whom you can show negative traits or towards whom you can act in an unprofessional way. For your initial visit with your investigator, you should dress just as you would for a formal interview; even if the interviewer tells you that you need not wear business attire to subsequent visits, do not go the informal route of showing up in jeans and a T-shirt or shorts and flip-flops. You may have seen active police officers dress casually when they are off-duty, but this is not the impression you want to make before your career has even begun.
Aim for a neat, conservative appearance at your interview. This includes having your hair neatly styled (women might consider pinning up or back long hair so it is not a distraction) and wearing only makeup that is minimal and natural-looking. Too much jewelry can also be a distraction; both men and women should limit jewelry and keep what they wear to small, discreet items. Men and women who choose to wear pant suits should make sure that their clothing is clean, fits well, and is free of wrinkles; women wearing skirt and blouse combinations or a dress should wear nude hosiery without runs or snags. Applicants should be sure their shoes are polished and heels not run down.
The interview is costly in time and money because each candidate must be individually scheduled to appear before a panel of three to five people, often active police officers but sometimes community leaders, too. In small agencies and in many sheriffs' offices, the interview may be with the chief or the sheriff, particularly if agency policy permits hiring outside civil service regulations. In these instances, the chief or sheriff has the authority to select the candidate in large part on his or her individual discretion. At the other extreme, interviews can be highly formalized, including being taped for later review or in the event you do not do well and request an appeal.
The interview is intended to test what written and agility tests cannot measure. In addition to your answers, the panel is watching your posture, your body language, and your poise as you formulate your responses. They notice whether you make eye contact with panel members and generally how you react to unanticipated questions and situations. In addition to how you dress, remember to make eye contact with the questioner; use their names or titles when answering. Listen to the question and answer what you are asked. If you did not understand the question at all, ask that it be repeated rather than risk providing an incorrect or inappropriate answer. If you know you are uncomfortable in interview situations, try to get friends, family, co-workers, or faculty members to help you by asking you sample questions and measuring the quality of your responses. Did you answer what was asked? Could your voice be heard, or was it too low or too loud? Did you answer without too many, "um"s, "like"s, "you know"s, and similar verbal distractions? These are things you can practice without knowing what the questions will be. Remember, although the interview may actually be quite short—probably well under one hour—it can seem like a lifetime if you do not prepare yourself.
Oral Board Tips
- Be respectful, courteous, and pleasant throughout the process. Always keep your cool.
- Answer all questions honestly and to the best of your ability. Sincerity counts!
- Listen carefully to the questions. Don't distract yourself by thinking too much about how you might look or what they might be thinking about you. Stay in the moment. If you have to pause and think for a moment before you answer a question, that's okay. It's better than rushing yourself through the process.
- Have a question or two ready for when the board invites you to ask them. This shows your genuine interest in the job.
- Make sure you are on time! Better yet, arrive early.
- Dress conservatively, and go light on jewelry or makeup.
- Don't drink too much caffeine beforehand—you want to be able to relax.
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