Interview Help for Police Officer Exam (page 3)
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.
The Interview Board Members
If you are like most people, you've had some experience asking someone for a job. So, it's not unrealistic to expect that the police oral interview board will be similar to a civilian oral interview—is it? Yes and no. There are a few similarities: Both prospective civilian and police employers are looking for the most qualified person for the job—reliable, honest men and women who will work hard and be there when they are needed.
Civilian employers expect applicants to show up on time for their interviews, to dress professionally, and to show off their best manners, as do police employers. When you step into a police oral interview board, however, you will realize that the people who are interviewing you have more than a surface interest in you and your past experiences. And the board will have more than a one- or two-page resume in their hands when the interview begins.
Exactly who is going to be using the details of your personal and professional life to interview you? More than likely it will be a panel of two or more individuals with one purpose in mind: to get to know you well. The board members will most likely be supervisory-level police officers who have several years' experience on the force. Some departments use civilian personnel specialists to sit on their boards, but most interview boards will be made up of experienced police officers.
These board members will be using information you have provided on your personal history statement and information investigators discovered during your background investigation. Investigators will provide board members with a detailed report on your past and present life history. Yes, you will be asked questions when board members already know the answers and when they don't know the answers. You will be asked to explain why you've made the decisions you've made in your life—both personal and professional. You will also be asked questions that don't have correct or incorrect answers. In short, you can expect an intense grilling from men and women who don't have the time or patience for applicants who walk into their interviews unprepared.
What Is the Interview Board Looking For?
Today's departments expect officers to attend neighborhood meetings, get to know the people living and working in their patrol areas, and be accessible to the public. This concept is known as community policing. Community policing is being embraced by most medium to large police agencies and is designed to get the officers out of the squad car and back into the community. The days of riding around in a car waiting for the next call to come out are over for most officers.
Officers nationwide feel that community policing is simply a return to the basic idea behind policing—public service. Therefore, oral interview boards are faced with the formidable task of hiring men and women with the skills and talents equal to the demands of modern policing.
The men and women most highly sought after by police departments are those who can handle the demands placed on them by advanced technology and changes in policing concepts. Computers are here to stay—in the office and in the patrol car. If you haven't already, now's the time to brush up on your typing skills and sign up for a computer class.
Then there's the liability issue. Lawsuits and threats of lawsuits have law enforcement agencies scurrying to find applicants who have specific qualities and skills that will keep them out of the headlines and civil courtrooms will be most competitive.
Yes, law enforcement agencies want it all: motivated, versatile candidates who are ready to take on the challenges of police work. You will be most competitive if you can convince the board you have the following qualities:
- common sense
- good judgment
- the ability to work without constant supervision
These qualities aren't ranked in order of importance because it would be hard to say which should come first. They are all of importance in the eyes of the board, and your task in the oral interview is to convince them you possess these qualities. You will do your convincing through how and what you say when you respond to questions.
Youth and Inexperience—Plus or Minus?
The question here is, will an oral board think you have enough life experience for them to be willing to take a chance on hiring you? Law enforcement agencies have never been as liability conscious as they are today. Incidents like the Rodney King trial and the subsequent Los Angeles riots have heightened the awareness of city legal departments around the country.
This concern ripples straight through the department and eventually arrives to haunt recruiters, background investigators, oral boards, and everyone who has anything to do with deciding who gets a badge. The first question you hear when trouble hits a police department is, "How did that person get a job here anyway?" As a result, police departments are scrutinizing applicants more closely than ever before, and they are clearly leaning toward individuals who have proven track records in employment, schooling, volunteer work, and community involvement.
Youth and inexperience are not going to disqualify you from the process. You should be aware that if you are 21 years old and have never held a job, you will have a more difficult time getting hired on your first try at a larger police department than someone who is older, has job references to check, and is able to demonstrate a history of reliability, responsibility, and community involvement.
Maturity is a huge concern with police departments. They cannot hire men and women who are unable to take responsibility for their actions or the actions, in some cases, of those around them. Although maturity cannot be measured in the number of years an individual has been alive, departments will want to see as much proof as possible that you have enough maturity and potential to risk hiring you.
Get Out in the World
Make it as easy as possible for the oral board to see how well you handle responsibility. Sign up for volunteer work if you don't have any experience dealing with people. If you are still living at home with parents, be able to demonstrate the ways in which you are responsible around the home. If you are on your own, but living with roommates, talking to the board about this experience and how you handle conflicts arising from living with strangers or friends will help your case.
You may want to work extra hard on your communication skills before going to the board. The more articulate you are, the better you will be able to sell yourself.
Older and Wiser Can Pay Off
Being older certainly is not a hindrance in police work. Oral boards are receptive to men and women who have life experience that can be examined, picked apart, and verified. Maturity, as has been mentioned before, is not necessarily linked with how old you are. Older applicants can be either blessed or cursed by the trail they have left in life. Many applicants have gone down in flames because they were unable to explain incidents in their past and present that point to their immaturity and inability to handle responsibility.
Applicants of any age who have listed numerous jobs and have turned in personal history statements too thick to run through a stapling machine should be extra vigilant about doing homework before the oral board stage. If you fall into this category, you should carefully pore over the copy of the application your background investigator used to do your background check. Be fully aware of the problem areas and consider what you will most likely be asked to explain. And decide now what you are going to say. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Don't Leave the Meter Running
The longer your history, the longer you can expect to sit before an oral board. If a board is not required to adhere strictly to time limits, you may be required to endure a longer session than other applicants simply because there's more material to cover. The more you know about yourself and the more open you are about your life, the more smoothly your interview will run. This advice holds true for all applicants.
The Types of Questions You Will Be Asked
What kind of questions are they going to ask? Isn't that what everyone is really worried about when they are sitting in the chair outside of the interview room? You will hear all kinds of questions—personal questions about your family life, questions about your likes and dislikes, your temperament, your friends, and even a few designed to make you laugh so you will get a little color back into your face. Don't look for many questions that can be answered with simply "yes" or "no," because you won't get that lucky. Let's look at the types of questions you are likely to be asked.
The open-ended question is the one you are most likely to hear. Here's an example of an open-ended question:
- Board Member: "Mr. Jones, can you tell the board about your Friday night bowling league?"
Board members like these questions because it gives them an opportunity to see how articulate you can be, and it gives them a little insight into how you think. This is also a way for them to ease into more specific questions. For example:
- Board Member: "Mr. Jones, can you tell the board about your Friday night bowling league?"
- Jones: "Yes ma'am. I've been bowling in this league for about two years. We meet every Friday night around 6 P.M. and bowl until about 8:30 P.M. I like it because it gives me something to do with the friends that I might not get to see otherwise because everyone is so busy. This also gives me time to spend with my wife. We're in first place right now, and I like it that way."
- Board Member: "Oh, congratulations. You must be a pretty competitive bowler."
- Jones: "Yes ma'am, I am. I like to win and I take the game pretty seriously."
- Board Member: "How do you react when your team loses, Mr. Jones?"
That one question generates enough information for the board to draw a lot of conclusions about Mr. Jones. They can see that he likes to interact with his friends, he thinks spending time with his wife is important, and that competition and winning are important to him. Mr. Jones's answer opens up an avenue for the board to explore how he reacts to disappointment, how he is able to articulate his feelings and reactions, and they'll probably get a good idea of his temperament.
Open-ended questions allow the board to fish around for information, but this is not a negative situation. You should seize these opportunities to open up to the board and give them an idea of who you are as a person.
This is the kind of question boards ask when everyone in the room already knows the answer. For example:
- Board Member: "Ms. Rasheed, you were in the military for four years?"
- Rasheed: "Yes sir, I was in the Marines from 1992 until 1996."
- Board Member: "Why did you get out?"
The obvious question is used most often as a way to give the applicant a chance to warm up and to be aware of what area the board is about to explore. It's also a way for the board to check up on the information they've been provided. Board members and background investigators can misread or misunderstand information they receive. Understanding this, board members will usually be careful to confirm details with you during the interview.
Interview boards ask two other types of icebreaker questions for which you should be prepared. They may ask you something like, "What have you done to prepare yourself to become a police officer?" Or, you may be asked, "Why do you want to become a police officer?" These icebreakers are your opportunity to impress the board with your qualifications for the job, so be prepared to answer them.
Why do you want to become a police officer? You should be thinking about this question now. A good candidate will often answer that he or she likes working with and helping people and solving problems, and is attracted to the idea of facing different challenges on a daily basis. A good candidates may answer that he or she prepared for the oral and the job by interviewing other police officers, working as a volunteer, or reading books and websites on police work.
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