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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Police Applicants Gone Wild

How not to get the job as police officer.

March 11, 2008  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

I am very fortunate in that Michelle, who is my executive assistant, also serves as the civil service secretary for both police and fire in my city. She has taken hundreds, no change that to thousands, of applications in her tenure. So in conversation the other day I asked her what really stops or derails applicants in the first few steps of the application process.

We are not talking here about testing, backgrounds, or what have you; that is another article all together. Michelle thought for only a few seconds and offered the following primer to all applicants.

Not Following Directions

If the ad in the paper states that the applications can be picked up next Monday, do not come by the Friday before. Read the directions; they are not suggestions! On most every application packet is attached a set of directions. Don't just read them, but heed them.

If the directions state that you need to make photocopies of records, you do; do not ask someone in the personnel office to do this for you. If the directions state to have your driver's license with you, bring it!

One organization I am familiar with requests extra copies of all attached papers. One set is for the personnel file, if you are hired. The second sets go to the application process and to the state for the academy application. If you only produce one set of copies when two were requested of you, you're not making a positive impression.

Are we getting the general idea here? One of the traits we value in police work is a person who can take directions and follow them.

If the directions are not clear to you—for instance, if you are applying out of state—please ask first before responding incorrectly. Every department has a recruiter, civil service secretary, or human resources staffer to answer the phone or e-mail if you have a question. Responding based on a guess could be incorrect and could get your application tossed in the circular file. If you do not understand any statement in the job announcement, seek clarification.

Submitting Incomplete Applications

When you fill out the application, go back and proof your work. That block that you skipped and forgot to go back and fill in will be considered an omission and possible disqualification. Additionally, if you go to the next level of the process with incomplete paperwork the civil service board or background investigator will not have the appropriate information to request follow-up details to complete your packet. This also includes copies of required paperwork if you have to produce diplomas, certifications, discharge records or whatever they want. A big hint here is having good quality copies made, no smeary, crooked or wrinkled papers.

Print legibly or type, if they use this format. Background investigators and staff do not read hieroglyphics or your creative shorthand. You are trying to impress people who hold the keys that can unlock the doors to the next level here. Your job as an applicant is to make all forms as user friendly as possible for those who are handling your packet.

Attempting to Submit Application After Deadlines

There is a very sought after trait most chiefs and sheriffs desire in future employees: punctuality. If the deadline is a certain date and time, make a note to yourself to get there a day or so before. No civil service commission wants to hear that you got stopped for a traffic accident or bad weather. This is much akin to the "dog ate my homework" excuse. In other words, it will fall on deaf ears.

Another version of this reverts back to a prior point made - Incomplete applications! If it has to be held for a copy of a diploma for instance, the copy most often must be received before the deadline. Rules vary, but this is a fine print one here. If all else fails, recall what my sainted Irish mother says: "It is better to be an hour early than a minute late." Punctuality pays off; it could get you the job because someone else is slow.

Some of these points may seem incomprehensible to you, but my loyal assistant has seen each of these many times over. The point here is that this is your first opportunity to make a favorable first impression.

One additional point. Remember, you never know who you are talking to in this process. One agency I visited has its recruiting staff perform the background checks on all job applicants. As the recruiter told me, some applicants make unfavorable impressions with the wrong people. They must be cognizant of who they are in the presence of.

If you call my office looking for a job, keep in mind that my executive assistant is also the civil service secretary, so be nice to Michelle.

Train Hard and Train Smart….prepare for the job every day!

Tags: Job Applications


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