You have completed the written test, passed it. Physical agility test was a breeze. Your background investigation was pristine. Now comes along the next hurdle toward your goal of becoming a law enforcement officer, the interview. This can be the most difficult segment of all, but it is one for which preparation will help. Are you up to it?
Yes, there are volumes of books written on this subject, and many are very helpful. But after sitting across the table as a panelist, I have some tried and true tips of my own.
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Preparation is key. First of all, read the application process and pay attention to the description of this element. Some agencies provide sample questions. If your prospective employer does so, capitalize on this. But use these examples only as a study guide. Remember, they won’t cover everything. Do not exclaim, “I didn’t know you would ask me that!”
As the candidate you will be questioned by a panel of officers; this means that officers from within the agency will be on the dais. They probably have received some training by human resources on questioning methods. The purpose of these questions is to seek insights into you and how you think—a clinical answer won’t satisfy.
You can research, purchase preparation books, and study; but they want you, not a pat answer. You may also know officers on the job who can give you some insights as to what they feel you may be quizzed on. But, you must prepare by verbalization. Do not sit there and think your answers; actually say them aloud. The more you practice this, the easier it will become.
Your voice will telecast uncertainly by cracking or with an inappropriately casual “you know.” Do not use levity or say, “yada, yada, yada” while practicing, for under pressure, this could be what flies out. Be sure you do not use any inflammatory words or words that could be misinterpreted, and keep within proper conversational perimeters. You are not there to create controversy, shock, or perform stand-up comedy. You are there to sell yourself to this panel and show that you are prepared for this job.
On the other hand, don’t get too uptight. the panel is not there to wash you out. This is a control pressure but not adversarial. It is often a predictor of how you think on your feet and how you verbalize under pressure.
Practice by several methods. Have a trusted friend ask you the questions while you respond to them verbally. It is important that you can get the words, statements, or phrases out of your mouth. Practice known responses while driving.
The opening question such as ‘tell the panel about yourself”. The brief biographical response is your opportunity to tell them about yourself. You know the answer, they do not. If anyone knows about why you are prepared for this job, it is you! A pointer here: If they have certain requirements such as education, tell them what you possess. Do not make them review your packet to see if you meet the requirements.
If you are hit with police procedural or situational questions, do not panic. If this department is hiring non-certified officers, the panel knows you do not know their procedures or protocols. They want to know if you can multitask. For example, at an accident scene with a child, can you handle the call without getting emotional over a child victim?
Ethical questions are not difficult. Every panel will propose a “What will you do?” question. You came into this quest with ethics and integrity; stay the course. Listen and think before you respond.
Basic interviewing protocol is to arrive early; tardiness is not a good start. Dress for the occasion. Wearing your lucky T-shirt is not a career enhancer. Men should wear a suit and tie and ladies should wear business casual. Grooming is important as well. If the agency has a “no facial hair” policy, take a hint here. I am not telling you guys to get a “high and tight” haircut, but do not go in unkempt. You want panelists to envision you in a uniform, not as a lead guitarist in a rock band.
Exhale and relax. Go in, listen to the directions the panelists offer, and smile. You are not going to the gallows. Most panels will shake hands with you; make sure yours are not sweaty. Avoid excessive jewelry—again, be business professional.
At the conclusion of the interview, here are three things for you to do.
First, smile and thank the panelists for their time and consideration. Do not let out a “whew” or “thank goodness this is over.” Show them you can handle the pressure and are professional.
Many boards will ask the candidate if he or she has questions of the board. This is a loaded question. At the conclusion they will tell you if you have any questions regarding the process to contact the human resources department. Do not ask the board procedural HR questions; they probably do not know the answers.
Last, I’d suggest you refrain from saying, “If there is any question you have of me, that you want to ask or did not ask, ask me now.” This is telling the panel you want another question or bonus points, which would be going outside the grade perimeters. They cannot do it and will not. Do not ask them an ethical question.
In closing, practice and visualize yourself going through the interview. Go in confident and get that job.
Train hard, train with heart.