Be the Best Job Candidate

Don't lose heart. Finding a way to stand out and rise to the top is the real goal.

Author Bio Harvey 1 Headshot

You can't peruse the newspaper today without reading of a city in financial distress and laying off cops. Hey wait a minute, some of my readers out there want a job and can't get their foot in the door. What gives here?

Well, back when I was getting out of college in the late '70s (yes, I am that old) there was an influx of Vietnam-era vets returning to the world and taking up law enforcement jobs. There was also a slight recession back then too. It was hard getting a start, but many of us did. Learn from our lessons.

You've got to make yourself the best candidate.

Granted, there will be many applying to enter this vocation that to them is just employment but to you is your dream job. Don't lose heart. Finding a way to stand out and rise to the top is the real goal.

Read job descriptions, talk to people, research...finish school. In college? Stay there and finish. Get that degree. Even though some departments don't require college, having it on your resumΓ© is a bonus.

Get in shape and stay that way!

I've heard a million different excuses from young men and women for failing the physical agility or readiness test. If you know you want the job, you should know the physical requirements. Set the goal to be in shape for whenever the call comes.

Additionally, if you are a tobacco user; quit now. Many departments are requiring tobacco-free candidates. Trust me, I know this can be hard. I still take it a day at a time...could use a dip now.

Read the physical requirements.

Research the medical requirements. I've seen candidates booted for hearing, vision, and even unknown heart issues. Talk to your physician and ensure you meet the requirements if you have a physical issue.

Find out your state's POST requirements, for they usually set the standards for all agencies within the state. Find out if you fit the bill. I don't want you wasting your time if you have a medical issue that will prevent you from succeeding at the outset.

Have all paperwork ready.

Nothing will drive a human resources person over the edge faster than an applicant who can't produce the necessary paperwork. Before you even start the application process, put together a file of the necessary certifications, licenses, and so forth. Have fresh, clean copies ready for presentation. Hint in dealing with civil service or human relations: Make their job as easy as possible; have your packets ready and complete.

Read the job description.

Fully understand the entire job description. Some cities have residency requirements with exceptions for the military. Some require everyone to live within their jurisdiction within, say, a year of hire. Can you afford to live in the city or county to which you're applying?

Some have other requirements. I mentioned tobacco use being an issue. Other agencies will eliminate candidates who have visible tattoos or piercings, recent (or sometimes any) drug use, and criminal convictions or traffic violations.

Think, what is on your record that would remove you from the list? Read the fine print and if you don't understand, ask to have it clarified.

Check the Web for listings.

There are several sites that post law enforcement openings, including's Police Career Finder. Don't forget to check the Web weekly! Search online newspapers, professional classified ads, and create a job search on your workstation. Getting the right job is hard work.

Be prepared for the applicant gauntlet.

You know you can expect oral interviews, background interviews, and tests (polygraph, voice stress, and urine). There are several books and sites regarding how to interview. Just remember, be yourself and true to yourself.

Memorizing pat answers? Forget about it. These interviewers can see through you. This is a conversation with a purpose, not an interrogation. Have a trusted friend interview you for practice. Sitting in a chair mumbling is not practice; work at it until words come naturally.

Have a list of five questions that you hope they don't ask you, and have answers ready in case they do. Also have a few questions that you hope they ask so you can really excel. Keep the pace the same. You'll have a tendency to speak faster when responding to the favorites or softballs, but you can improve this with, again, the all important practice.

You can do this.

I have told you that getting the right job is hard work, and it is. But it's worth the struggle.

Train to win, win to train harder.

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