Answering Common Oral Hiring Board Questions
Dr. Richard Weinblatt
My last Law Enforcement Career Expert column for PoliceLink.com covered ten tips for mastering the police oral board. This column covers how to answer the questions themselves. While I can’t give you the exact wording that will work for you, understanding why certain questions are asked, and how to formulate the answer that fits you, is the key to getting hired in the competitive law enforcement hiring process. Of course that presumes that all political or favoritism issues are removed from the oral panel’s judgment of the candidates.
As mentioned in the previous articles, as a police academy manager and former police chief, I have seen many people bomb that first impression formed at an oral board (usually within the first 15 seconds). Having been on both sides of the process as the interviewer and the interviewee (one large agency that I interviewed successfully with told me I scored the highest of any sworn applicant to that date – “Half a point away from a perfect score.”), I have learned a few tricks that may help you. Some applicants may be well-dressed and appear sharp on oral board day, but when they open their mouth, it all goes out the window.
Here are some typical questions or concepts posed at oral panels and how to view them. Note that I could not possibly address all questions, but here are the more common ones that crop up. All of these broadly based answers will need to be refined by you to reflect the details that are unique to your life and circumstances.
The key here is to give an honest, heart-felt response that also falls within the acceptable broad parameters of oral interviews. Remember, oral board panels are made up of seasoned patrol officers and law enforcement executives. They are experienced, trained interviewers who are adept at ferreting out answers from people that are deceptive or not genuine.
1) Tell this panel about yourself. This is an open-ended statement, usually posed in the beginning, and it gives you a terrific opportunity to create that great first impression. It is also the point at which many people turn the panel members off. In the words of my good friend and recruiting guru Commander Mark Anderson, of the Altamonte Springs, FL, Police Department: “Tell me the time, don’t build me a clock.”
All too often the long-winded answer starts with: “Well, it all started 21 years ago when I was born in a small town…” The background sound everyone hears next is the snoring of the panel members. You should only hit the highlights that are relevant to their judging you as appropriate for the position. Relevant information includes education (college degree in criminal justice, etc.), work or volunteer experience (police explorer, sales or managerial experience, and military service), or family background and familiarization with the job (relatives or multiple generations that have served as police officers) that could be used to show your potential success as a law enforcement officer.
Practice your delivery of this brief, albeit important, synopsis of your life in front of a mirror or video camera. You may even want to hold a mock oral panel to hone your delivery and answers. Your answers, as with all of these panel responses, should be delivered with a confident tone that does not trail off at the end of each sentence. If they can’t hear the end of your sentence, you convey the message that it’s not worth hearing and consequently, they won’t exert any effort to do so.
Become a Cop: Career Profiles
2) Why do you want to be a police officer/deputy sheriff/trooper? (depending on the type of agency you are applying to) Try to avoid the cliché answers of “I want to serve and protect” or “I want to give back to the community.” Cynical panel members are on the lookout for people who tell them what they think they want to hear.
I advise people, when you picture yourself as an officer, what is it that you are doing? If it is helping small children and being role model because the same thing occurred to you when you were a child interacting with a neighbor who was an officer, then say so. If it’s because you’ve tried the indoor, office cubicle type of career path and you are looking for a more varied, outdoor type of excitement, then say so. If it’s because you want to help bust drug dealers because your best friend from high school died after graduation from an overdose, then say so.
You have to help the panel understand that your desire stems from more than just the cars are pretty or you want to carry a gun and drive fast. Try not to focus solely on why the agency is good for you, but rather show the synergy between what you can bring to the agency and how that in turn will help you.
3) Why do you want to work for my agency? Here’s where something more than the vague “it’s the best department” is appropriate. You need to be more specific. First hand knowledge of the agency that you have gained from doing ride-alongs or talking to the officers is crucial to helping you to come up with an answer that is truthful and works.
For example, maybe, after riding with a variety of agencies in your area, you were particularly impressed at how officers on a particular shift handled people at calls for police service with dignity and respect which reflects how you want to practice the art of policing. Or perhaps you found that the agency is heavy into DUI and traffic enforcement, which has meaning for you since a relative died from a drunk driver crash.
4) Tell me about a strength you have. This isn’t something like “I can benchpress 500 pounds.” What about your character is illustrated in a trait. Are you a hard worker? Are you full of integrity and honor? Do you have a personal story that illustrates that trait in concrete terms.