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16 Traits Recruiters are Looking For

Paul Patti

Excerpted from the bestselling book – Confessions of a “Hardass” – An insider’s advice on passing your law enforcement pre-employment interview.

When a law enforcement or corrections agency interviews you, what is really happening is that they are deciding how well you fit in with the people, the mission and the daily work environment of the organization. Each agency has aspirations of greatness – the leaders, managers and the career minded officers / deputies and staff all want what is best for the agency – and that translates to the best people possible to work beside them. They judge these areas by exploring your background – usually starting in high school, through your education and of course your employement and personal history.

Some of these traits will also be judged by volunteer and neighborhood activities, and even hobbies. After exploring your background, they will ask stressful scenario questions, aimed at giving them information on how to rate you, without you even being aware of it. Everyone I’ve ever interviewed for a law enforcement position told the interview panel what we needed to know about all 16 of these areas, whether they were aware of it or not. Of course, no one is expected to be perfect. But the closer you can get to “10” in each of these areas through answering the questions that will be asked, the better your chances of being hired.

Here are the traits and principles involved in oral interviews and assessments. Give yourself a 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) for each one. Think honestly about your life, your work history, volunteer history, hobbies, your education and everything else about you, and then ask yourself inwardly some very tough questions about each of these areas. As an example, have you ever been detained, ticketed or arrested by the police? If yes, one or more of these areas will give the board critical information – so BE PREPARED! Since no one is looking over your shoulder, rate yourself honestly in order to see how how well or poorly you do, so you will be able to focus on the areas needing the most improvement.

1) Trustworthiness – can the applicant be relied upon to do what they say they will do? Will they fabricate stories to cover their errors or inadequacies? Will they be where they are told to be and do what they are told to do, even in difficult circumstances?


2) Honesty – A statement from a police officer in this country is enough to put people in jail for a long time. In a one-on-one confrontation, an officer’s word is still accepted as truth unless clearly refuted by other sufficient, credible evidence. This is a great deal of power – does this applicant show the ability to state the truth – even if it negatively affects them or other officers? Will the applicant even stand up to authority to state the truth when it is difficult to do, and going along with a lie is a better course of action? Will the applicant join a conspiracy because it is much more difficult, in their view, to lose the friendship, trust and respect of other officers?

3) Leadership – Being a leader is not often something you can choose to be or not be. In law enforcement, each officer becomes a leader in the performance of helping people to solve problems and work through difficult situations. Does the applicant seem willing to take on extra responsibility? Do they limit the positions they wish to work in because of the level of responsibility? Do they refuse advanced assignments because of perceptions of difficulty or fear of failure?

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4) Confidentiality – Does the applicant understand the concept of confidentiality and its proper application in law enforcement? Can they be trusted not to reveal confidential facts to persons without a right or need to know? Does the applicant discuss details of investigations with persons outside the department? Will the applicant tell confidential items to proper authorities when it is correct to do so?

5) Accepts responsibility for self and others – Does the applicant seem willing to accept punishment and correct errors, or is every criticism met with an excuse or a shifting of blame to other persons? In describing the difficulties in their own personal background, does the applicant take responsibility for life’s problems and their affect, or is blame consistently shifted to family, friends, third parties and anonymous “them” and “they” – “they wouldn’t leave me alone and let me do my job without interference”?

6) Accepts criticism – During stress questioning, does the applicant accept criticism of his or her background in a proper way? If the applicant responds to criticism, is it done in a rational tone of voice using proper and respectful communication? Does the applicant seem personally offended at every bit of criticism, constructive or not?

7) Accepts extra responsibility without compensation – Many persons are the most comfortable in work situations where a job description clearly spells out every single task a person is responsible to carry out. Often, persons feel that whenever they are asked to do more work or a different type of work within their workday, they should receive extra compensation. This type will not volunteer for extra responsibility until compensation is spelled out. Does the applicant see law enforcement in this way? In difficult circumstances or to help fellow officers or citizens, will the applicant volunteer to help without regard for whatever extra compensation is or is not offered?

8) Analyzes situations and does not jump to conclusions or take fact for granted – Many questions that involve the safety of self or others, or appear at first hearing to involve some clear-cut principle, actually do not contain enough information to make an intelligent choice. It is important that the applicant not be misled by circumstances into quick, emotional responses. Does the applicant carefully listen to all the facts before reaching a conclusion and answering? Do they start to answer even before all the facts are presented? Do they take a few moments to analyze difficult circumstances or quickly answer on the 1 or 2 most obvious facts?

9) Readiness to lend assistance – Does the applicant eagerly assist persons in need – fellow police personnel as well as the general public? Do they show hesitation due to strictly personal circumstances?

10) Perspective – Ignores frivolous or meaningless problems and obstacles. Life is full of frustrations. Sometimes the least little thing can be “the last straw” and someone lets loose with a temper tantrum. Does the applicant over-react to the specific current problem due to prior circumstances or difficulties?

11) Ability to compromise for greater good – Sometimes minor rules or even minor crimes should be ignored because a much greater value or principle is at stake. Does the applicant show a willingness to take a risk and uphold a higher principle by violating a lesser rule, law or procedure?

12) Ability to challenge unlawful or unreasonable orders or authority – Does the applicant see authority as an excuse to commit an error in judgment due to the ready-made excuse “I was following orders”? Does the applicant seem willing to take a risk of punishment or discipline in order to follow the correct course of action in difficult circumstances?

13) Obedience to lawful and reasonable orders – Often police personnel must follow orders that are lawful and reasonable, but for some reason the officer finds distasteful or overly harsh or critical, etc. Does the applicant see the difference between a lawful and unlawful order, and can they willingly carry out a reasonable and acceptable order that may just be unpopular or distasteful to follow?

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14) Intolerance of corruption – Does the applicant seem to believe that it is more important to be popular or be liked than it is to be honest? Do they seem willing to compromise ethics and truth for the sake of officers who are committing criminal activities? Does the applicant have a perspective on what the difference is between corruption and minor misconduct and seem willing to act and compromise accordingly?

15) Rejection of unearned personal praise – that praise which belongs to others. Will the applicant willingly share the credit and praise for a job well done? Will they allow themselves to be given full credit for a good deed done by another individual?

16) Teamwork – acceptance of opinion and leadership of others, regardless of personal feelings. During a police career, very often younger and less experienced persons are given or earn positions of trust, authority or responsibility over other personnel. Does the applicant show a willingness to work with persons as a subordinate regardless of the relative experience and inexperience of the individual? Does the applicant show any prejudice against individuals due to any personal traits, characteristics or makeup?

Add up your scores – how did you do? Typically, agencies are looking for someone who can average from 6 – 8 points on each question. A total score of 130+ is considered a very good applicant. Under 100 points on the 16 traits will usually mean a failing score, and doing horribly on a few of the most important questions, like questions 1,2, 13 and 14 will be disqualifying. If you score low in those areas it probably won’t matter what you scored on the other questions.


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