Interviewing the Interviewer
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith
You’ve made it to the interview stage. Now it’s time to come up with all those clever, meaningful responses to the interviewer’s questions. In any good interview, the candidate asks as many questions as the interviewer. Keep in mind that the questions you ask are one of your best opportunities to showcase your knowledge, communication skills and commitment.
There are plenty of resources to help you prepare for a standard job interview, but as you’ve probably discovered, law enforcement has its own unique way of doing things. What might seem like a great question to ask if you’re interviewing for a corporate position may backfire on you if you ask it while interviewing at your local sheriff’s department.
So, first and foremost, try to find out who is going to be interviewing you. Is it a panel interview or an individual? Are they sworn or civilian? Are they from the actual agency or someone from human resources? Next, you should attempt to find out if you’ll be in a group interview with other applicants, which, in theory, is supposed to reveal a candidate’s leadership skills. Remember, there is likely to be more than one interview for a police job, so choose your timing carefully. If this is just a preliminary interview, don’t throw out all of your best questions but save some for round two.
A good first step is to
• Check out the department’s website, read any news reports about the organization and any major cases or struggles they may be dealing with, such as budget issues, a new chief or any departmental scandals.
• Look for the positive articles, such as awards, arrests in a major case, or the promotion of personnel.
• Go to the Officer Down Memorial Page and see if they have lost any officers in the line of duty and, if so, how those officers died.
It’s wise to go into the interview well informed; this will increase your confidence and make you appear truly interested not in just a police job, but a position with <ital.this agency.
Your question selection
When it comes time to ask questions, be prepared to ask about the organization first. You may only get one chance to ask one or two questions, so make them count. Here are some themes:
• What is the top priority for this position? For the agency?
• Who’s your ideal candidate for this position?
• How would you characterize the mission of the department?
It is advisable to couch these types of questions so that you compliment the organization while making your inquiry. For example: “I’ve observed many officers from your department and even met a few of them, and they all seem extremely committed to physical fitness. Is physical fitness a priority for this agency?”
Questions like these indicate that you’re thinking about the organization first, something interviewers like to hear. If time allows, you can move to other questions. This is not the time to ask about compensation, salary, insurance or vacation—that information should be readily and publicly available. Here are a few examples of appropriate questions:
• What is the retention rate of this position?
• What type of continuing education and training do you provide? Does the department have a tuition reimbursement program?
• What is the potential for advancement?
Again, you will be asking these questions to impress the listener, so structure them properly. Be careful when asking about advancement, you want to show you’re going to be committed to this agency without appearing overly eager to move up too fast. The law enforcement profession is big on rookies paying their dues before they move into a specialty position or get promoted, so phrase that inquiry with care.
End your interview with one of these questions:
• Are there any other questions I can answer for you?
• May I tell you more about my qualifications? (if you feel this hasn’t been done properly during the interview)
• What is the next step for consideration and what can I do in the mean time to keep myself prepared?
Body language is also essential to your success, which includes; open posture, appropriate distance, good eye contact, a warm, natural smile, pleasant facial expressions and a firm handshake will all leave a good impression.
Also, consider generational differences when you interview. If you’re a Generation X or Y and your interviewer is a Baby Boomer, they will want to hear questions and answers that indicate commitment. It is also good to use correct terminology and stay away from slang, like: dirtbag, maggot, the perp or cop.
Lastly, don’t linger. When the interview is over, make a graceful, confident exit. All of this combined with asking the right questions during your interview can make you truly stand out as a candidate for your law enforcement dream job.