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The Sergeant's Oral Board: Preparing to be #1

Assistant Chief Bill Reilly

As an experienced police officer, think of your last trip to the firearms range.  There was almost certainly a target for you to hit with a clear x ring, bull’s eye, or some other marker that represented a perfect performance.  You utilized a firearm in which you had been trained and therefore had familiarity with the actions that you needed to take to achieve a top score.  And lastly, immediately after your performance you would have an opportunity for objective feedback (reviewing your target) to determine if in fact you achieved your goal.  To be engaged in such a goal oriented sequence allows you to make adjustments as you strive to consistently get top scores.

The oral board, in many cases, is the exact opposite: you are not certain what the panel members or assessors are looking for; because this is a rare opportunity for which you were never formally trained, you are uncertain how to perform; and because the ratings often have a degree of subjectivity to them, you are left unsure why you received the scores that you did, regardless of if they were good or bad.

It is for that reason, especially at the first-line supervisor level, that you should develop a clear plan of attack for your oral board. Here are the elements that you should use to your advantage:

The Mental Game – Set your sights on the #1 position.  Someone will be at the top of every list, why would you let that be anyone other than you.  Ironically, despite the power that goal setting can bring in the area of focus and performance, many don’t shoot for the top.  Let’s face it; it will require dedicated effort to earn the top spot.  Imagine how that type of preparation will pay off when you are in front of the oral board.

The problem with goals such as these is that you may doubt that the goal can be achieved. Significant research has been done over the last few years on self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to produce desired results by their own actions.  The research has shown that by following certain steps, our self-efficacy regarding a task can improve dramatically.  Those steps are:

  • Preparing in a supportive environment – Make sure that the individuals that you talk to about your preparation for the oral board are those who genuinely want you to succeed. If you practice with a friend or co-worker, make sure that you choose those who will focus on your strengths while encouraging you to work through the areas that need to be improved. Negative people will reinforce the difficulty you are having, and that can be counter-productive.

  • Watch others perform the task – When we see individuals doing a task correctly, we learn the steps in a non-threatening way. Find the individuals in your profession who have been successful at oral boards and ask them to demonstrate how they performed in front of the panel. We learn much more by watching than by listening, so don’t just ask them questions, ask them to show you.

  • Practice the task yourself – Studying is fine, you need to be able to convey your knowledge to the panel when asked, but the oral board is a communication opportunity. To do well, you must communicate effectively. Like shooting at the range, communication is a performance that requires practice, practice, practice to get it perfect.

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