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Preparing for the Chief’s Interview

Assistant Chief Bill Reilly (ret)

It’s Not About You.

Regardless of whether you are pursuing the chief of police position for an agency of 15, 150, or 1500, the over-arching theme is the same.  Yes, you should be quite proud that you are in the final three, and yes attaining the chief of police position will be the icing on the cake for your police career; but if you want to be selected, keep this in mind, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

It’s a Different Game.

If you meet the criteria for a chief’s position, it is very likely that you are a veteran law enforcement officer and have supervisory, if not command, experience.  It is also likely that your supervisory/command position was attained as a result of some sort of competitive testing process that “fairly” identified the best candidates for promotion.  That process varies from department to department, but the most common processes are written exams, oral board exams, and assessment centers. 

If you are at the interview stage for a chief’s process you may have already proceeded through an exam to assess competency or, often in the case of internal candidates, you may be a command staff member who is deemed to be qualified to serve as the chief.  Nonetheless, you are about to enter a process that is likely to be quite different from how you were assessed in the past.  In the past, your assessment for promotion probably involved independent law enforcement testing consultants or an internal competency rating.  Either way, the evaluators were deeply familiar with law enforcement thinking and the proper behaviors that law enforcement supervisors should display, albeit from a law enforcement perspective.

That is where the game changes for chief candidates.  The individuals that you are seeking to convince are most often not law enforcement professionals; rather, they are politicians and/or municipal administrators.  Stop and think about that for a second.  What are the greatest concerns for the municipality’s politicians?  What are the greatest concerns for the municipality’s administrators?   Trust me; they are focused on their individual concerns as they apply to their professional/political role.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but as a candidate for chief of police, you should understand where they are coming from so that you can assure that your communication addresses their concerns.

Here are 3 things for you to assess before you sit for your interview:

Who They are and What They Want

If you are sitting with the town or city administrator, you should expect that he or she is thinking: Can I work with this person? Obviously they will be seeking to determine if you are able to lead the agency and if you are the best choice, but likeability will play a major role, as well. 

Town administrators are charged with carrying out the decisions/desires of elected officials.  So keeping that in mind, they will want to hear how you, as the next chief, will address the high profile police-related concerns.  The best candidate will not only do their homework on the crime stats and makeup of the community, but also on the concerns brought forth by the community, elected officials, and media.

If your panel is made up of elected officials, either solely or with community members and the town administrator, the focus changes.  Each individual will believe that their concerns are the most important and they will want to know how you will deal with those concerns.  If you don’t do your homework you run the risk of giving a response that will be received positively by some and negatively by others.  For example, let’s assume that a community member on the panel asks you: “How would you improve police interactions with the community’s teen population?” You would want to consider community relations along with the agency’s budget situation when you respond.  To not do so runs the risk of causing fiscally prudent elected officials to become concerned with the spending practices you will oversee if you are appointed chief.

Simply put, don’t just know your audience, know what they want - research your interviewers as well as your department and community - and communicate to those wants.

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