Applying for Your First Police Job

It’s important to know that the application process for your first police job is not the same as being hired. You will usually have to pass each step before you can proceed and have the job you want. Remember, this is a general guide; you should always review the process specific to the police department to which you are applying. You may consider applying to numerous departments.

Finding Job Opportunities

Before you can apply for a job, you have to know that one is available. Fortunately, most police departments have websites. With access to the Internet, you also have access to all the recruitment postings and job openings available within the department you are interested in. If you don’t know the website address for the department you are interested in, use any search engine and type in “[city’s name] police department.” Once at the website, you should look for keywords such as jobs, careers, employment, and recruitment.
If you do not have access to the Internet, you should call your local police department (you will find the number in the government pages of the phone book), go to your local library, or check your local newspaper or community bulletin board for job openings. In larger cities, such as New York, you may even see billboards and posters for upcoming recruitment drives. Today, many departments will also set up recruitment drives at shopping malls and on college campuses.
Because police tests are extremely competitive, it is recommended that you take as many police exams as possible. Some of the bigger departments that hire on a regular basis may give the test more frequently throughout the year. However, some other agencies such as smaller departments and specialized agencies may only offer the test once every few years or so.
This is where you need to explore and decide on different agencies that may interest you. What will you do if you find yourself in a situation where the department you really want to join is not going to offer another test for two to four years? What if your preferred agency institutes a hiring freeze before you can complete the application process?
This is why we recommend you find other agencies and jurisdictions that interest you and take as many tests as you possibly can.

  • First, see what departments are hiring when you want to start—you want to get your police career off the ground, and waiting a few years to get hired can be stressful.
  • If you get hired by a department that’s not your first choice, you can still take other exams and transfer to the department you want. Depending on the department, you may be able to transfer your seniority, retirement package, and investments like 401(k) plans. Even if you cannot transfer to your preferred department right away, at least you will gain police experience and skills that will make you a more appealing prospect for other departments in the future.
  • Even if you are working for a department that was not your initial choice, you may grow to love the department and want to stay. Once you form a bond with your colleagues, you might realize that your initial impression of the department was inaccurate. By staying in the same department, you might also find yourself a few steps closer to opportunities for specialty units and promotions.

Many police agencies have walk-in examinations. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) offers a walk-in exam in some locations, such as on college campuses. It is usually limited to “first come, first served” candidates. The San Francisco Police Department gives an exam every month. All you need for these walk-ins is some form of valid identification and/or a driver’s license. Check the announcements on the respective department websites for details.

Minimum Requirements

Minimum requirements vary depending on the department in which you hope to work. Some possible types of requirements are:

  • Citizenship. Most departments require applicants to be citizens of the United States by the time of hiring.
  • Age. Age requirements for prospective applicants can vary. The age requirement for taking the test can be lower than the age for hiring. The New York City Police Department applicants can file for the exam at 17.5 years old. Most agencies require applicants to be 21 years old at the time of actual hiring. The upper limit can also vary. The NYPD upper limit is 35 years old. There may be further allowance for military experience. Some police departments have abandoned this upper limit.
  • Education. In most cases, a high school diploma or GED is required. Many agencies now require college credits (60 hours for the NYPD and the New York State Police [NYSP]). Some agencies will accept military experience in lieu of college credits.
  • Licensure. A current, valid driver’s license is usually required.
  • Convictions. Applicants should not have any felony convictions or dishonorable discharges from the military. You should also take into account that your driving record may come under scrutiny as well, even though it probably will not disqualify you. You will be asked how many violations you have, whether they were paid, and whether your license was ever suspended as part of your background check.
  • Vision/health. Generally, applicants are required to have good or correctable vision, to have a reasonable height/weight ratio, and to not take illegal drugs.

You should also expect to be subjected to a background check and drug test. The specifics of these screenings depend upon the jurisdiction where you are applying. However, you should expect the department to access your school records and any criminal records related to you. The department might also interview your family members and friends. And if you have any social media accounts, be aware of this: departments are now checking your social media accounts and analyzing your behavior and posts to get a better sense of your character. Putting up certain posts and pictures may be fun and get some laughs, but depending on the content, they may also hurt you in the long run. Exercise caution and good judgment every time you present yourself to the world, because that is what you’ll be required to do as a police officer.

Filling Out the Application

Whether filling out an application online or submitting a written version, make sure it is accurate, complete, legible, and free from spelling and grammar errors! This application is actually the beginning of your background investigation. It is the first impression the agency will have of you!
We really can’t say it enough: do not forget to proofread the whole application. Check your spelling and grammar. If you are not sure about something, look it up. Have someone else read what you have written to make sure it makes sense.
Something you should always strive for regardless of the type of application you complete is honesty. Don’t try to hide anything on your application. Tell the truth. If there is a gap in your work record because you took three months off to hike the Appalachian Trail, that’s fine. Or what if you dropped out of high school and drifted for a while before you got back on track and went back for your GED? Recruiters know they are dealing with human beings with different life situations.
You should try to build a relationship or rapport with your recruiter (sometimes known as your investigator). An investigator assigned to you will understand that people go through different stages in life. As long as you are a decent person without any prior convictions, he or she will help you through the process. The investigator may instruct you on certain information to provide, such as previous and present employment and college or military transcripts and documents.
Your relationship with your investigator should be on a professional level—keep it friendly and not confrontational. The investigator may need to call you back in several times for clarification on certain matters or gaps in dates, but do not see this as a negative sign. This is part of the job to get you processed to be hired. Remember, this is not an ordinary job—your background and character count.
Once you have submitted your application, you just have to wait. Most departments will notify you when they receive your application. Even if they don’t, have patience! Some agencies process thousands of applicants. The application itself should state what you will hear and when.

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