For most people, this is the most stressful part of the application process. Don’t worry. Just prepare yourself ahead of time, and you will do fine.
Before the Interview
Do Your Homework
Find out about the police job interview process. If it’s a small local department, they may want to ask you about your knowledge and interest in the community and the department. You may be directly interviewed by the chief. How many officers are on the force you are applying to? What is the major crime problem in the community? Have there been any big changes in policy or focus recently? Are there any cases or investigations that have been widely covered in the news? Who is the police chief? How long has he or she been there? Did he or she come in from outside or was he or she promoted from within? How does he or she get along with the mayor? You can get information like this from local newspapers or from the department itself; work it into your answers where appropriate, and you will impress your interviewers.
For example, if a question refers to gang graffiti, you can say something like, “Well, the gang problem is the main target of the new Street Shield unit, and they have been having some success—gang activity is down 12 percent since last year. In light of that, I would coordinate my efforts with the unit to build on their success.”
Of course, you won’t impress anyone if your information is wrong or doesn’t really connect with what you are saying. Think about the information you are going to use; don’t just blurt things out.
There are agencies in which the interviews are designed as a specific part of the background investigation. You will most likely be asked about your personal history in conjunction with certain results of the psychological exam and/or polygraph. Sometimes these types of questions are asked just for clarification purposes.
There are those departments that have a much more formal, structured interview process. These questions may be competency-based, can be more complex, and can revolve around a scenario you are given, with accompanying laws or regulations. You would then be given questions regarding what issues or problems you may see and how you would respond. The questions are designed to elicit responses that indicate if the candidate has the abilities the department has determined are essential in good job performance. The line of questioning may also be more behavior-based. This means you may be asked about your past experiences and how you demonstrated competent behavior. An example might be how you exhibited good communication skills. Usually, such departments offer a more detailed preparatory guide for these interviews.
Anticipate the Questions
All interviewers want to know if you can deal with conflict, get along with other people, and learn from mistakes. To get at that information, they will ask you for details about your previous experience and education. To further probe for these qualities, they will sometimes give you a hypothetical situation and ask for your response. This also tests your ability to make good decisions and think on your feet.
When you are in the interview, the officers will keep adding complications to the original situation. Don’t rush into an answer, and don’t change your answer once you have given it. Most of the time, there is no black-and-white answer they are looking for; they just want to see how you react to stress and whether you are able to make reasonable decisions under pressure. The only time you should take back your answer is if you realize that there really is a better solution than the one you first gave. Whatever you do, do not change any answer more than once.
Practice with a Friend
Get someone you trust to do some role-playing with you. Ideally, this will be a friend who is a police officer and who has been through the police job interview process. But whoever it is, make sure it is someone who can give you honest feedback.
Give that person the questions and situations you have come up with, along with your application. Ask him or her to write out some more questions and then put you through an interview. This might seem weird at first, and neither one of you may want to take it seriously, but keep at it. This is the best way to prepare yourself, so you can walk into that interview room feeling confident.
Take notes while you are practicing, and ask your friend to do the same. What do you need to work on? What are your strengths? Keep thinking about how to improve your performance, and incorporate those ideas into your notes.
Prepare a Closer
At the end of the interview, you will almost always be asked, “Do you have any questions?” Have your answer prepared. If you have a couple of good questions, ask them. Don’t ask about retirement benefits or how soon you can be promoted to detective. That really sends the wrong signal—that you are assuming you are going to be hired and that you are focused a bit too much on your own personal goals. Simple questions about the application process can show interest and initiative as well. If you can’t think of any questions, just say something like, “I don’t have any questions, but I would like to say that becoming a police officer has been a lifelong goal, and I believe my skills would make me an asset to this department.”
Make Sure You Know How to Get to the Police Job Interview Site
Do not assume it is at the police station. Check your notification form. Even if you have been to the station, or the courthouse, or wherever it is you are supposed to go, make another trip. If you can, go at the same time of day you will be heading in for your interview. Time the trip, then add a safety margin for traffic jams, subway delays, flat tires, or any other transportation disaster.
In the Interview
Acknowledge everyone. Someone will take the lead and introduce himself or herself and the other interviewers. This person may or may not be the chief decision maker in this situation, so you need to acknowledge and address all the interviewers—now and throughout the interview.
When you are introduced, smile, shake hands, and greet each of the interviewers. When you answer questions, make eye contact with everyone. I’m not saying you should sit there with your eyes darting from person to person, but you do need to acknowledge that you are addressing more than one interviewer.
Listen to the questions. One of the biggest mistakes people make is answering the question they think they have heard, instead of the question that has been asked. If you are in any doubt, ask for a clarification.
Don’t blurt out your answer right away. You don’t get extra points for speed. Give yourself a second or two to gather your thoughts and focus on the best answer to the question. You don’t want to have to retract your answer later.
Identify the “bad cop.” If one of the interviewers begins to play the heavy, the one who challenges your answers and tries to get you to back down, don’t be aggressive with this person, but don’t let him or her bully you either. Address this person directly; don’t get thrown by the questions or by his or her tone. And don’t take it personally. This person is not out to get you—the point is to see how you react to stress and confrontation.
Thank the interviewers. When you get up to leave, shake hands again with each of the interviewers and thank them for the opportunity to speak with them.