Trick questions… What’s the point?
Law enforcement candidates, more than most people at a job interview, have reason to fear being thrown for a loop when they sit down at their oral board interview.
There’s a tendency for many oral board panels to attempt to trip up an applicant with a question that seems to have no right or wrong answer.
Why do “we” (law enforcement professionals) do this to “you,” the applicants? There may be no right or wrong answer to that question either, but I’ll try.
Navigating the rite of passage
For lack of a more descriptive term, there seems in the mind of many in this profession, that once you’ve had a badge pinned on your chest, any and all others that come along hoping to enter law enforcement must navigate a rite of passage.
Generically speaking (and not necessarily including myself in this observation) law enforcement professionals don’t much care for outsiders, and as an applicant, that’s you right now.
We want to make it difficult for you to break down our barriers in order to infiltrate our agency as a rookie. The mindset that, you’re just not worthy to be one of us is alive and well at many, if not most agencies.
During the interview, we want to make you squirm.
I’ve seen oral boards that looked more like hazing rituals than interviews. Again, I’m not suggesting in any way that I agree with this approach, I’m just saying I know it exists.
Here’s a glowing example of the type of question that really is, just a trick question with no boiler plate answer.
If you were to line up squad cars bumper to bumper, how many squads do you think it would take to go from one end of our county to the other?
Why on EARTH would anyone ask such a ridiculous question? Have you ever heard the saying, anything can be justified if you try hard enough?
I once asked a colleague why he included this odd question on his oral board list of interview questions. His justification was if nothing else, interesting.
He said he wanted to see how quickly candidates could think on their feet. He felt it was study in critical thinking skills.
Maybe so, maybe not but seven people that afternoon were asked that very question. None of them did well in their approach to answering it.
Finding the right answer
The “right” answer would be a number.
“Well sir, I estimate it would take about 15,840 squads parked bumper to bumper.”
You can see why, there really is no right or wrong answer to this type of bizarre question because there’s really no way to answer it. Not directly anyway. Technically, yes, in the real world, you simply can’t.
You can however, offer the panel your methodology for finding the answer, and you can bet, they’ll love your answer, even though you didn’t answer the questions.
Well sir, I’d first look at the mileage distance of your county from east to west, as well as measure your squad cars in feet.
I’d multiply the number of miles by 5,280, the number of feet in a mile, and once I established that figure I’d divide it by the number of feet of your average squad car.
ultimately giving me the number of squads it would take to answer your question.
So the list of weird, strange and whacky stumper questions is endless, your ability to tackle one, should it come your way, really isn’t difficult at all:
This can be the path to an outstanding response when you have to answer trick questions.
On a final note, if you’ve followed my writings or watched my videos you know that I occasionally speak on humor and its value in the oral board setting.
Be careful and use it sparingly but if you’ve connected with the panel and feel comfortable, ending an answer to a questions of this nature helps relieve tension for you, and the panel, and yes, they’re often a bit on edge too.
“If you don’t mind my asking, is the City Council on board with budgeting for the purchase of that many squad cars?”
If you can offer the panel a chuckle at any time in the interview, you’ve won them over, at least at that moment, and that’s a good thing.
Don’t fear the stumper question, take it head on.
You’ll be amazed how simple it is to give them something they’ll like, and they’ll be amazed that one of the candidates actually breezed through their peculiar question that day.
It’s likely you’ll be the only one that did, and that’s a great thing!