With more than 20 years of experience conducting and managing oral board interviews, I think I can fairly say I’ve heard every possible answer to every question asked of a candidate.
The most gratifying feeling a seasoned oral board panelist can experience, is grading the answers of that exceedingly rare applicant that presents an amazing interview.
With rare exception on all of the countless oral board panels that I’ve sat on through the years, one constant remains.
We, the panelists, want to hire the next guy or the next gal that walks in the room.
Interview panels are charged with finding the best applicants they can, and to that end, it’s our hope that the next person who walks through the door is going to be an interview rock star.
Unfortunately, very few are and there are some days, none of them are!
I liken the interview process to panning for gold on a river bank. You simply never know if or when you’re going to hit pay dirt. When you do, it’s a great feeling.
This is why I’ve dedicated the latter portion of my career as a police chief, to assisting applicants with honing their interview skills, and thankfully, learning to be that person, the rock star candidate, is teachable and more importantly, learnable.
To be sure, interviewing properly, in a manner that will land one a job offer is a skill, and most all skills can be taught and the skill of interviewing properly, is no different.
If you’re familiar with my previous publications you’ll note that I make numerous references to the “majority of candidates.” When I use the word majority, I mean the VAST majority.
Depending upon the pool of candidates, and a few other rather inconsequential factors, it has been my experience that between 90 and 95 percent of interview candidates come to the oral board with strongly preconceived notions about how they should answers certain questions.
The bad news is, they’re notions are off the mark, you guessed it, 90 percent or more of the time.
The canned answers that we panelist here from interview to interview are so painfully predictable, often is the case that when an applicant begins to answer a question, within a matter of seconds, most of us panelists can predict the rest of their answer before they finish answering.
You DO NOT want to be that applicant. When an applicant is predictable they present as being wholly and completely insincere.
It’s our job to judge, and when you’re the applicant that sounds like the last three people we’ve interviewed, you’re done, period.
These preconceived notions that I mention are ideas that candidates get from friends, other officers, from forum posts and, most unfortunately, sometimes from an ebook they’ve ordered the night before their interview.
In all but the most rare of circumstance have I ever witnessed someone intentionally mislead a law enforcement candidate, most folks want to be helpful, but they seldom are, even when they are well intended.
The irrefutable reason for the dissemination of bad advice is, quite simply, there are very few true law enforcement oral board experts available.
By definition, expert refers to a person that has not only served on dozens upon dozens of oral board panels, but that is also intimately involved in the entire law enforcement hiring process.
Finding a person of this status is difficult at best, and to get them to provide comprehensive oral board advice is even more challenging.
The Big Five – Police oral board questions
While most any question can be slaughtered by an applicant, I’m going to share with you the top five most commonly asked, and commonly butchered police oral board questions.
- Tell us about yourself.
- Why do you want to be a law enforcement officer?
- Why do you want to work at this particular agency?
- Why should we hire you over the other applicants?
- The interview is over, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Now you might imagine that in order to provide you with the perfect, spot-on response to what I call “The Big Five,” I’d have to author seven paragraphs on each question.
I can’t do that in a blog post, but I can give you a great overview and by doing so, dispel some of the common myths that surround the proper answering of these questions. In other words, good food for thought if you’re preparing for a career in this profession.
In fact, to keep this article a reasonable “readable” length, two do’s and two don’ts for each question will pave the way, if nothing else, to getting rid of any preconceived ideas you may have, and that’s a great start!
Question 1: Tell us about yourself.
- Don’t revisit your resume. The panel has likely seen it already. They also don’t want to hear a rehash of how qualified you feel you are for the position. You’ll do that later on in the Q and A portion of your interview.
- Don’t start your answer with “Well…” (as you’ll sound like absolutely everyone else they have, or will interview) and don’t be a stiff necked, immobile statue in your chair when you answer.
- Do: Tell the oral panel about yourself in a manner that lets us get to know you, as best we can in an answer that takes a minute or two. You’re going to tell them a few facts about you and your life that we can relate to. This is critically important in setting the pace for your interview, a positive pace. I’ll repeat it, it’s that important. Speak of things they can relate to!
- Do: Present your response in a manner that looks and feels more like a conversation than it does an interrogation. Here’s a little insider info that might surprise you. You’re not the only one in the room that may be nervous. Many people on an interview panel are a bit on edge as well, and it’s because most of the people we interview give such poor answers, they make us uncomfortable and guess what, we have to pretend that we’re okay with your answer. It’s your job to make us comfortable and when you do that, we begin to like you, and that’s a VERY good thing!
Question 2: Why do you want to be a law enforcement officer?
- Don’t ever, EVER say, “Because I want to help people.” At least, not in those six words. Helping people is great, and we law enforcement officers do help people, just don’t say it that way.
- Don’t tell us that it’s what you’ve wanted to do since you were a child and that you’ve lived, eaten and breathed law enforcement since you were a kid.
- Do: Explain that it’s a career that carries challenges, causes you to regularly use your critical thinking skills, variety of daily duties and task is appealing, it affords you the opportunity to use your problem solving abilities etc.
- Do: Inform the panel that you understand law enforcement is an indispensable element in every community across our nation and that serving the community of (name of city or town) in that capacity will provide you with a feeling of accomplishment and career gratification. Most people are, at least in part, defined by what they do for a living, and to be defined as a public servant is in part, what attracts you to this profession.
Question 3: Why do you want to work at this particular agency?
- Don’t make it about you. The overall theme of your answer must never be, what this agency can do for you.
- Don’t make it a matter of convenience. Many applicants give is a list of reasons that boil down to, “Working here is good for me because…” This is an interview killer!
- Do: Delicately compliment the agency, articulating in your answer that this is the type of department that anyone would want to work for. Be careful that your compliments don’t sound too flowery, but be absolutely certain to mention a number of notable accomplishments of the agency. Be sure you know a lot about the agency and how integrated they are with the community, and mention it. You should also know and agree with the agency’s mission statement, and WHY you agree with it.
- Do: Make mention of the accomplishments of the command staff. Do enough research before your interview that you’re able to tell them during the interview, that this agency obviously strives to work directly with the community, as evidenced by, and then make mention of program or initiative that they chief or sheriff has implemented, and speak of its success. The fact that THIS agency, above all others, is looked at as a leader in ____________ (fill in the blank). When you share your knowledge of an agency in the interview and can speak fluently to that agency’s successes, you’re doing what no other applicant does, and these types of answers are golden!
Question 4: Why should we hire you over the other applicants?
- Don’t (similar to the “Tell us about yourself,” question) revisit your resume with work experience and education. They’re looking for good, unique material in this answer.
- Don’t do what so, SO many applicants do at this point in the interview, and that’s, begin begging for a job by telling them how badly you want to be a law enforcement officer.
- Do: Be humble and confident in your approach to answering this question. In doing so, if done properly, you’re sending the message, the RIGHT message, that you submit to their authority. Recognize that they have a difficult job to do, picking the right person for the very important position of law enforcement officer.
- Do: Explain to the panel that because you don’t know the other applicants, there are likely people they’ll interview that carry more education and some applicants they interview will have experience in law enforcement, however… You’ll also inform the panel that you’re aware that every employer looks for two things in an employee: Competence and loyalty. When a person possessed competence, he or she is a person that is capable and willing to learn. If that competent person is loyal to their employer, they will, in all areas of their career, do what is in the better interest of that employer. These two attributes, I bring to this agency and for that reason, I can say sincerely, I am an outstanding candidate.
Question 5: The interview is over, is there anything else you’d like to say?
- Don’t pause, shrug your shoulders and say “No, I think this interview has covered everything, thank you all for your time.” This is what half the candidates say and we don’t like this answer.
- Don’t ask us when you should be hearing from us. This is what the other half says and we don’t like this either.
- Do: Use this point in the interview as your GOLDEN opportunity to increase your oral board score. It’s now that you’re going to offer to revisit any question they might have asked, that you answered, that didn’t quite hit the mark or that may have left them hanging, or to clarify an answer that you provided that might have been misunderstood or needs clarification. This isn’t a shot in the dark, it’s very powerful and what you’re doing in essence, is allowing them to go back to an answer you provided earlier, that they didn’t quite like or understand. I’ve seen this work for candidates in the past and if the panel does allow this maneuver (some won’t, many will) it can mean the difference between not getting, and getting hired and particularly if the panel is using a strict point system in the scoring of your interview.
- Do: Explain that you’ve enjoyed your time and thank the panel for giving their time to you in order that you could attempt, in the ________ minutes you’ve had with them, to sell yourself as the best candidate for the position. Be sure to say this in an eloquent, polite and sincere manner.
It’s your job to eliminate the other applicants – And You Can!
Please keep in mind that the examples I’ve provided aren’t the entire answers to the “Big Five” police oral board questions, but the elements I’ve noted are the ingredients of the type of answer that will make you stand out FAR ahead of your competition.
These elements are the ingredients to the type of stand-out answers that gets applicants hired.
The combination of your being well prepared for your interview, being sincere and being likable is an exceedingly dangerous recipe, dangerous…to your competition.