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The Police Oral Board - What You Need to Know Before You Apply and How to Prepare Yourself


Preparing for any job interview, regardless of the profession, is extremely important and one that far too many people fail to do appropriately. I have facilitated countless hiring processes and each and every time there is always at least one candidate that causes me to walk away amazed and bewildered at their lack of preparation. While this article will focus primarily on those attending interviews for police positions, these suggestions can really be applied to almost every job interview

By the time you are accepted to the interview process, also commonly referred to as the “Oral Board,” you have more than likely already completed one or more of the following:Written Exam, Physical Fitness Test, Integrity Screening and an extensive pre-employment questionnaire. Not only has the agency already invested their own time and money into you, but you yourself have also spent some significant time and investment. The hurdles you have faced thus far in the process are not insignificant by any stretch so why sell yourself short when it comes to the interview? I guarantee if you take to heart what I’m about to tell you, your performance during the interview process will be greatly enhanced.

Think About This Before The Interview

The Board

Knowing what to expect during the interview process and what the make-up of the panel will be, is the first step in being able to prepare yourself. I certainly can’t speak to every police department; however I have not only facilitated interviews with my own agencies over the years, I have assisted numerous other police agencies with their process, and all are virtually the same. Additionally, any agency that is accredited through CALEA© will have to follow certain standards during this process.

The first thing to remember is you are applying for a position as a police officer and this interview is structured to give you a very, very, small taste of the stress you are going to be subjected to on the job. This is not going to be a relaxed one-on-one interview, but an interview sitting in front of three to five people of varying degrees of experience and backgrounds. The panel will usually consist of at least one to two police officers and more than likely one of them will be a supervisor with a minimum rank of sergeant.There could also be local government officials such as a town administrator/manager, fire chief, human resource personnel, or any other person who has a vested interest in the police department. Obviously if you are applying for a state-level position, those on the panel could consist of various state government agencies.

The physical fitness test usually given before the interview is a simple process of weeding out the candidates who are not able to meet certain physical standards set by the agency or the state. You can either do enough sit-ups or push-ups, or you can’t. The interview process however is not quite so cut-and-dry and is really the first step to ensure agencies are getting the most qualified candidate on an intellectual and intelligence level. A well-structured and experienced panel of interviewers can do this relatively easy and I will give you some information a little later to help you with this.

Dress the Part

When you attend any interview, you only have one chance to give a first-impression. There is no such thing as a second-impression when it comes to this process. You must remember that you are NOT the only one scheduled for an interview. In fact, you may be one of 10, 20 or even more people who have been selected for an interview. This interview process could be for only one position, so putting your best foot forward is vital to making a favorable impression on the panel and making it to the next round.

The saying “Dress for Success” comes to mind here and should not be something new. If it is new and you have never heard of it, or if you are not quite sure how this applies, or simply need a refresher, here are some easy, yet very important suggestions:

Wear Business Attire – It never fails that at some point during the interviews at least one candidate (usually much more) does not dress appropriately. Again, the “first-impression” plays into this. There are also different definitions of “business attire” so it's important to know what’s what with this one. I have heard everything from Dress Casual, Business Casual, Business Dress, etc.So I’m simply stating business attire. I have seen all of the following take place so PLEASE:

  • Do Not wear Jeans
  • Do Not wear Mismatched Clothes
  • Do Not wear white socks with dress shoes
  • Do wear a suit
  • Men“business attire” means a suit with a tie. A blue tie signifies confidence and red indicates power. These are my two favorites for this particular venue and I highly recommend one of these colors. It may sound silly, but looking the part is just as important as conveying the part.
  • WomenPant-suit or business-type dress is perfectly acceptable. Stay away from clothes you would wear to a club and think about the jewelry. A good rule-of-thumb is to wear only the type of jewelry you would be able to wear while in a police uniform. Men – this goes for you too!

Determination Is Key To Success

Grooming- As with proper clothing, proper grooming is also important. As with my statement about proper jewelry, use the same “test” with this area and ask yourself if this would be okay in uniform. For example:

  • Be Clean Shaven! Guys, it will grow back if you don’t get the job. But do not come to an interview, especially one for a police officer without shaving your face. If you walk in with a goatee, beard or exceptionally long side-burns (Elvis comes to mind here), this immediately tells the panel you are not interested or taking the interview seriously. Add the jeans and it’s a guaranteed short interview with absolutely no chance for a second one.
  • Be Clean – Sounds simple enough, right? You would think so, but some people forget to either shower, use deodorant, or their toothbrush before the interview.
  • Using Perfume/Cologne – Be careful here. A good quality and not too powerful fragrance is perfectly fine.Just make sure you don’t take a bath in it so as not to overpower anyone.
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Know Yourself

One of the first questions right out of the gate is for you to tell the panel about yourself and what qualifications you possess that would make you a good fit for the position. Now that you know this…Think about it! The panel does not want a robotic response or a long and drawn out answer that doesn’t get to the point. It is certainly acceptable and actually good to touch on your personal life. Tell them if you are married with children. This shows you care about your family. Telling the board your entire life story is a little different. Remember, you are trying to “sell” yourself. Failing to do this in a succinct and articulate manner will hurt you. Tell the board what experiences, education and personal attributes that make you the best candidate.

Know the Agency

I cannot tell you how many people come to an interview and know nothing about the agency they are applying for. This is absolutely unacceptable and will certainly not bode well for you. With instant access to the Internet this is very simple and takes very little time. The following list are just a few areas you want to research:

  • Who is the Chief of Police?
  • How many officers do they have?
  • What is the rank structure?
  • Do they have any units within the agency? For example: SRO, bicycle, motorcycle, Investigations, vice, etc.
  • What is their activity level – how many calls for service and arrests per year?
  • What are the bordering jurisdictions?
  • What does their Mission Statement say? – Don’t overlook this!
  • What is their operating budget?

Be Truthful

I know you are thinking this goes without saying; but whatever you do, make sure you are completely honest with the board. If you are not, I guarantee this will surface at some point during the hiring process and could very well be detrimental to getting the job.

Don’t try to tell the board what you think they want to hear. At some point during the interview, and more often than not, you are going to be asked certain scenario-based questions. These questions are not meant to trick you but may appear unfair if you have no prior police experience. They know you don’t have prior experience and it really doesn’t matter. They are looking to see how you will react to a stressful situation, if you can show common sense and stand behind your convictions. Here are some tips to help you during these types of questions:

  • Take a brief moment to think about your answer. Take a deep breath and THINK!
  • Articulate your answer in a meaningful and concise manner. DO NOT drag it on, but get your point across.
  • Be prepared for the board to question your answer and offer another alternative. Be careful here. The board is looking for you to stand behind your convictions; however if your answer really didn’t make sense and the board’s method of handling the scenario was much better, you may want to change your answer and side with the board. However; tread lightly so as not to appear “wishy-washy.” If you do change your answer you better give a good reason and not just because the board's answer was better.
  • Remain calm and if you feel yourself getting flustered, take a deep breath and regain your composure.

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and other means of social media are becoming more and more popular by the day. I bring this up because increasingly more agencies, and not just police departments, are looking at this to determine what type of person you are. Think about this when posting comments and photos. How you represent yourself in these forums speaks volumes to how you will represent the agency you work for. Do you think any police department is going to want to hire you after they see pictures of you doing a “keg-stand” or funneling beer at some party? What about making derogatory and profane comments? The choices you make now can and will certainly affect you in the future. This is especially true with social media. When you put it out there, it’s out there for good! Think about this!

Some Further Tips and Recap

  • Dress the Part! Being better dressed than the panel is not a bad thing
  • Do your research. I think I said enough about this already..
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early. If there is some unforeseen emergency which prevents you from getting there on time – call! Otherwise DO NOT be late.
  • Shake everyone’s hand. When you are brought into the interview shake everyone’s hand. Do it again when you leave. A firm and solid handshake says a lot. Don’t “limp wrist it.”
  • Look them in the eye. I cannot stress this enough. When shaking someone’s hand or speaking to them during the interview process – LOOK AT THEM. This is a biggie in my book and failing to look me in the eye when you speak to me says a couple of things. You lack confidence or you are being deceptive. In either case, this is not what I am looking for in a new officer.
  • Relax. It’s okay to be nervous. It shows you care about the interview and want the job. However; try to control this and drive through it.
  • Tell the truth. Regardless of the question, give an honest and “from the heart” answer. Do not try to “pull the wool” over their eyes. The board will see through this and know you are just giving them the answer you think they want to hear.
  • Social Media. Think about what you say and the photos you post. Think about who you associate with and “like” as well. If you want to be a police officer, associating with known criminals or extremist groups on Facebook will certainly raise some flags for the police department. Enough said.

There is a lot of information and helpful tips out there. Don’t stop here. Go find some more articles and books to read. The more you educate yourself, the better off you’ll be. In today’s job market, finding qualified candidates is difficult. Applying some of the information I gave to you will certainly set you apart from those who don’t do the research or apply themselves.

Further Tools To Help You


Cop Life from Midwest US on January 20, 2013:

This was an incredible article! Every teacher of law enforcement should include this in their classes. I remember during one of my interviews, the Sheriff, asked me a question to trip me up. "If you pulled over my wife, would you give her a ticket?" Ha, talk about sweating! I answered, "yes". The Sheriff didn't have a response other than a little grin.

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