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Hiring for a Good Fit

Written by Dwayne Orrick

How often do police organizations spend limited resources recruiting, screening and training candidates, only to have them leave the department within the first few years of employment? Several recent studies have shown that 20% to 25% of officers leave their first agency within 18 months, and up to 50% will resign in the first five years. This leaves most departments in a perpetual cycle of recruiting and hiring new officers.

To improve the recruitment/selection process and reduce turnover, departments must strive to identify candidates who can perform the job, but also who “fit” with the agency. When candidates fit with the organization, they are more likely to excel and be retained by the agency. Officers who do not “fit” with the agency usually become unhappy and resign from the department.

There are typically three types of “fit” that agencies should consider when selecting officers: Person to Job Fit (P/J Fit), Person to Culture Fit (P/C Fit) and Person to Person Fit (P/P Fit).

Person to Job Fit

During the 1970s and ’80s, much emphasis was placed on developing detailed and objective job analysis and selection procedures to identify the “best person for the job.” This process resulted in the institutionalization of several important and admirable benefits. First, it identified unqualified candidates who could not perform to minimum standards. Second, the process eliminated the use of arbitrary and discriminatory employment practices.

However, this process does not determine whether the candidate really wants to do the job. When asked why they are leaving, many individuals often respond, “This job is not what I thought it was.”

Realistic Job Preview

To avoid this, agencies should initiate a “realistic job preview” in their selection procedures. This preview is designed to eliminate any false impressions about the job, and many may exist. Provide individuals with a brutally honest assessment of what to expect as an employee.

Agencies can accomplish this in a number of ways. One common approach is to have an officer candidly describe daily operations, benefits, work schedules and training with all of its blemishes. Another approach is to require all candidates to ride with a training officer for two to three shifts before they are provided a conditional offer of employment.

Person to Culture Fit

Quite simply, this is the process of fitting a square peg in a square hole. While most police organizations perform many of the same tasks, the procedures that are followed to accomplish these tasks vary considerably. It is not unusual to find officers who possess the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities to perform their jobs and who generally enjoy police work. Yet they may simply not like working with a particular agency because of the organizational culture.

To better explain this concept, I often describe two individuals who are Captains in the U.S. military. One is a Captain leading a hard-charging platoon of fire-eating Marines, and the other is an Air Force Captain who pilots an F-22 Raptor, the most advanced jet fighter in the world. Both are well-respected officers of equal rank within the military, but neither would fit well with the other service.

You simply do not want the Air Force captain leading the Marine platoon. They would eat him alive. At the same time, putting the Marine Captain in the F-22 would likely result in it being placed in the next “scratch and dent” sale. They just don’t fit.

Behavior-based Interviews

To avoid making these hiring mistakes, initiate behaviorally based interviews during the selection process. These interviews are based on the premise that past behavior is the best indicator of future performance. By capturing candidates’ responses to job-related questions, the department can best identify which individual is most likely to succeed in the agency.

For example, candidates may be presented with the question, “Tell me of a time when you had to deal with a customer who was being difficult.” The first applicant responds that while working at a fast food establishment, a customer complained about his order, and his response was, “This isn’t Burger King; you don’t get it your way.” The second applicant received the complaint, apologized for the mistake, and promptly corrected the problem.

While the first candidate may work out well in some environments, most agencies would prefer not to have that person interacting with the public. The second candidate demonstrated good interpersonal communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, and would probably perform admirably in most organizations.

Person to Person Fit

In addition to being able to perform the job, enjoying the work and working well within the organizational structure, being able to interact well with others is requisite for law enforcement officers. The only way to learn how a person interacts with fellow employees and the public is to conduct a thorough background investigation that assesses their competencies. By including questions in the background investigation, the agency can identify persons who have a tendency to perpetuate unnecessary conflict within the workplace.
Agencies across the nation are faced with the problem of constantly having to recruit, select and train officers because of higher levels of attrition. One of the reasons for this high level of turnover is a selection procedure that does not identify candidates who “fit” well with the organization. By modifying their selection procedures, agencies are more likely to employ individuals who meet standards and “fit” with the organization’s culture. As a result, leaders will likely experience lower turnover and higher performance by officers.

Dwayne Orrick is the Chief of the Cordele, GA Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a past presenter at the IACP convention. He may be reached via email at cordele1@sowega.net.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2009

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