"Is the candidate honest, informed, intelligent and motivated?"
Common Interview Questions for Police Candidates
By: Dwayne Orrick
When preparing for the interview, it is important for the applicant to identify potential questions that are likely to be asked and practice their responses. While the interview process is different for every department, many ask some of the same basic questions. No list can be comprehensive, many of the most common questions asked during an interview are include below.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
This introductory statement serves as a smooth transition into more focused inquiries and provides the candidate with an opportunity to provide the interview board with information that will set them apart. Too often candidates begin their response with a long recitation of their name, age, and other mundane information the assessors already know.
The best response begins with an appreciation for being allowed to participate in the interview followed by a short description of work and volunteer experience and advanced education completed. The goal is to grab the raters’ attention by demonstrating how the individual will make an exceptional officer who adds value to the organization.
Q: Why do you want be a police officer?
This question is seeking to clarify why the individual is applying for a position within the department and if the individual has realistic expectations regarding a law enforcement career. As they listen to the candidate’s response, the assessors will be seeking to identify those persons who may be thrill seekers or have ulterior motives.
When responding, broad, idealistic statements such as “I want to make a difference” or “Giving back to the community” should be avoided. Rather, this question should elicit a personalized statement that represents their motivation for applying with the department. For example, some candidates may seek a job that allows them to work outside and to be involved in different activities everyday.
In other instances, the officer may have experienced a negative event such as a family member who died as a result of domestic violence or close friends who destroyed their lives with drugs. When responding, the individual should describe his/her motivation to be an officer and how working in the agency will help satisfy this need.
Q: Why do you want to work for our department?
This is an opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate sincere interest in the department and preparation for the interview. The candidate should be able to give specific reasons how being hired by the agency will fulfill a need for him/her. For example, larger organizations typically offer more opportunities to have a long and diverse career. As they respond to the question, it is important for the candidates to demonstrate they recognize that they have to ‘pay their dues’ and learn the fundamentals in the patrol division before moving to other units.
Candidates may choose to join departments serving smaller communities because they have family ties to the community and do not have any desire to move to a larger department. In addition, smaller agencies do not provide the same opportunities to specialize as larger departments, but officers are more likely to be involved in a variety of activities every day.
Q: Your supervisor gives you a direct order that you know is against department policy. What do you do? What if the order was against the law?
The purpose of these questions is to measure the candidate’s judgment and moral resolute. When deciding the appropriate response, it is common to be torn between violating department policy and potentially being insubordinate. Operational policy is designed to give officers direction regarding acceptable behavior in compliance with established legal and professional standards.
History is filled with instances of individuals who claimed they “were just following orders.” The correct answer is to advise the supervisor that he/she perceives the directive to be a violation of department policy. This gives the supervisor the opportunity to clarify the issue or change the directive. If the supervisor insists on violating policy, the officer must decide between refusing and complying with an improper directive. When responding to the follow-up question regarding an order that violates the law, the candidate should always respond that he/she would not follow the order.
Q: Tell us about a major accomplishment you have made with a team of co-workers.
Despite the perception portrayed in the media, law enforcement is not about the lone hero. Rather, officers are required to coordinate their activities throughout the shift as they respond to and investigate activities. During this time, they not only work with a partner, but other officers on their own shift. In addition, they are frequently required to interact with officers in other divisions as a well as other criminal justice agencies, local, state and federal organizations, and private companies.
The successful candidate should be able to describe not only how they worked well with others to successfully accomplish a goal, but also how they played an active part in the process.
Q: Another officer and you make a traffic stop in which the driver is subsequently arrested. During the vehicle inventory, a large sum of money is located under the seat. Your partner indicates he is going to keep the money. What do you do?
This scenario is designed to evaluate the candidate’s ability to identify unethical behavior and demonstrate his/her ability to withstand negative peer pressure. The candidate should direct his/her partner to properly record the money on the inventory and turn it in. If he/she fails to do so, his/her actions will be immediately reported to a supervisor.
Q: Are you prepared to work weekends, holidays, unscheduled overtime and nightshifts?
Law enforcement agencies operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As a result, employees are required to work shifts and at unusual times. This question is designed to place the candidate on notice they will be expected to work during these times and achieve acknowledgment of this from the candidate. If a candidate is not willing to work these times, law enforcement is not a good career choice.
Q: If selected, the department will make a huge investment in preparing you to serve as an officer. Why should we select you over other candidates?
The candidate has no way of knowing what skills the other candidates may possess and should acknowledge it. The purpose of this question is to determine if the department will receive an adequate return-on-investment from the required training they must provide for a new employee. When preparing for this question, view the issue from the perspective of an employer.
Departments do not want to hire an officer only to learn he/she is incompetent, lazy, or are looking to move on to another agency. The candidate should be able to describe how he/she has always been a dedicated and hard worker with other employers. Candidates who are highly motivated may describe how they continuously seek to enhance their knowledge, skills, performance, and do not expect the department to always provide this development. They may also describe a desire to stay with the department because of ties to family and friends in the community and department.
Q: Give us an example of a situation when you had to deal with someone who you perceived was being unreasonable, irate or hostile toward you.
This is a behaviorally based question that is founded upon the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. These types of questions focus on competencies that are critical for performing as an officer such as conflict resolution, problem solving, teamwork, and integrity.
When responding to a behavioral question, the candidate should provide a three-part response that includes a description of the situation, the action the candidate took in response to the situation, and the results of their action.
For example, in response to this question, a candidate may describe how he/she was working at a fast-food establishment. A customer came in who was very angry and confronted him/her about ketchup being on his hamburger when he specifically asked for ‘no ketchup.’ The angry customer went on to make a number of unflattering comments about the quality of service he had received and the inadequacies of the staff. As customer voiced his complaint, he became very loud and was starting to disturb the other customers.
The candidate respectfully responded, “Yes, Sir. I remember you placing your order and the request. I am sorry for the mix-up. Either the cooks did not see the request or I picked up the wrong items. Regardless, I am very sorry. I will fix the mistake and include a couple of desert pies for the inconvenience.” Before he left, the customer apologized for being rude and thanked the candidate for his/her efforts to resolve the issue.
There are an unlimited number of responses to this question. But in this example, the candidate spoke of a situation when a person who was angry and acting very hostile. He/she initiated action to address the problem and resolve the conflict. In the end, the result was a happy customer.
Q: What have you done to prepare for a career in law enforcement?
Many candidates may not be able to provide a clear-cut answer to this question. For example, they may have known they wanted to be part of something important, but were not sure about law enforcement as a possible career choice. Regardless, they worked hard in school, developed a strong character, and avoided behavior that would be perceived as bad by a potential employer.
As they matured, they recognized law enforcement was a viable career for them. Others may have taken a more direct path including participation in law enforcement Explorers, criminal justice classes in college, and possibly service in the military. In the end, assessors are seeking to determine whether applying with the department was a passing fancy, to simply get a job, or a step toward a meaningful and rewarding career.
Q: Do you have any questions or comments?
This is not the time to ask about salaries and benefits. The candidate should have determined this type of information from other sources such as the department’s website, speaking with the recruiter or staff in human resources. Rather, the individual should use this as an opportunity to give a 30- to 45-second summary of his/her strong attributes and how he/she will be a valued contributor to the department. Thank the assessors for taking the time to meet with him/her and a willingness to meet at anytime to continue in the selection process.
In summary, the oral interview is the most common selection process used by law enforcement agencies. While each department is different, many tend to use some of the same questions. Preparing for this interview by investigating different departments and practicing honest, candid responses will set the candidate apart as an above-average applicant.
Major Dwayne Orrick commands the Support Services Division/Training Unit with the Gwinnett County, Ga. Sheriff’s Office. Persons wishing to contact him can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.