Police Interview Newsletter - Police Oral Board Blunders II
ORAL BOARD BLUNDERS - II
By the time that law enforcement applicants have reached the oral interview stage of the hiring process, they have generally passed a written exam, the physical agility test, and a gross background investigation. The field of applicants has been reduced by 75% or more and it is time to recommend those survivors to the Selection Board. It is a proud moment, if you have been so fortunate. You have jumped hurdles and overcome obstacles-literally! Take time to appreciate this accomplishment. Do not relax and rest on your laurels, however. Your oral interview with the Police Selection Board will be one of the most challenging aspects of the application process.
You must keep your wits about you. You need to present yourself in a professional, respectful, intelligent, mature, stable, sincere, and well-organized fashion to win the Board's approval. If you don't, you are wasting your time.
True Stories of Applicant Blunders at the Oral Board:
1. A male police applicant had a list of driving violations that could have choked a horse. The Board interview had been going fairly well. The candidate was intelligent, well spoken, and was responding to the interview questions with sensible and effective responses. Then came the moment of truth. The command sergeant asked this young man, “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any driving violations?” Turns out that the applicant had over 10 speeding tickets, several vehicular accidents, and three suspended operator's licenses in the past seven years. The Board Members were incredulous! What was this guy thinking? Why would any law enforcement agency in it's right mind want to hire, train, and issue a police vehicle to a person with such a horrendous driving record? Not only did this applicant have more than the allowed minus five driving points, he had been sentenced to two 30-day jail terms for driving his car with a suspended operator's license. Police agencies are looking for responsible recruits - people who can be trusted to control themselves, follow guidelines, and obey the law. This applicant would be a liability to any law enforcement agency. No matter how skilled and capable he might be in most areas of policing, his abysmal driving record eliminated him from any serious consideration of employment.
2. On his personal history statement, the applicant indicated that he had never received any disciplinary actions against him on the job. During the oral interview board questioning he described a sound employment history that included a two-year stint as a loss prevention specialist at a large area department store. I pressed the issue and asked the applicant if he had ever made any “bad stops” (meaning that the loss prevention officer detained a shopper who was, in fact, not in possession of stolen merchandise). Bad stops are, of course, a no-no in loss prevention work. They tend to offend the innocent shopper and leave the retailer wide open to law suits and negative public relations. This police applicant finally confessed that he did make “one bad stop” and was suspended from the job for three days and subsequently not permitted to make shoplifting apprehensions while on duty at the store. So, in fact, this applicant lied to the board about his disciplinary history. There is nothing that police officers hate worse than a liar. It simply is not tolerated. Any inconsistencies between what people record on their personal history statements and what they subsequently report become grounds for questioning their basic truthfulness. Because of his untruthfulness, the applicant has probably ruined any chances of ever getting hired by this law enforcement agency in the future. Had he admitted his mistake from the beginning, this applicant may have passed his oral board interview.
3. An applicant presented himself at the police department on time for his oral board interview, however, he had not returned the required personal history statement and so could not be interviewed that day. When the personnel officer informed the applicant that his application was incomplete, the gentleman insisted that he had never received a blank copy of the personal history statement. The applicant was reminded that these personal history forms were made available at the recent physical agility test and that if he did not pick one up (as directed) then it was his fault, not the agency's responsibility. Given this oversight, the applicant was invited to complete a copy of the personal history statement and to reschedule his interview for the following week. He reluctantly accepted. But to make matters worse, this individual quickly developed a negative, challenging attitude with the staff and suggested that he was being treated unfairly. Rather than acknowledging his possible mistake and apologizing for inconveniencing the board, he left in a huff and did not return for the rescheduled interview. There are ways of gracefully working with misunderstandings. Pushing one's point of view and accusing others of making the mistakes comes across as emotionally immature, interpersonally tactless, and rigidly self righteous. Once again, we learned a lot about this person's character before ever sitting down with him for the oral board interview.
4. A police applicant, who was a recent college graduate, admitted to smoking marijuana by mistake on one occasion. He believed that the cigarette that was being passed around was an ordinary tobacco cigarette. How incredibly unlikely! Why not just admit that due to curiosity, peer pressure, or poor judgment, you smoked a little pot in college? That would have been understandable and quite believable. But, how often do guys share a cigarette? Board members asked the obvious questions: “Didn't you smell the marijuana?” “Didn't the joint look and feel a little different in your hand?” “Why would a group of people be passing around an inexpensive, ordinary, easy-to-obtain tobacco cigarette?” The applicant, however, stuck with his story. The officers on the board were left shaking their heads in disbelief. There has been a good bit in the news recently about the nationwide shortage of law enforcement applicants. Seems that it's getting harder and harder to find individuals without fairly extensive histories of illegal drug use. I've spoken with several law enforcement agencies in the past month or two who are seriously considering relaxing the elimination criteria on drug use. So, more and more, police agencies can understand and accept some period of past drug use in their new officers. If you have used illegal substances, be open to admitting it. To do so will give you a better chance of being hired than those who attempt to disguise or deny their drug use histories.
5. Why would a graduating senior with excellent standing in a university criminal justice program offer to buy alcoholic beverages for his underage friend? An intelligent, clean-cut, fourth-year criminal justice major presented himself for the oral board interview. He had a 3.4 GPA, had just completed his police internship with an area agency, and expressed great enthusiasm about his law enforcement career. On the “undetected crime” section of the personal background statement, the applicant admitted to purchasing a large quantity of alcohol for a 19 year old girl- within the past three months. It turns out that this purchase involved trips to the liquor store and beer distributor to supply this female student with what she needed for a party. Board members were all over this applicant! How could someone studying law enforcement justify this kind of concurrent illegal behavior? What hypocrisy! The lesson here is to keep your nose clean if you are striving to become a police officer. Successful applicants need to have left this kind of immaturity and poor judgment in their distant past. The inconsistency between this applicant's personal behavior and stated career goals was unacceptable.
6. I was serving as psychologist on a recent Animal Protection Officer Board. We were told that our next applicant, who was also a police officer applicant in the same process, had just failed his police polygraph exam due to inconsistencies in his drug use reporting. What absolutely lousy timing for this applicant! Moments ago he left a polygraph exam where he had been caught lying about his drug use history. On his application, he denied using any illegal drugs. During the lie detector exam, he confessed to two occasions of use in college. Now, we were about to ask him the same questions all over again for his APO interview. At this point the applicant had little choice but to admit to what we already knew. Sadly, he lied and lost.
ASK THE EXPERTS
In this regularly appearing column, Dr. Hart and local law enforcement officers respond to frequently asked questions.
Applicant: What if I say something stupid or offensive during the oral board interview? Is there any way to recover, or have I basically ruined my chances of passing?
Dr. Hart: Everyone knows and understands that most law enforcement applicants experience high levels of anxiety and stress when appearing before the Oral Interview Board. The well prepared applicant has given great thought to potential interview questions and has probably spent several hours rehearsing the answers in her/his mind. Yet, in the heat of the moment, it is easy to misspeak or to fail to express your thoughts in the way you intended. Embarrassing situations can unfold. You may start to ramble or catch yourself making some off-the-wall statement that came from who knows where. It can be very helpful in such situations to simply stop speaking for a moment, take a deep breath to regain your balance, and then to offer a simple straightforward apology to the Board for your lapse, error in judgment, or potentially offensive remark. To err is human…. The interviewers are interested in learning how you handle yourself in stressful circumstances. So, make use of this unexpected opportunity. Show the Board that you can (1) admit a mistake, (2) apologize for any offence or misunderstanding, and (3) move on with the interview process. If you fail to acknowledge a major error and/or to take responsibility for the mistake, the interviewers are left with many unanswered questions about you and your suitability for police work.
Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
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