Police Interview Newsletter
The Sergeant's Oral Board Exam

The Sergeant's Oral Board Exam
Volume 6, Issue 5
November/December, 2007

     Every law enforcement agency does the sergeant's promotional process a little differently, but most departments put a lot of thought and time into hammering out a rigorous series of steps designed to test the seasoned officer's readiness for first level supervisor duties.

     Some officers elect to sit for the sergeant's exam as soon as possible, after they've met the department's years-of-experience requirement (often 5 to 7 years) - anxious to acquire rank, more responsibility, and better pay. Others may wait a few more years, until additional confidence has developed, to pursue a higher rank. And, every police agency has a handful of veteran officers, who love their day-to-day patrol duties, and have no interest in advanced rank where they would be called upon to manage and lead others.

     The components of the sergeant's promotional process may involve: a written test, preliminary interviews with police personnel staff, letters of recommendation, a job portfolio or work sample, review of disciplinary actions, and more than likely - an oral board interview.

     The oral board interview appears to be the most anxiety-producing - if not feared - element of the sergeant's promotional process. Why? Because high ranking members of the command staff, and some well-respected citizens from the community, are going to be grilling you in regards to every aspect of your police career and making judgments about your suitability to become a first-line supervising sergeant.

     To prepare oneself for the Sergeant's Oral Board, it is imperative that you spend time thinking about how you might respond to possible questions, across a broad range of subject areas. It will certainly be helpful to speak with other fellow officers who have been through the process themselves. Discover the kinds of questions that board members have asked on past oral interview panels. And, if you have someone to practice with (a fellow officer or supervisor), you might want to consider a live role-play session where you are required to field questions in targeted areas.

Practice Questions for Sergeant's Oral Board Interview

     The following series of questions are ones that I have compiled during my law enforcement coaching work with applicants in the sergeant's promotional process. I believe that they are representative of the kinds of issues/concerns that are frequently evaluated. Take some time to work through each of these questions, thoughtfully constructing and rehearsing responses - as if an oral board panel was listening in.

  1. Why would you want to become a Sergeant with this law enforcement agency, when you will undoubtedly take on greater responsibilities and experience greater stress on the job?

  2. Talk about the ways that your role will change as you move from a patrol officer to a supervising Sergeant. What impact might this promotion have upon your peer group relationships - those officers you worked with day-to-day who will not have been promoted?

  3. Give us an example of an ethical dilemma that you faced in the course of policing, and tell us how you handled the situation. (e.g. an arrest situation, offerings of gratuities, lesser of evils, or tough choice among several good options).

  4. Please tell us what experience you've had functioning in a leadership role, and describe your current philosophy and approach to leadership.

  5. What leadership traits and qualities do you possess? What strengths would you bring to your new position as a sergeant?

  6. Where are your relative weaknesses, i.e. developmental areas, in the leadership realm? What have you been doing to strengthen these areas?

  7. Please give us an example of a time that you have faced adversity or failure. How did you deal with the circumstances and move ahead?

  8. Please give us an example of an interpersonal conflict you've experienced with a fellow officer? What was the nature of the disagreement, and how did you resolve the tensions?

  9. Scenario: The command staff has put a new policy in place. They know it to be an unpopular directive and you personally have serious questions about this new guideline. Your job, however, is to train your officers about this new S.O.P. and to motivate them to abide by this new regulation. How do manage your own personal feelings and objections regarding the new policy? What personal reactions would you share with your patrol, and which ones do you keep private - and why?

  10. What is the last thing that you and your immediate supervisor disagreed about? How did you settle your differences?

  11. Tell us about a recent time when you made an excellent decision at work, even though the situation was complex and difficult to read - and you may not have had the benefit of all the facts?

  12. Name 3 weaknesses that you believe may be present in this police agency. What would you do to make improvements?

  13. Tell us why we should pick you for promotion to the rank of sergeant, over all the other officers who are also competing in this process.

     To become a successful police supervisor one has to know and understand his own personal shortcoming and blind spots, as well to be continually open to the new things one can learn throughout one's career and life span.

I would refer the serious applicant to two previous newsletters available in the archives section of WWW.PoliceInterview.com : "Your Blind Spots. Know Thyself!" (Vol. 4, Issue 3) and "Lifelong Learning" (Vol. 6, Issue 1).

Best of Luck on your Sergeant's Oral Boards!

Phone: 804-353-6700
Fax: 804-358-7867
Email: MacHart@PoliceInterview.com
Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
4807 Radford Avenue
Suite 103
Richmond, VA. 23230

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