Police Officer Hiring Process – Application, Interview

There are some simple but important things you can do to increase your chances of becoming a police officer or other law enforcement officer. The hiring process varies from department to department. The application, written test, physical fitness / agility test, drug screen, oral interview /  board, background interview / investigation, medical examination, and psychological evaluation are common steps in a hiring process. How well you do and whether or not you become a police officer, depends largely on how well you prepare!

The Application:

If you have to pick up an application, make sure you look and act appropriately when doing so. Remember, you never know who will see you and first impressions are often lasting ones. This is something you should remember from now on, especially after you become a law enforcement officer. When you are in public, always assume someone is watching. Always look, act, and sound professional.
It is important you fill out applications and other paperwork neatly. Your application can be a first impression. It can make you appear professional or it can make you seem sloppy. If it is sloppy and not legible, it could delay things such as your background investigation. It is important that you fill out applications and other paperwork completely. Follow the instructions exactly. Use only black or blue ink. If the instructions specify blue, use blue. If they specify black, use black. Police officers must pay attention to details while on the job. If you start off by filling out your application incorrectly, it will not look good. Be sure to use and spell words correctly. Use a dictionary or spell checker if necessary! When using complete sentences, be certain they are grammatically correct. Don’t use slang. Make sure to answer all questions. Answer all questions honestly. Honesty is extremely important if you want to become a police officer! Make sure that your facts are straight. If you list a previous employer and indicate that you worked there from 01-12-05 to 03-04-07, but during your background investigation, the employer provides the background investigator with different dates, it could cause a problem for you. It might appear as though you just wrote the wrong date by mistake or that you were trying to be dishonest. Either way, it won’t look good. If an employer believes that you have intentionally provided false or inaccurate information, you will almost certainly not be hired. Make sure that the information is correct and up-to-date for the references that you list.
It is important that you submit your application on time. If there is an application deadline, make sure that you meet it. If you are instructed to submit other paperwork with your application, be sure that you do so. I have seen applications get shredded without even being looked at just because applicants failed to submit things like a copy of their driver’s license or birth certificate when required. If a written test is part of the hiring process, you might be required to pay a fee when picking up or submitting an application. If you are delivering your application in person, remember to dress and act professionally.
You will be required to complete a background questionnaire and/or other paperwork as part of the hiring process. Follow the above advice when completing and submitting any paperwork. Be sure to make a copy of your completed application and background questionnaire for yourself before you submit them. Keep them in a safe place. Applications and background questionnaires ask several questions about your past. It might take you a while to remember or look-up information such as previous addresses, names of previous landlords, dates of previous employment, dates of any traffic citations you might have received, etc. Once you have all of this information, you don’t want to have to gather it again if the department looses your application or if you decide to apply to another department.
More and more law enforcement agencies are accepting applications or resumes online or via email. Some law enforcement agencies require you to complete an application online.
If you are required to submit a resume, make sure that you know how to write a good, professional looking resume. If you do not know how to write a good resume, ask for assistance from someone that does. There are also many resources available online, through schools, or at libraries that you can use to learn how to write a good resume.
The Police Officer Written Test:
Many law enforcement agencies require applicants to take a police written test as part of the hiring process. Often times they are civil service tests. Sometimes applicants are required to pay a fee for the tests. There are many police exam study guides and test preparation books available online or in bookstores. Most of them are relatively inexpensive, and can prove very beneficial. Some law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol offer specific study guides for their tests. If that is the case, be certain to take advantage of them! If you don’t know if there is a specific study guide, ask someone. If there is not a specific study guide, ask a recruiter or human resources person if there is any information that they can provide you about the test.
You should brush up on basic grammar and written communication skills. Written communication skills are very important for police officers. Brush up on basic math skills to include working with fractions and long division. Reading comprehension is a big part of many police exams. You can practice your reading comprehension skills with a partner very easily. Simply read an article or chapter of a book, and have your partner ask you questions about the article or chapter. Questions pertaining to observation and memorization are often a part of the test. you can easily improve your observation skills with practice. Some police departments require you to watch a video, and then answer questions about events that took place during the video and/or ask you to provide a description of someone that was in the video. Sometimes you might have to write a narrative of what took place in the video. Written tests will usually contain questions designed to gauge your common sense and decision making skills. Again, study guides and test preparation books are readily available, and offer practice or sample questions. Do all the practice questions that you can, then do them again and again. Make sure that you understand why the right answer is the right answer. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask for it.
If you are taking a police exam, make sure that you get plenty of sleep the night before. Make sure that you eat a healthy breakfast. Dress appropriately. Always maintain a well-groomed, professional appearance. Be sure that you understand and follow all directions. Be sure to read the questions in their entirety before answering. Be aware of any time limits that may be in place. Pace yourself, but don’t feel too rushed. Take your time, but don’t spend too much time on any one question. If you are having difficulty with a particular question, skip it, and go back to it later. Just don’t forget to go back to it! Don’t leave any answers blank unless you know that it will not be counted against you. Use the process of elimination if necessary for multiple choice questions. Determine which answers you know are incorrect, and then make an educated guess from the remaining possibilities. For math questions, if you have time, go back and check your answers. And obviously, do not try to sneak a peek at anyone else’s answers. You will be asked to leave and to not return!
The Physical Fitness / Agility Test:
Physical fitness tests are designed to determine whether or not you are physically fit enough to accomplish what is required of you during an academy or to fulfill the duties of a law enforcement officer. Tests vary from agency to agency. Some are more difficult than others. Many tests include push-ups, sit-ups, runs, and obstacle course that might include scaling a wall or climbing a rope or into a window. Most tests are only graded as pass or fail. They are intended to ensure that applicants demonstrate a minimum fitness level prior to being hired. The tests usually measure an applicant’s strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. You should certainly prepare for a physical fitness test. Follow the workout in our Police Exam Prep Guide page. You should usually be informed what activities or exercises the test will consist of. Begin practicing the activities well in advance of the test, and strive to increase your proficiency with each activity. If you are taking a physical fitness test, make sure to dress appropriately, and maintain a professional demeanor at all times. Again, you never know who is watching or listening. Below are two example of entry-level physical fitness tests and minimum requirements needed to pass.
Activity 20-29 20-29 30-39 30-39 40+ 40+
Male Female Male Female Male Female
440 Yard Run (Time) 1:20 1:35 1:28 1:45 1:41 2:01
Sit-ups (1 minute) 24 24 21 21 17 17
Push-ups (1 minute) 21 9 18 7 15 5
Obstacle Course (Time) 15:40 18:70 16.94 20.57 19.48 23.66
Sit & Reach (” Past Toes) .5 .75 .5 .75 .25 .50
Activity 20-29 20-29 30-39 30-39 40+ 40+
Male Female Male Female Male Female
300 Meter Run (Time) 62.1 Sec. 75 Sec. 63 Sec. 82 Sec. 77 Sec. 107 Sec.
Bench Press (% Body Wgt.) .93 .56 .83 .51 .76 .47
Sit-ups (1 minute) 35 30 32 22 27 17
1.5 Mile Run (Time) 13:32 15:57 14:08 16:35 14:46 17:24
Sit & Reach (” Past Toes) .5 .75 .5 .75 .25 .50
The Drug Screen:
The drug screen is almost always a urine test. Candidate’s must provide a urine sample. The candidate will be observed while the sample is provided to ensure that no cheating is involved, and that the sample is indeed the candidates urine. The urine is sent to a laboratory and usually screened for amphetamines, marijuana (THC), cocaine, opiates (narcotic painkillers) and PCP. Sometimes, but not often, false positives are reported. If you do not pass the drug screen, you might get an opportunity to provide another sample.
The Oral Interview / Board:
The police oral interviews or boards are designed so that interviewers can observe your appearance, observe your demeanor, test your knowledge and communications skills, and find out how you do under pressure. Some say that the oral interview the main show stopper or deal maker. However, the background investigation probably eliminates more candidates that the oral interview. You should practice for the oral interview. It is very easy to do. There are several resources for sample interview questions. Have a friend or family member play the part of the interviewer, and do mock interviews. Practice, practice, practice. It is also a good idea to set up a video camera, and record your interviews so that you can view yourself, and improve your skills. There are several things to consider when it comes to oral interviews. Make sure that dress appropriately (suit and tie, shoes shined, etc.), and make sure that you are well-groomed. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before and eat a healthy breakfast the day of your interview. Arrive fifteen minutes early. When shaking hands, use a firm grip, and make eye contact with the person you are shaking hands with. Your verbal communication and non-verbal communication (body language) will be observed, and are both important. It has been estimated that 50 to 75 percent of communication is non-verbal. So, here are some tips. Don’t figit. Don’t appear too stiff. Don’t play with your hands or objects. Don’t tap your hands, feet, or anything else that so not to indicate nervous energy. Maintain good posture. Don’t slouch. Sit up straight. Keep your arms relaxed and at your sides. Don’t cross your arms. Use appropriate eye contact (consistent, not constant). Smile when appropriate. Appear confident, not cocky. Try to sound natural. Avoid Uh, Umm, etc. Be an active listener. Speak clearly, keep your answers appropriate, and don’t go off on a tangent. Don’t hesitate much, but think about what you are going to say before you say it. Be courteous and professional. Use Sir or Ma’am. When practicing and viewing your practice interviews on video, pay close attention to your verbal and non-verbal communication, determine your weaknesses, and eliminate them.
The Background Interview / Investigation:
A thorough background investigation includes a background interview. The officer or investigator conducting the background investigation will interview the candidate, face to face if possible, to get a feel for the candidate, discuss any areas of concern or answers that were not clear on the subject’s application or background questionnaire, and to answer any questions that the candidate might have. During the background investigation, the investigator will attempt to verify all the pertinent information supplied by the candidate. How many years back the investigator checks into depends on the department. Some might check back as far as they can, and others might only check back five or seven years. Having made some mistakes or bad decisions will not disqualify you in many cases. A candidate’s background is usually investigated very thoroughly and viewed in its entirety. Some departments have more stringent standards when determining suitability for employment. Although negative information in your background will not always disqualify you, dishonesty during the application and hiring process, if realized by the investigator, almost certainly will!
The Medical Examination:
You will be given a complete medical examination by a licensed physician to ensure that you are free from any physical defects or chronic that could hinder your performance as a law enforcement officer or that could endanger your life or the lives of others. Standards can vary a bit from state to state. Your medical history will be reviewed, and your immunization records will be checked. The doctor often checks your height and weight, your vital signs, your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, throat, your cardiovascular system, your respiratory system, your gastrointestinal system, your genitourinary system, your metabolic and endocrine systems, your musculoskeletal system, and your neurological system, and your dermatological system. In essence, he or she checks that all your important parts are in working order. Doctors check for certain diseases or conditions. Your exam could include blood tests, x-rays, an electrocardiogram, a pulmonary (lung) function test, a Tuberculosis (TB) test, etc. However, many times whether or not you are determined eligible to become a police officer depends on the severity of the condition. Like many other standards, vision standards also vary from department to department. Often times, you are required to have 20/20 corrected vision. Some departments do not have an uncorrected standard. Glasses, contact lenses, and different types of laser surgery are often acceptable. Your color vision, peripheral vision, and depth perception usually has to be normal.
The Psychological Evaluation:
The purpose of the psychological evaluation is to determine whether or not a candidate is mentally suitable to be a police officer. Psychological evaluations can consist of multiple types of tests. Categories of psychological tests are achievement and aptitude tests, intelligence tests, neuropsychological tests, occupational tests, personality tests, and specific clinical tests. How much of an assessment a police department requires varies. Most law enforcement agencies seem to be primarily concerned with achievement and aptitude, intelligence, and personality tests. Many agencies use the MMPI-2 test.