The Hiring Process
Unlike most jobs, becoming a law enforcement officer involves far more than completing an application and interview. Agencies run their applicants through a comprehensive series of tests and exams, each designed to narrow the field of applicants to advance only those who are most qualified.
As with the basic requirements, each state has a Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) or similar entity that establishes minimum selection standards for law enforcement officers. Recognizing that each state and each agency may differ, below is a summary of the steps you are likely to see in the hiring process.
Basic Application / Prescreening Questionnaire
The initial application and prescreening questionnaire convey an applicant’s interest and eligibility. Based on a review of this material, candidates are invited back to take the written exam.
Written Exam / Entrance Test
The written exam is typically a standardized test used to assess general aptitude and does not require or assume any knowledge specific to law enforcement. Written exams typically test an applicant’s
- reading comprehension
- problem-solving / judgment skills
- writing skills
Some agencies or state POSTs offer study guides to assist applicants preparing for the exam. Alternatively, there are private sector publications available online and at local bookstores that are designed to help with test preparation.
During video exams, applicants watch a scenario and provide a verbal response that is rated and scored. Some agencies use video simulations to assess an applicant’s interpersonal skills and judgment.
Physical Fitness / Ability Test
Law enforcement has physical demands, and employers are keen to ensure their recruits are fit to serve. Applicants can expect to take some sort of physical ability test during the hiring process. Agencies typically use a fitness test, a job simulation test, or a combination of both. A fitness test measures a candidate’s overall level of fitness through structured activities that assess strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health. Job simulation tests are designed to be job samples, measuring your ability to perform certain job-specific tasks such as running stairs, dragging a weight, or climbing a wall. While each agency sets its own minimum requirements, with enough training and determination anyone can achieve success.
A thorough background check will be conducted to ensure that you do not have any personal or professional issues that would preclude you from police service. Background investigators will review your employment history, character references, academic records, residency history, criminal history, and credit history.
A background investigation typically includes a fingerprint check and interviews with those who know you, including previous employers, school or military personnel, neighbors, and family members.
Drug tests are routinely administered to check for the presence of illegal substances. Each agency establishes the type of test.
Just as agencies want to ensure you are physically fit for the job, they also want to ensure that you are psychologically stable and mentally fit to handle the job. This evaluation is typically made through written psychological exams and may be supplemented with an interview by a psychologist. Psychological testing serves two functions: to evaluate your character and emotional make-up and to ensure you are well suited to the job from a psychological standpoint.
Many department use a polygraph, commonly known as lie detector, to verify information submitted throughout the application process.
The oral board is a chance for members of the hiring authority to meet and talk with you face to face. Oral interviews serve as a chance to discuss your qualifications and gauge your fit with the agency. During the oral interview, you may be evaluated on your:
- General appearance and demeanor
- Communication skills
- Understanding of and interest in policing as a career
- Response to questions and scenarios.
Generally only those applicants who have been given a conditional offer of employment will be subject to the medical exam. This physical exam will evaluate if you are medically fit to meet the physical requirements of the job. Specifically, you should be able to perform the “essential job functions” as listed by the employer. For example, to drive a vehicle, your vision will be assessed and you should have a low risk of sudden incapacitation, such as seizure or heart attack.
A typical medical exam may include the following elements:
- Chest X-ray
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Blood pressure
- Screening tests for illegal drugs
Most law enforcement agencies have vision and hearing criteria, as well as criteria based on specific diseases or conditions. The specific requirements vary by agency and what is acceptable by one department may not be by another.
Source: International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Model Minimum State Standards For Post Administration, on the Internet at http://www.iadlest.org/standards (visited March 18, 2008).