Oral examinations: The first few moments

In every police-related job task analysis I perform, excellent verbal communication skills rates among the highest job-related variables requisite for the position. This is the reason why some type of oral examination is included in the process used to test police candidates. Back in April I wrote an article about how to excel in an oral examination testing process for promotion — check out 7 tips for the first 7 minutes if you haven’t yet done so. The article resulted in quite a bit of reader interest so I thought I would expand on part of the piece that may be important if you wish to achieve a high score in this type of promotional testing.

Simply put, candidates leave valuable points on the table in the opening moments of the oral test because they fail to distinguish themselves from other qualified candidates. Let me try to explain why by painting a picture that illustrates my point.

There are two openings for Lieutenant. The testing process is announced along with a reading/list. Jimmy Jones, who has been on the job for 14 years, wants to become a police lieutenant so he has spent countless hours studying. Jimmy even spoke with several retired Lieutenants and Captains who were known as “good test takers” — he picked their brains on how to excel in the testing process.

He took the written examination (which counts for 60 percent of the total score) and got an 87 percent on the test. The top score was a 90 percent and the closest other candidates score to Jimmy is an 82 percent. All Jimmy has to do is ace the oral examination (40 percent of a candidate’s final score) and he is home free — he should have one of those two spots. In Jimmy’s department the Chief goes right down the list and doesn’t skip people and there are no added points to the candidates final score for seniority, personnel evaluations, etc. Jimmy is a college graduate, has excellent verbal communication skills, is physically fit, and thus presents a “good image” walking into the room, and has a diverse police background.

He is scheduled fourth among eleven candidates being tested — perfect positioning. The panel consists of three police captains from other cities and towns and the first question from the panel is the usual icebreaker, “Tell us about yourself... and why you believe you should be promoted to police lieutenant?” This is the only time in the oral test where candidates have three-five minutes to say anything they want to the panel. Here is what Jimmy said:

“I graduated from High School in this city and still live here with my wife and two children who attend public schools. My father was a police officer here and shortly after graduating from High School I took the police exam and joined the force in 1996. Over the past fourteen years I have been fortunate to have had a variety of assignments, mostly in the patrol division. When I had about three years on he job I was selected by the Chief to be a Field Training Officer. In 2005 I was promoted to police Detective and spent a year with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. In 2006 I took the Sergeants exam and came out number one on the list and was reassigned back to Patrol as a field Sergeant.

“I have been sent to a number of schools by the department including instructor development, first line supervisor, and leadership. I am a recipient of the department’s medal of valor and have received numerous other department citations. I received my Associate Degree in Criminal Justice from state college and went on to obtain a bachelor degree in Criminology. I am currently working on an MBA.”

Although Jimmy was very satisfied with his opening statement to the panel and believes he did a great job his response to the panelists question is mediocre at best even if his delivery was excellent. Why? Because Jimmy didn’t articulate what anything he said has to do with being promoted to the next level and why he is ready right this minute to be a police lieutenant. All he really did was skirt around the edges of what should have been a very impressive answer.

Here’s what Jimmy should have said.

“I come from a police family. My father was a police officer here for over thirty years. I have always wanted to be like him-leading a life of service to others. So, as soon as I turned twenty-one I took the police exam and became a police officer. Our city doesn’t have a residency requirement and only about 10 percent of the police officers in this city live her. I went to grade school and high school here and own a home in the city with my wife and two children who attend public schools. The reason I believe this is important is because the department is heavily involved in community oriented policing. I believe being a city resident provides me with a different perspective and ability to speak with other residents which will be to the department’s advantage when I am promoted to police lieutenant.

“Over the past 14 years I have been fortunate to have had a variety of assignments which I believe has uniquely prepared me to move from supervision to management. Early in my career, I was selected by the Chief to be a Field Training Officer. This provided me with valuable experience in supervising and training officer’s right out of the academy. I found that I very much enjoyed training people in the right way to perform our job. In 2005 I was promoted to police Detective and spent a year with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. While with the narcotics task force I was awarded the department’s medal of valor. This assignment broadened my experience in writing affidavits, obtaining and serving search warrants and working with state and federal law enforcement agencies. This later enabled me to work with our younger officers to develop their skills in those areas and will be important to me as a lieutenant, especially if I’m assigned in an investigative capacity.

“In 2006 I took the Sergeants exam and was reassigned back to patrol as a field Sergeant. I have always sought to increase my skill level and have been sent to a number of schools by the department. Perhaps most important for the position of police lieutenant is that I am instructor certified, and have taken department sponsored courses in supervision and management. On the academic side I received my Associate in Criminal Justice Degree from state college and went on to obtain a bachelor degree in Criminology. I am currently working on an MBA. The reason I’m telling you about my training, work related experience, and academic education is that I believe the combination of all three has prepared me to make the transition from sergeant to lieutenant.

“I really want this job! I proud to be a police officer is this city and I’m excited about the future of the department. I want to be in a position where I can help the department make decisions that will better serve the community.”

I hope you see the subtle differences between the two responses. Merely reciting a list of accomplishments for the panel without tying a ribbon around how what you have accomplished has prepared you for the next level will not result in a very high score. Obviously, this is just the first question for six or seven to follow. However, oral examinations are a subjective process and if you do it right the opening statement to the panel will position you to provide the panel a reason to want to give you a high score.

Good Luck!
Larry the Jet

About the author

Dr. Larry F. Jetmore, a retired captain of the Hartford (Conn.) Police Department, has authored five books in the field of criminal justice, including The Path of the Warrior. A former police academy and SWAT team commander, he earned his Ph.D. at Union University in Ohio, plus mastera€™s, bachelors and associate degrees in Connecticut. Jetmore directs the criminal justice program at Middlesex College in Middletown, Conn., and is a full-time faculty member. He is also Director of the National Police Testing Services which creates and administers police examinations. His new book, The Path of the Hunter: Entering and Excelling in the Field of Criminal Investigation, is available from Looseleaf. To learn more or to order, visit the Looseleaf Law online catalog or call (800) 647-5547 Contact Larry Jetmore

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