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5 keys to acing the police assessment center examination

Success or failure in the police assessment center can make or break your career — being prepared will help you ace the assessment


Assessment centers have been around since World War I. They have been regularly used in a wide variety of businesses since the 1950s. Both government and private industries utilize them as a method of selecting the best candidates for a job. If you’re reading this, it is likely that your organization uses them too, which means that you have the opportunity to polish your skills and show the assessors that you are the top candidate for the position you seek.

You may have been told to not worry about preparing for the assessment center. Advice such as, ‘just be yourself’ is common, but quite frankly, terribly wrong. As with any challenge you have faced in your career, training and preparation are critical to success. The sooner you begin the better. Here are five strategies that will help you.

1. Study the assessment center process. Absolutely nothing in this article can replace the need or benefit of thoroughly learning about the assessment center process. This is your cue to get online and find a quality book about police assessment centers.

You will find that assessment centers have tasks for you to complete. Common tasks may include presenting an oral resume; an in-basket exercise that requires you to prioritize activities while under a time crunch; a role playing exercise such as counseling a subordinate or dealing with an angry citizen; commanding a critical incident, including handling the media; and completing a written exercise that usually involves providing solutions to particular police related problems.

Reading a book about the process will give you with an in-depth look at each type of task and provide you with instructions on preparing for each area.

2. Read books on leadership and management. Understanding concepts and using the right lingo is important. You are expected to hit the ground running if you get promoted. You can show the assessors you care about your role as a leader and understand core principles of both leadership and management by discussing the concepts as they apply to various aspects of the assessment.

For instance, if you are assigned role playing that involves counseling a subordinate that is abusing sick time, you can discuss the Family Medical Leave Act with the employee along with your department’s policy and gain a commitment from the employee to improve in a specific and measurable way.

During the panel interview, you will likely have opportunities to discuss your leadership philosophy. That will be your chance to use key terms and concepts that you learned through your studies.

3. Prepare an oral resume and practice, practice, practice it. Most assessment centers require you tell the assessors about yourself. This means to give an oral resume, whether formally in a presentation fashion or during the interview segment of the assessment.

A common mistake is to believe you can simply get up and tell people about yourself. After all, you’ve lived it so you should be able to remember what you did. Keep in mind that when the pressure is on, forgetting information is common. This is your one shot to tell the assessors about yourself and why you should be promoted, so it is worth the time and effort you spend in developing a professional sounding resume and delivering it with a note of intelligence. If you have a fear of public speaking, being prepared can help ease the anxiety you may experience.

The best format is to start from the beginning of your career. Include other jobs that provided you with important skills as well. Do not mention jobs that did not, such as the time you worked at a fast food joint making burgers. Briefly mention the less important aspects of your career and emphasize those areas that show you are ready for the next level.

Don’t just tell them what you did. Tell them what you did and how it prepared you for your next role. Assessors are looking for your knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to the position you seek.

4. Prepare for specific scenarios. While it is not possible to know the exact scenarios you will be given, there are steps you can take to improve your response to whatever is presented to you. You should know, for example, how you would handle a critical incident. Give yourself many types of scenarios to practice writing and talking about such as an active shooter call at a school or an overturned railcar carrying toxic chemicals. You may need to solve a management related issue, such as preparing a plan, in writing, on how to increase community relations without costing the department any additional money.

Brainstorm possible topics and be sure to check online for scenario topics as well.

5. Prepare for the interview questions. Assessors will interview each candidate and present each candidate with the same set of questions. You can prepare for these questions by doing the same thing you did in step four — brainstorm possible topics and check online for interview questions. Write the questions down and write an answer for those questions. Even if you aren’t asked those exact questions, it is likely you will be asked similar questions and preparing in this manner will give you the edge you need.

Remember, the book you plan to purchase (step one) will also provide you with interview questions and scenarios to help you prepare.

As anyone who has ever gone through an assessment center can attest, it’s not easy. But, don’t fear the unknown and give up before you try and certainly don’t waltz in unprepared. Arming yourself with knowledge about the process and taking the time to prepare will put you on the right track to acing the assessment. 

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