Roundtable: How to develop a winning opening statement

Explain with confidence, but not bravado, that you are the candidate the agency is looking for


An opening statement during an oral board interview gives police promotional candidates an opportunity to summarize their police career to date, outline their strengths and accomplishments, and detail why they want to work at that specific department.

We asked PoliceOne columnists and contributors what advice they would give a police promotional candidate on developing a winning opening statement. What helped you ace your police promotional oral interview? Email your success stories to editor@policeone.com or share in the comment box below. 

MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

If there is more than one interviewer, move your gaze to each as you introduce yourself. (Photo/Pixabay)
If there is more than one interviewer, move your gaze to each as you introduce yourself. (Photo/Pixabay)

Aside from looking well-groomed and professionally dressed, with good posture and a firm handshake, maintain a positive attitude and smile. Be calm and measured, just like you practiced. If there is more than one interviewer, move your gaze to each as you introduce yourself and provide the following information.

Explain you are up to the challenge and that your resume shows you have been properly trained and are experienced in several facets of law enforcement. Know your agency’s mission statement and immediate and future goals.

Tell a story folks will remember. Give examples of volunteerism. Relate times where you asserted yourself in leadership roles at critical incidents, in team settings and in enforcement operations. Explain why you went beyond the call of duty on an assignment, or project.

Explain that you chose to be an FTO to be a role model for new recruits and for the opportunity to help train them. Give insight into your personal ethics credo. Explain how you helped a recruit or a fellow officer who needed extra help to overcome an obstacle or problem. Highlight the fact that you have served in investigations, as a peer support officer, as a SWAT operator or narcotics officer to gain expertise and training.

Detail how you are a lifelong learner who has gone back to school to achieve advanced degrees or training. Explain that you are a member of professional organizations and keep up with current events, training, technology and innovation.

List contributions you have made to the community you serve and community meetings or functions where you served as a problem solver. Tell about how you changed the attitude of an angry citizen on a call to where they became supportive and understanding. Explain that we have an obligation to help de-mystify the way your agency conducts business. Tell about a child you helped.

Explain with confidence, but not bravado, that you are the candidate they are looking for.

James Dudley is a member of the criminal justice faculty at San Francisco State University and co-host of PoliceOne's Policing Matters podcast.

Detail how your accomplishments will benefit the department

As a chief, when I conduct promotional assessment boards, I always give the candidate time to “sell” themselves.

Often, candidates simply use their opening statement to describe what the position will do for them, how it is something they have always wanted, or their family members have encouraged them to go up for a promotion. Generally, that information is a given since they applied.

Next, most candidates describe their career accomplishments and educational background. The candidates who impress me are the ones who integrate their accomplishments with how they will benefit the department. I want to hear what it is they are going to do for the department if given the opportunity in the new position. Are they going to use the experience they have to train the officers who will be under their command? Are they going to use their education to help officers write better police reports?  

Having gone through the ranks myself, I understand that the promotion will likely benefit them personally as it will offer a raise, and likely better hours, or additional benefits, but what is the candidate going to give to the department, or the community in the new position?

I would encourage all candidates going up for a promotion to take all of that into consideration when developing and delivering their opening statement. All police chiefs and law enforcement leaders want to develop a winning team that will advance the organization. When a candidate comes into the process expressing that they are on board with the organization, and that they have goals and ideas of how they can contribute to making it better or advancing the organization further, then I see them as a winner.

LJ Roscoe is chief of the Goose Creek Police Department in Goose Creek, South Carolina.

FRAME YOURSELF AS A KNOWLEDGEABLE PROFESSIONAL

First, be conscious of your posture and your demeanor. Sit up straight and use formal, professional speech (even if you know the interviewers).

Next, be sure to include information that indicates you know what the job really requires - the administrative and technical know-how, as well as the human attributes. Demonstrate you can practice patience, understanding, empathy and trust, all while making sure the job is completed.

Third, start any story with the outcome, benefit, or result, and then back-fill by telling how you accomplished that outcome. Preview what you’re going to tell them. Start your story as if you both agree about what’s important: “As police officers, we know how important it is to do … here’s how I did that.” This approach tells them that you know what’s important and also presumes you are both on the same page. Also, tie your opening and closing lines together so you start with a statement and conclude by reminding them of that key point.

And finally, when developing stories, focus on your opening and your closing. Don’t try to memorize all the details!

Lt. Mike Walker is a 27-year veteran of local and federal law enforcement. 

balance confidence with humility 

In some respects, the delivery of an opening statement for an internal promotional interview is more difficult than an entry-level process. It is an opportunity to tout experience and qualifications, but you must guard against coming across as too self-serving or arrogant. 

Most of the people evaluating the qualifications will be from inside the organization and therefore subject to personal bias about the applicant’s qualifications and job performance history. Bias on the part of the candidate and the interviewer can be problematic. The statement will require the right balance of confidence and competence blended with humility and style. In short, the promotional interview statement must be compelling and factual. Never try to replace experience with platitudes or subterfuge; the interview panel will see right through this. 

It is always good to seek a successful mentor to assist with preparation. This should be someone who is trustworthy and candid. Such a person will give honest and open feedback. Usually these are people who have had great success in emerging victorious from interview/promotional processes. A good mentor will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear to stroke the ego.

It is of the utmost importance to guard against trying to pit yourself against other candidates. Never say, “I know that Officer X or Y has this experience, but I have this over them.” Let the qualifications speak for themselves. Do not ramble on about specific experiences. Be succinct and relative in all regards. 

Citing specific examples of preparation for the position is encouraged. Anything and everything that touts leadership ability should be considered. It’s always a good idea to dress for the role to which you aspire. If the promotional position is a uniform position, wear a uniform. If it is a suit/business-dress position, wear appropriate attire. 

Finally, do your homework. Know everything there is to know about the position you aspire to attain. For example, if it’s a position in administration, get educated and informed about the most contemporaneous issues. Include snippets of this information in the opener. This will demonstrate the desire to perform the new duties immediately. Do not take the “I will figure it out when I get there” approach. 

Rehearse the statement in front of the mirror, to yourself in private and to a person you trust (significant other, mentor, etc.). Preparation is paramount!

Paul Cappitelli is an honorably-retired law enforcement professional with over 40 years of experience. From 2007-2012, Paul served as Executive Director for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

Show you value teamwork

Speak immediately to the opportunities you've had to exercise the skill the new position will require. Be sure to speak to how leaders have influenced you in developing those skills. This can not only show experience, but your understanding of the value of teamwork and mentoring.

Chief Joel Shults, Ed.D, who retired as a chief of police in Colorado, operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy

REMEMBER YOUR WHY

Applying for a new position can be an exciting time, however, as you delve deep into the hiring process oral boards can be very nerve-racking.

You will be presenting in front of a group of strangers who more often than not are high-ranking officials. While this part of the process can be stressful, remember your why, and utilize that in your interview. It is important to remember that you only have one chance at a first impression, so dress professionally and maintain good posture and eye contact throughout the interview.

Your opening statement should be impactful and provide the board with a brief overview of who you are and why you want to work for their organization.

You should have done some homework on the organization by now, so it would be very beneficial to know some of the agency’s history and correlate your own personal values to your organization’s values. This will go a long way in making a lasting impression on the hiring board.

Jonathan B. Flores is chief of police for the Alton Texas Police Department.

Highlight pertinent experience

Great opening statements should indicate that you are ready for the position for which you are applying. For example, if you are interviewing to become a sergeant, you should discuss how you have led trainings and warrant operations, organized community events, and addressed acceptable or unacceptable behavior by your peers. You don’t want to highlight all the arrests you have made because they are not looking to promote you to continue doing your same assignment. Briefly highlight your previous work, but focus on why they should select you for the position for which you are applying. 

Booker Hodges currently serves as assistant commissioner of law enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

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