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What the psychological screening is really looking for

Police candidates who understand what the psych exam is really about can stress less


The psych screening is one of the last things you’ll need to get hired by a department.

Photo/AP Photo

By Police1 Staff

Law enforcement is a stressful job that requires a lot of public interaction on behalf of a police department. Before an agency finalizes a hiring decision, candidates must undergo a psychological evaluation, or the MMPI test, to make sure they’re suited for the job.

Based on data from the candidate’s personal history statement, their pre-test questionnaire, and their multiple choice exam, the psychologist’s interview will attempt to answer the following questions. Can the recruit adequately perform the duties of a law enforcement officer? Can the recruit perform those duties without posing a risk to the public or the agency’s reputation?

Here’s what agencies really want to find out during the psychological exam:

1. Agencies are looking for candidates who treat law enforcement as a career, not just a job. If a candidate washes out during or shortly after training, the attrition wastes tax dollars and the candidate takes a slot that could have been given to hundreds of other deserving candidates.

2. The psychological exam eliminates people who may be a liability to the department. In today’s political and social climate, departments can’t afford to receive media and public backlash for negligence like corruption or use of excessive force.

3. The psychological exam also tests for prejudices. The candidates are vetted to show who won’t discriminate against the citizens they are sworn to protect. Officers of the law shouldn’t have a position to favor one age group, sex, race, or culture over another.

4. Is the candidate a good fit for the department? Failing to pass a psych exam doesn’t mean that a candidate is mentally unfit, or unsuitable for a career in law enforcement. In fact, the exact same test answers that disqualify a candidate from one department may get them hired in another. Factors like assertiveness and passiveness are scored based on what the department is looking for and are not necessarily negative judgments on your character.

5. Police departments understand that people make mistakes. However, people who try to hide from their past may actually be proving they haven’t changed for the better. Time, positive action, and living a positive lifestyle will speak more to a candidate’s character than any answer they can provide on a test.

The criteria for the MMPI don’t necessarily require studying. Rather, it’s best to be the most natural version of yourself as possible:

Answer the questions literally without thinking into them too much. Trying to “game” the test can raise some yellow flags to psychologists, who are trained to look out for those patterns in the answers.

Be as honest as you can. Some questions may be repeated, or presented in some other form, to see if your answers have changed in between them.

Don’t fight the psychologist. The quality of your psychologist may depend on the budget and dedication of your individual department but, it’s important to understand they’re the professional, not someone that’s trying to assault your character.

Finally, don’t take the results of the exam personally. Many who have failed psychological exams in the past go on to become fine police officers with other departments. The psychological exam is not the final evaluation of your character, just an evaluation per specific agency. Don’t stress, and keep moving forward.

Top resources for promotion interview and testing success
Watch these on-demand webinars and check out these books to level up your interview skills and review board preparation

This article, originally published December 01, 2016, has been updated.