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Book excerpt: A Preparation Guide For the Assessment Center Method

You do not have to be a great public speaker, but you must show effective composure, dignity and confidence and not have distracting mannerisms or verbal habits

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The following is excerpted from “A Preparation Guide For the Assessment Center Method” by Tina Lewis Rowe. This updated and expanded edition continues to provide the concepts and methods that have helped officers of all ranks be successful in local, county, state, and federal law enforcement promotional processes. Order your copy here.

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The book focuses on improving the law enforcement profession by helping promotional candidates prepare to be effective in their preparation and testing, then effective on the job as they develop as coaches and leaders.


I often use firearms qualification as an analogy for an assessment center. You need plenty of ammo, an effective weapon, and the ability to accurately hit the target. In addition, the more you know about the qualification methods and the course of fire, the better you can practice ahead of time and be fully prepared. This book will help you gather all the ammo you can carry and have the skill to use it, so your assessment center target is blasted by hits in the ten ring.

You are the weapon

You alone deliver your KSAs, verbally and in writing. The weapon is the combination of your thought processes, words, gestures, expressions, decisions, judgment, style, and effectiveness. On the firearms range, you must have a weapon and pull the trigger to deliver the ammunition to the target throughout the course of fire. In your assessment center, you must think, speak, and write effectively to demonstrate your Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Attitudes, and Experiences (KSAAEs) throughout each exercise. There will be much more material about this later, but let me emphasize something now: In addition to knowledge, in real life and in your assessment center, it is absolutely essential to have poise and the ability to communicate in an engaging manner. You do not have to be a great public speaker, but you must show effective composure, dignity, and confidence and not have distracting mannerisms or verbal habits.

The exercises are your course of fire

When you qualify, you may know the course of fire, or it may be different every time. It is helpful to know it but not crucial. In real life, an armed assailant does not turn to face you at regular intervals.

You may know the exercises in your assessment center or not, but knowing them is not the most crucial aspect of your preparation—having ammo and knowing how to fire the weapon effectively are the most important elements.

The rating forms and assessor notes are your targets

When you are qualifying, you get a high score by repeatedly hitting the ten ring or other designated target area, according to the target you are using. You can also get points for hitting anywhere else on the target, but the highest score will result from hits in the designated ideal spot.

In your assessment center, assessor notes and the rating form allow assessors to keep track of your demonstrations of competencies/dimensions/KSAs and whether you got a solid hit or not. The rating form and assessor notes are the source of your assessment center scores. Hit the target in the best places, often!

Your KSAAEs are your ammunition

The most important aspect of qualification is having ammunition. You might have an expensive semi-automatic weapon or classic revolver. You might be aware of the course of fire, have seen the target many times, and are confident you could be effective if you are ever involved in an actual shooting situation. But you will never qualify if you do not have ammunition. On the contrary, having pockets and pouches full of ammunition will not get you a qualifying score if you do not load the weapon, aim, and fire. Get all the ammo you can, in the form of solid knowledge, verbal and written skills, effective techniques and methods, supportive experiences, and positive attitudes, and use every round in your testing process.

Expand your thinking about dimensions/competencies/traits and think of them as your KSAAEs: Your knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and experiences. All of those are what make you the person you are and ready for the rank you seek.

Your demonstration of KSAAEs are your hits

You may possess ample knowledge, skills, and experiences to do well if promoted, but you will not receive high ratings if you cannot or do not demonstrate them. Further, the knowledgeable, skillful, and experienced candidate who does not demonstrate any of those things to a significant degree, will probably receive no higher ratings than the candidate who possesses only a few of them but fully demonstrates all of them. It is frustrating enough to not score as high as needed on a promotional list, without realizing you could have done much better if you had focused your efforts.

Many candidates have tremendous knowledge, skills, experiences, and depth of thought, but none of their responses include those things. For example, in the In-Basket exercise example about supplies and emergency equipment, a candidate may have had the task of taking inventory many times or may have been part of an emergency planning group or have experience developing spreadsheets that could be useful.

If he or she does not tell the assessors about it, they will not know it. What experiences have you had that might give you insights into the value of a well-maintained inventory or what is needed for emergencies as well as daily operations? Have you ever organized a pantry or closet? That might be helpful too! Even having those KSAAEs will not mean as much if the candidate does not say how those experiences will help him or her to help the chief achieve the goal of being well-prepared for an emergency.

Here are ways to say it: “As a sergeant, with my lieutenant’s approval, I’ll direct the supply room to be cleaned and organized on a regular basis.” “I’ll use my experiences to train the people on my shift about why this is so important if we have a tactical situation.” “As a captain, I’ll be committed to having a role in our inventory maintenance so it’s viewed as important by everyone.”

The assessors are range staff

The job of the range staff is to set up the course of fire, give you an opportunity to shoot, then count the hits, and give you a score. The range staff does not give you credit for hits you might get if the lighting was better or if you were not nervous or if you had more time, only credit for actual hits. Similarly, assessors should not and do not give you credit for what they think you might be able to do in another situation, only what they observe you say and do.

The one difference between range staff and your assessors is that range staff can easily see your hits, and they can prove what score your hits represent. By comparison, assessors make personal decisions based on the guidelines they have been given, their own professional knowledge, and how well they understand what you say or do.

You may think you only have enough time to read the chapters about the exercises, or in Range terms, to find out about the course of fire. What you need to be doing is making sure you have ample ammunition and the ability to fire the weapon effectively so you can hit the ten ring more times than anyone else.

NEXT: How to ace your structured interview