Trending Topics

Rethinking the oral board: The unconventional interview

Try this new approach to help candidates sparkle, not stumble


If given the chance as a candidate to prepare answers to interview questions ahead of time, I would take it.

Getty Images

By Robert Manar

Imagine yourself sitting across the table from several law enforcement professionals, each of them holding the power to change your future. Their gazes are focused and intense. You are intimidated. You want to impress the panel with your knowledge and experience because you really want the job, but you cannot fully predict what to expect. You hope you’ve done well enough preparing for this moment, but have you?

What if you haven’t thought of something they ask about? What if you forget to mention something important? The last thing you want to do is screw this up. With all of this in mind, you find yourself squirming in your seat, pulse throbbing, palms sweating and mind racing. You have been there, right?

Having participated in many oral board panels in the past, I can tell you that not one panel member I’ve worked with has ever wanted someone to walk into the room and tank the interview. But if you’ve sat on the panel side of an oral board before, you’ve seen it happen. The résumé looks good, the cover letter looks good, the background seems intact, but the candidate offers a less-than-impressive interview and may even become stumped at certain questions. The “ums,” awkward pauses and attempts at stalling surface. Some can wiggle their way through, others pass on certain questions, and still others give responses that have nothing to do with the questions asked.

An oral board should not be used for practice. It is not intended as an avenue for candidates to hone their interviewing skills. The oral board should be a well-thought-out presentation of the candidate’s knowledge, experience and overall fit for the job. As such, the agency should be doing everything it can to maximize its ability to extract relevant information from a candidate in the most productive way. The conventional oral board, however, seems more like an interrogation than an opportunity. Quite frankly, both the panel and the candidate are impeded from experiencing the best quality interview by using the current format.


How often do you think someone comes out of an oral board thinking they nailed it? I would guess not often. Haven’t most of us walked out after an interview – whether it’s for a new job, a lateral assignment or a promotion – wishing we would have given a different answer to a question? I know I’ve done that more than once. I bet you have too.

In my opinion, we should be seeking a way to capitalize on these missed opportunities. Think about it: If, as the candidate, you were unprepared to answer an important question because you didn’t see it coming, you’d miss an opportunity to present something valuable to the panel. Instead, you are likely to panic. This will result in you providing an answer that is less than satisfying – you will pass on the question or end up diverting to another topic, neither of which is a great option. The panel, too, misses an opportunity to fully hear and understand its candidates.

What if one of your candidates was the best fit for your agency, but you passed on them because the interview was not productive? What if that candidate just happened to blank out on an important question? You might say, “Well, they couldn’t handle the pressure,” or “They should have anticipated the question.” I find myself asking, “How many opportunities have we missed to either land the job as the candidate or hire the right candidate as the panel?” Far too many, I presume.

What if every candidate was fully prepared for what to expect in the interview? What if every candidate provided good examples and was able to answer every question and showcase their knowledge, experience and relevance? What if every candidate walked out of the interview knowing they put all the cards on the table? There would be no more wasted time or opportunity, and a much clearer picture would emerge of whom our candidates are. Wouldn’t that be something?


Let me offer a solution to this problem: Ensure the interview questions are standardized for every candidate and then provide those questions to each of them well in advance of the interview. Furthermore, you should allow the candidates to bring notes, outlines or other aids to the interview.

Why? So all candidates can prepare honest, well-thought-out answers to our questions. This way there are no surprises, stalling and excuses when they sit down for the interview. Both sides can finally be satisfied: The candidate provides all the information they wanted to share, and the panel gets comprehensive, illustrative and applicable answers to the questions it asks. The panel will never be left wondering if there was more to be learned, and the candidate will never walk out wishing they’d remembered to say something.

In a time where agencies are vying for the best candidates, it has never been more important to ensure we are hiring the right people for the job. Helping our candidates fully prepare for interviews gives us all the opportunity to make sure we get it right. If given the chance as a candidate to prepare answers to interview questions ahead of time, I would take it. If nothing else, I would be more likely to feel like I nailed the interview. If given the choice as a panel member to watch candidates squirm and stall during an oral board or listen to them successfully deliver their knowledge and experience, I will take the latter every time. Think of it as a chance to try something new and unconventional. You might just be surprised at the outcome.

NEXT: The toughest oral board questions and how to answer them

About the author

Robert Manar has been in law enforcement since 2005. He currently holds the rank of Training and Standards Sergeant at a mid-sized police department in Michigan. Robert previously served as the Field Training Unit Supervisor and had been part of the Field Training Unit Cadre since 2013. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University and is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Police Staff and Command.