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The toughest oral board questions and how to answer them

In an interview setting, some answers are better than others

By Police1 Staff

If you’re committed to becoming a police officer, you’re going to need to get used to oral board interviews. Police agencies use these panels to make a number of decisions, including evaluating new hires, making transfers and determining who the best candidate for promotion will be.

Though the oral board’s specific questions will change, candidates can prepare answers to present the best possible version of themselves to the interviewers. Here are some of the questions oral boards tend to ask, and the answers to avoid.

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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself

In any oral board, this will be one of the first questions that is asked. It’s your chance to make a good impression, so make it count.

Prepare an opening statement in advance that includes a short summary of your career, a summary of your strengths and accomplishments, and why you want to work at that specific department.

If that sounds brief, that’s because it should be. Your answer will give the oral board a highlight reel of your professional life, but shouldn’t be so long as to bore them with all the details. Practice this and get it down.

Answers to avoid: Give your oral board a good impression about yourself, but don’t bog down your response with unnecessary, boring details. Also avoid being overly negative about the things you dislike – it comes off as immature and petty.

2. Why did you choose to become a police officer?

There’s a reason people are attracted to public service, and especially the role of police work. It’s usually not a decision that comes lightly, and that’s what this question is looking for: how much have you thought about your decision, and how strong are your reasons to join this particular agency?

Be honest about what in your character and life drew you towards this role. If it’s because you worked in an office and wanted a more exciting career, say so. If a specific event in your personal life drew you to the profession, let the oral board know about that too.

Answers to avoid: You can say essentially anything here, as long as it makes sense and shows that you’ve thought long and hard about your decision to become an officer. Please have a better one than, “I thought it’d be cool to carry a gun and drive fast.”

3. Why do you want to work at this agency?

When oral boards ask this question, they’re looking to see that the candidate in question has researched the agency they’re applying for. You should know some specific details about the city, and have good reasons as to why you applied to this department over others.

As always, personal details are welcome if they help answer the question. Is the department innovative? Does the number of officers make it easier for you to get into a position in the K-9 unit? Is there a specific team or task force that you would like to join?

Maybe you joined the city’s Citizen Police Academy and left with a deep respect for the department. Maybe you see potential in the city as a place to grow your career and start a family.

Answers to avoid: Avoid generic answers that could apply to any city, such as “it pays the most” or “I enjoy the city’s nightlife.” Researching your specific agency and the city it serves is an absolute must before facing the oral board.

Follow these key tips to maximize your oral board performance

4. What is your greatest weaknesses?

The common advice for interviewees faced with this question is to give an answer that minimizes their weaknesses (e.g., “I care too much”). That’s a cop-out, and misses the real point of the question.

When they ask what your weaknesses are, interviewers are really looking for your ability to think critically about your shortcomings and offer strategies for self-improvement. What you should do is give an actual weakness of yours, framed as something that you’re actively working on correcting or eager to learn more about.

Answers to avoid: Don’t give a cop-out answer like, “I’m bad at interviews.” It’s missing the point of the question. The only answers that would hurt you are ones that paint you as having poor social/interpersonal skills (“I get angry at stupid people really quickly”), or admitting a fundamental flaw that would prevent you from being a good police officer. For example, one interviewee admitted that he sometimes “zoned out” during critical moments. Yikes!

You will inevitably be asked questions like:

  • If you saw another officer committing a crime, what would you do?
  • If a superior officer told you to do something you knew was against regulations, what would you do?
  • If you had to arrest a family member, what would you do?

These aren’t meant to have easy answers, but what oral boards are really looking for is if you’ll A) tell the truth and B) keep the department’s best interests in mind.

In a world where police departments are constantly being watched by citizens and the media, it’s especially important to find people who will help defend the agency’s reputation.

However, many interviewees fall into the trap of presenting an image of themselves that is almost too strait-laced, which casts doubt on the validity of all of their answers. The panel giving the interview is made up of senior police officers who make their living on their ability to tell when a person isn’t being honest.

Case in point, one candidate was asked what would do if he had to pull over a family member for speeding. The candidate admitted he wouldn’t issue a ticket, and when he was grilled on his response, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t give my sister a ticket. But I would speak to her seriously about how her actions reflected very poorly on me.”

Answers to avoid: Don’t give answers that would create a liability for your career or agency. One of your priorities as an officer is acting in the best interests of your department, and that includes protecting it from losing face in the public eye and being caught in long, expensive legal battles.

6. The interview is over, is there anything else you’d like to say?

It’s not recommended to ask any direct questions at this point.

Instead, you should use this time to form a closing statement that reviews your strongest points and why you would be a good fit for the agency.

If you haven’t already, this is a great chance to show that you’ve done some research into the department and have a good understanding of the challenges they face in the future. It’s also an opportunity to insert yourself into that future, and make it known that you could play an active and valuable role for the department.

Answers to avoid: Since this is your last chance to leave a good impression on the oral board, it’s not the time to come off as presumptuous. Asking questions like, when do I start, how much do I get paid, or when the holidays are will ruin any goodwill that you’ve built up during the interview. End with a strong closing statement, shake the hands of your interviewers, and leave the room with confidence.

[Complete the “Access this Police1 resource” box on this page to download a copy of these tips.]

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 March 28, 2017, has been updated.