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Why success stories are so important in police promotional interviews

During the promotional process, provide stories and examples for evaluators to remember you by, and don’t forget to say that you want the job, are ready for the job, and are looking forward to the job!

If you’ve been in a specialized assignment for an extended period of time that has not allowed you to demonstrate supervisory or management skills, you may have to rely on other experiences that allowed you to build and strengthen specific “transferable” skills. For example, as an FTO, SWAT operator, or investigator, you might say:

“While I’ve been on X years as an officer, I’ve been able to utilize many of the same skills of a Sergeant, such as being a SWAT team leader, FTO, Incident Commander, lead investigator. As a result, I planned and coordinated several high-risk missions, successfully trained six trainees, managed investigative caseloads, and successfully coordinated with multiple agencies on tactical operations, etc.

“As a FTO, I had essentially the same role of a sergeant in conducting inspections, evaluations, recommending areas of improvement and measuring trainee’s progress. This includes counseling, setting goals, recommending discipline and ensuring their readiness to move to the next step. I’m happy to say that of the six trainees I’ve had, they are all successful officers on this department today.”

If you’ve been a shift supervisor, lead supervisor, held a military rank of E-4 or above, managed a business, were president or vice president of a social, church, or other form of group, you may also have been demonstrating similar observable, job-related behaviors of a supervisor or manager. Prior military service, private sector jobs, community/volunteer assignments, or in some cases, even parenting skills can reassure the panel you can hit the ground running.

Creating a Visual Story
Candidates must first understand how your agency values success. But, simply knowing that is not going to help. You have to integrate what those values are and link them to specific experiences where you can show that your actions were in sync with them. If your agency values community interaction and collaboration, for example, have you initiated a community project, bringing in all the stakeholders, and involved them in the planning for the project? Did you include plans to combat a specific crime area, gang or traffic problem?

Your department values officer safety and effective management of resources — have you taken proactive steps that included mitigation of liability and enhanced officer safety that resulted in a reduction in worker’s comp injuries? Did you demonstrate an effective use of resources, management of overtime, problem-solving, productivity, public perception/positive publicity, and the like?

If you had done any of these, use a story to weave your supervisory skills while recalling a particular incident or project where you demonstrated these skills. You might use a CARS story during your opening statement or added in response to a question. Remember that blueprint acronym is the Challenge you faced, the Action you took, the Result of your action, and how it was a Success.

Managing Marginal Performers
A key role of a supervisor is dealing with personnel issues. Dealing with marginal performers is among the most challenging. What would you do if you have a marginal performer who was not responding to calls in an effective manner?

Sample Response: “I would first determine if the underlying reason was that they were 1.) unwilling, 2.) unable, or 3.) unaware, and then develop a coaching strategy to address and correct their performance. As a matter of fact, I had a similar situation where I used these strategies. Let me tell you about it: As an FTO, I worked with several marginal trainees who ultimately were all successful in passing probation and are now valued members of this department.”

Tell your CARS story.

This reassures the panel that you have a proven track record in dealing at least with some degree of experience. In assessment centers, you may be given a set of instructions to review, and then meet with a role player who is playing the part of a disgruntled employee.

The role player will demonstrate specific behaviors that hopefully, you will recognize and address. Raters are observing how you deal with this person and whether or not you can manage the scenario successfully. But in a panel interview session, you are merely answering the question of “What would you do if this happened?” and they give you the details.

Let’s examine an example in both the Assessment Center and Interview settings.

Assessment Center Version
“You are to meet with a senior deputy who you suspect is behind efforts to sabotage your leadership. This is becoming obvious and is divisive, with some of the younger deputies aligning with senior deputies.

“In effect, some of their actions have been to sabotage your efforts at inspections, briefings and training sessions. Response times are down and at least two inspections revealed lack of upkeep on equipment, including dirty and malfunctioning firearms and magazines, as well items missing from patrol vehicles. You are to meet in five minutes and will have 15 minutes to discuss this. The next evaluation is due in three months.”

Interview Version
“As a new sergeant how would you handle a senior deputy who has been sabotaging your leadership? Specifically, he has been encouraging some of the junior deputies to also participate such as in disrupting your briefings, not maintaining equipment or not responding to calls. His evaluation is due in three months.”

If you’ve been a shift supervisor or lead supervisor — or held a variety of other managerial roles outside of law enforcement — you may have already been demonstrating similar observable, job-related behaviors of a supervisor or manager. Keep in mind that all simulations and interviews are based on behavioral observations. Any properly developed examination is “behaviorally” based.

If you are being interviewed, your “behaviors” are your answers to the questions, as well as other factors, such as how well you communicate orally. Other factors may include flexibility, judgment, ability to persuade others, even “command presence.”

Even if you are not going to be involved in an assessment center, you should make sure that you understand the concept of behaviors and how they can be demonstrated and rated. As stated earlier, you have to demonstrate dimensions through your actions to be rated. You should know what it is that the assessors are looking for, but you should not fake anything — you will only succeed in hurting your chances for advancement.

The Premise is Simple and Direct
Learn how to be a good supervisor or manager. Those behaviors that good supervisors or managers do every day are precisely what a good assessment center seeks in candidates. Behaviors, themselves, are nothing more than your response to specific stimuli. The psychologists who espouse a “behaviorist” philosophy basically believe that only that behavior that is observed is valid.

The assessment center method uses a process that is referred to as the “Behavioral Consistency Model.”

This model holds certain beliefs about behavior, which is that past or current behavior predicts future behavior. This is why your own “success” stories are so important.

Rick Michelson’s 30 years of experience in law enforcement started with the San Diego Police Department where he served as a patrol, SWAT and FTO sergeant. He also served as interim chief, lieutenant and sergeant with two university and college police departments. He has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

As director of KSA Ltd., (Knowledge, Skills & Abilities), he provides leadership development training workshops, using assessment centers methods, for officers who are preparing for supervisory and management positions. He is also the author of “Assessment Centers for Public Safety.” He has a bachelor’s degree from Chapman University and a master’s degree in public administration from National University. He was also a Ph.D. candidate for the Union Institute and University.