By John Erich, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
At a time when police departments across America are struggling to find enough personnel, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in San Antonio, Tex. is a notable exception. In roughly a year, since October 2021, the BCSO has hired more than 200 officers. It’s done this by enthusiastically embracing a range of best practices spearheaded by a new text-based communications tool that facilitates better engagement with potential applicants.
“At this time in society, policing has kind of taken its hits as far as people wanting to become police officers, so it is a little challenging” to find people, said Lt. Stephanie Flores, who oversees recruitment and the application process for the department. “We’re trying to take full advantage of any way we can to help give people a positive outlook on policing.”
The BCSO works tirelessly at promoting itself and the positives of law enforcement careers. It recruits statewide. It’s active on a range of social media, including TikTok (where it has more than 15,000 followers), and participates actively in job fairs, community events and other opportunities. It hires recruits as young as 18 and has no upper age limit. And for the last year it’s used Interview Now, an app developed with an eye toward helping law enforcement and other public safety organizations streamline communication and be more focused in their recruiting efforts.
The idea behind Interview Now was to create a fast, easy, personalized experience for those interested in learning more about careers with specific departments. With Interview Now, instead of a static application process that may not produce an immediate response, users can connect with recruiters right away, get prescreened, have questions answered, plan their next steps and generally feel like the valued commodities they are. Departments, facing a job market that currently favors candidates, can distinguish themselves with quick and responsive reactions to contacts, capitalize on people’s interest while it’s fresh and lead them through the process more actively than before.
“Interview Now has been a huge tool for us,” said Flores. “Society has changed, right? We’re more into text messaging and quick responses. What we love about Interview Now is the immediate satisfaction of an immediate response.”
That simplified contact and easy back-and-forth has helped BCSO enlarge the pool of interested candidates from which it draws. Since adopting it the department has used it to communicate with around 2,500 potential new hires. Not all will ultimately become Bexar deputies, but with more quality candidates to choose from, BCSO can focus on hiring only the very best.
STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT
A year into using Interview Now, it brings the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office around nine inquiries a day. The recruiting unit strives to respond to them as quickly as possible.
“I try to respond like a normal person, not something that seems automated, so I’ve tailored our responses to be very personable,” Flores said. “I’ll identify myself and ask how they’re doing and thank them for their interest in reaching out. Then I’ll tell them I’d like to move them on to the next step in the hiring process, and we go on until I get them a date to come in for testing. That gives me the ability to put them on a roster and keep track of them.”
Using text-based interaction to initiate and advance the process opens the door to candidates who may be reluctant to approach officers at public events like job fairs or hesitant to begin what can be a daunting government hiring process. And it provides departments like BCSO an easy handle to reach back out.
“Say something happens where someone doesn’t make it to their testing,” said Flores. “We can go back to that roster and send them another message saying, ‘Hey, just checking in on you, I’d love to get you rescheduled if you’re still interested.’ So we are always following up.
“We have to remember that a lot of our younger applicants love text messaging; it gives them the ability to communicate without having to actually speak to somebody face-to-face in the beginning of the process, which can be a little overwhelming.”
BCSO bolsters efforts with a speedy background process and an aggressive testing schedule, both designed to expedite the hiring process. The key is striking while the proverbial iron is hot.
“People will tell us, ‘I called this agency, I sent them an email, and nobody got back to me,’” Flores said. “That kind of thing happens a lot. Instead what we hear is, ‘Thank you for responding so quickly, I wasn’t expecting that!’”
DRIVE THE NEXT STEP
The key to converting an expression of general interest to an actual officer in uniform is active guidance. Left to navigate application and testing processes on their own, many candidates might drift away and never finish. Interview Now gives recruiters like those with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office a platform to shepherd them – prompt them with questions and reminders, conversationally and as a normal part of their day, to keep them engaged and moving forward.
“A lot of agencies might give people a link or a QR code, and all it does is take them to a website,” Flores said. “What they do there is up to the candidate – whether they click on the application, look at the videos or whatever. But all you’re doing is allowing them to look at your website – you’re not guiding them into the actual hiring process. When we’re engaging with people, we’re working toward getting them into a testing. It’s all about, ‘Hey, this is what we’re about, this is what we’re doing, the next step is this. Here are the days I have for testing – what day do you want to be scheduled for?’ You have to drive them into the next step.”
At the request of the California Highway Patrol, Interview Now even added an RSVP-type feature by which applicants can commit to show up for events. After confirming their attendance beforehand, people are less likely to no-show when the time comes.
“What’s helped us is being able to contact so many people,” said Flores. “Imagine going to a recruiting event, and six people come up to you. But those six people just came up – you don’t know if they’re actually going to apply. They were interested, they talked to you – that’s it. With Interview Now, since the day we started using the program, we are averaging nine contacts a day, even on weekends. Now, out of those nine, maybe three won’t respond, but six will. That’s still a solid six every single day with the potential to become new deputies in our department.”
See Flores talk more about Interview Now and its impact on the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office hiring in this YouTube video.
Visit Interview Now for more information.