Get a haircut and get a real job…

It’s not terribly uncommon for someone to approach a police officer and tell about how he or she has always thought it would be a great job to have.  Sometimes it’s someone who has already established himself in another career field, sometimes it’s a small child. On rare occasions it actually comes from someone who is really looking for guidance on how to get hired.  I’ve had some requests for guidance from folks who have read my blog too.  I always direct those folks here and there mainly because I wrote them and I think there’s something to be said about knowing what you are getting into before you start.

In my experience, these job seekers are further divided into two categories. The first is the “this obviously isn’t for you” group of people who make it somehow known that they are seeking authority, recognition, or privilege. Or they list their previous arrests and ask if those convictions would be excused.

When I speak to group one, the “need not apply” group, I maintain a professional demeanor while attempting to let them down easy. If they don’t pick up what I’m putting down, I list some other agencies that may be hiring and suggest that they apply there.  Lord knows I don’t want them at my agency.

The second group of job seekers appear to be viable candidates, or at least don’t seem to be outright “no’s” during  a brief conversation.  I do my best to point them in the right direction by providing honest advice and making them aware that the job isn’t as much fun as they may think it will be.

The most common advice I give is pretty simple. Apply early and apply often. A lot of folks make the mistake of only applying for one department. That’s the equivalent of putting every egg into one basket as hiring processes take about a year and most agencies have hundreds of applicants seeking only a handful of jobs. A year is a long time to wait only to find out that the jobs went to other people.

The odds of getting hired improve when a candidate is involved in multiple hiring processes. Most hiring processes follow the same steps, and there should be a chance to improve each time a particular step is attempted.  Not to mention that the simple mathematical odds increase the more attempts are made.

The key in getting a job in law enforcement over a ton of applicants is to stand out.  Find your niche, what makes you special in comparison to the others, and own it.  If the application packet asks for something, make sure it’s included before it is submitted.  Not turning in a complete packet can be a reason to be excluded from the process, plus it just looks bad.

Most agencies would like to see job-related experience in an applicant’s background. It’s hard to get law enforcement experience when you can’t get hired. Experience in the community is important. Volunteering your time to improve your own community goes a long way.  Getting arrested does not count for law enforcement experience.

Working a security job doesn’t help as much as you might think.  Cops typically don’t have the best working relationships with security guards.  We’ve responded to enough alarms at businesses to find a sleeping guard at the scene, or dealt with overzealous mall cop types to make us less than impressed.  Sure there are good security guards, but typically those realize that their job is to be security and they don’t try to seem like some sort of cop.  And don’t display a “thin blue line” if you’re solely a security guard. That’s not for you, skippy.

Having a college degree can’t hurt, but it also doesn’t mean you will be a sure thing.  We’ve all hired a college grad that couldn’t police a closet, let alone type a report.  If you plan to tout your degree as a reason to be selected, there should be something special about it.  A high GPA, specialized course work, and/or productive extracurricular activities make a BS look much better.  Being the social director for your fraternity or sorority probably isn’t resume worthy.

Military service is also a great thing to most agencies, but you will find that a lot of candidates are prior military.  What sets you apart from the others?  Combat experience in the infantry is great, but bragging about confirmed kills really isn’t the way to go about it.  Experience in making important decisions in life-and-death situations is a really good selling point.  Never been to combat?  Don’t sweat it.  Surely you had to wear a uniform and be on time, so focus on the importance of representing yourself in a professional manner in uniform, being dependable, and self disciplined.

Corrections officers usually make up a sizeable group of potential candidates for patrol jobs, too.  Some of the best street interviewers and pat down search experts I’ve ever met started off in a jail or prison as a CO.  There’s something to be said about being familiar with the clientele, even if it’s from a different jurisdiction.  Equate those skills to how they would transfer onto the street.  Handcuffing, use of force, etc., translate well.

If you’ve never had experience as a CO, and don’t have a college degree or military service, don’t fret.  It takes all kinds of people to make an effective law enforcement agency.  Law enforcement is such a varied endeavor that just about any sort of gainful employment will have something that can translate to what we do. How do you fit in?  For example, if you’ve worked in retail or food service, you’ve probably encountered an asshole customer or two.  Cops deal with assholes too, so capitalize on it.

Outside of the resume/application packet building, being prepared for the physical fitness testing is absolutely important. The bar is set pretty low in most places, so barely passing can look as bad as failing an event if you are allowed to do more than the minimum.  Find out what will be tested and how.  Then practice those exercises with the required form.  If you can’t do the required 20 or so pushups when you practice, you won’t miracle them on test day.  Do yourself a favor and withdraw from the testing process.

If you manage to proceed to the interview stages, you need to prepare to answer the questions that will likely be asked of you.  I won’t speculate on the questions for you, but at least be able to answer the easy one of “why do you want to be a police officer?”  Don’t just regurgitate “to help people”, either.  Put your brand on it.

Actually wear professional attire to the interview.  Yes, that means a crisp looking suit and tie for the guys and whatever is comparable for females if you’re so equipped.  And arrive early, nothing starts off an interview worse than making the interview panel wait for you.

Appearing nervous in an interview isn’t ideal, especially when you are trying to convince someone to issue you a badge and a gun so you can go to real shit-your-pants stuff.  Take deep breaths and at least appear composed.  Wait to be seated and then sit upright, make eye contact (just not creepy, lingering eye contact), and speak in a confident tone.  Think before you speak, but don’t pause for an inordinate amount of time.  Don’t swear either.  I’m very proficient in the profane and there have been plenty of times that it has served me well on the street.  The interview panel doesn’t want or need to hear it.

If there is an opportunity to do so and you are involved in multiple processes, make sure to let the panel know.  It creates a sense of marketability and urgency, just like when a department store puts a “reduced price” sticker on an item after dropping the price one cent.  If the panel likes you, knowing that another agency might snatch you up first may work in your favor.

Once the interview is complete, shake hands and thank the panel for their time.  Don’t press for a timeline.  Don’t ask “when do I start?” or any other awkward questions.

Continue the process until you get an offer from an agency.  If you don’t get offered a full time spot somewhere, ask if they have a reserve officer program so you can gain actual law enforcement experience.  Most agencies that have a reserve program eventually hire a lot of their reserve officers full time.

It’s not an easy process, but nothing worth doing is easy.  It’s not an easy lifestyle either, so a little work at the onset can be a little taste of how the agency operates on a daily basis.  If you’re lucky enough to get two offers, remember how the process worked for each of them.  Which one is a better fit for you?

For those of you with the right motives and skills that want to be an officer, I wish you the best of luck.  If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments or on my Facebook page.  If I missed something useful to these folks, feel free to post other suggestions too.

It’s time to go patrol the Donut…

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About donutcountycop

I am a husband, father, and coach who began a career in law enforcement at a very small agency in 2003. After a deployment to Iraq with the USMC reserve in 2004, I changed agencies and moved to a “donut county” that borders a major US city in 2006. My current agency is composed of about 50 sworn officers, and is the busiest agency in our part of the donut. I am currently a mid-level supervisor who is in charge of a night shift, and serve the department in many other areas that include SWAT, FTO, and primary instruction. I’ve been around long enough to lose the illusion that I have every answer to every problem and now fully understand that my experiences have prepared me for little else than a life of wearing a badge and pistol.
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