By Dr. Chuck Russo
Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Getting hired can be a rigorous and competitive process. Today’s application process often involves background checks, physical and mental health evaluations, and high-pressure interview scenarios. Job seekers in all fields can learn a lot from the strategies of law enforcement candidates.
[To learn how to get to the interview phase, review this article: What to Know Leading up to an Interview.]
What to Do in an Interview
When you arrive at the interview your stomach may be in knots, but if you know what to expect, you can control your nerves so they don’t control you. Be sure you spend time preparing so you can shine during this part of the hiring process.
Remember Names and Titles
You will be walked into the room at the appropriate time and introduced to the interviewer and/or the interview panel. Shake each individual’s hand as you greet them with their name. Pay close attention during the introductions: Your goal is to remember names and titles!
Interview panels are frequently composed of individuals from the organization who hold different positions. Be prepared to remember the name and role of each individual and, when asked a question, respond with the individual’s name, unless instructed otherwise.
Check Your Body Language
You will probably be seated during the interview. Sit straight up in the chair with your hands meeting in front of you on the table to display confidence and dispel nervousness. Answer each question clearly while making eye contact with the interviewer and others in the room.
Prepare Responses Ahead of Time
There are three standard questions that you should prepare a rehearsed answer. By rehearsed, I do not mean a memorized response that you spew back as if you are reading a sheet of paper. Rather, memorize the key points you want to raise with your responses.
The three standard questions are:
- Tell us about yourself.
- Why do you want to work in this field?
- Why do you want to work for this organization?
Tell Us About Yourself
Answering this question is your opportunity to shine. What parts of your life do you feel contribute to this organization? Frequently, interviewers hear about family, education, where you grew up, etc. These are good answers. Also be sure to address unique things about you such as additional languages spoken, unique skills possessed, military experience, coming from a law enforcement family, etc.
Think long and hard about your answers to the other two questions.
Why Do You Want this Job?
Understand and be able to articulate what draws you to this job opportunity, what makes you think you are a good fit for this profession, and what you can contribute to the profession. Tailor your responses to the specific organization.
Why This Organization?
Be sure to prepare a response other than, “Well you are the only one in the area hiring.” Think about what you know about the organization and what led you to apply. Do they offer the best pay, benefits and/or tuition reimbursement in the area? Does this company have a great reputation?
You may also be asked open-ended questions like:
- How would you respond if…
- What would you do when…
- Based on this scenario you would…
Draw upon your knowledge, skills, and abilities to answer the questions as best as you can.
Prepare for Follow-up Questions
Regardless of your answers, be prepared for follow-up questions and/or having to defend your initial answers. Interviewers will be paying attention to not just your answers, but your body language, tone, gestures, etc.
Manage your non-verbal as well as your verbal responses. Do you get angry or riled when the follow-up questions start? Do you laugh at everything and appear not to take things seriously? Do you change your response at every opportunity and not stand by your original responses? As you provide responses, know that those in the room are taking notes on such items.
Ending the Interview
At the conclusion of the structured interview, you may be asked if there is anything you would like to add before the interview ends. Take this time to summarize why you are the best candidate for the job. Ask questions that you have prepared.
Be sure to thank each individual in the room, by name, for the opportunity to interview for the position. Let them know you look forward to hearing from them. Stand up from the table, shake everyone’s hand, turn to the door, and walk out holding your head high knowing that your preparedness has met the opportunity.
About the Author: Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.