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Become a Police Officer: What to Know Leading up to an Interview

By Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of Criminal Justice at American Military University

Getting hired as a police officer can be a rigorous and competitive process. It is critical that candidates follow application guidelines precisely and work to make a good first impression.

The Application Process
The first step is to complete an application. Take your time filling this out and be sure to complete the application in its entirety. Attach all requested documents to the application before submitting. Incorrect or missing information and/or missing documents can easily result in an agency dismissing your application or disqualifying you from the hiring process.

If your application passes the initial screening phase and no automatic disqualifiers are identified—and the agency has an opening—you will move to the next stage.

Preparing for an Interview
This next stage in the hiring process often involves a structured interview. This interview may occur with one or two individuals or, more commonly, you will be asked to appear before an interview board.

Your chance to make a good first impression may occur sooner than you expect. For example, it may actually start in the parking lot. Know that officers can and do take note of how you arrive for the interview.

Your vehicle makes an impression. For example, is your window tint too dark? Does your car only have one headlight? Is your license plate/tag hanging by one bolt? Do you have stickers on the back window that are inappropriate? If you answer yes to any of these questions, borrow someone else’s car or rent one.

Your professionalism extends beyond your physical appearance. You do not want to risk having the traffic supervisor on your interview board go off script and ask you to explain certain items on your vehicle.

[Related article: Demystifying the Background Investigation Process: What You Can Expect When Applying for a Law Enforcement Job]

Dress the Part
When dressing for the interview, consider your audience. Law enforcement, in general, takes a conservative view of things, so dress accordingly. Conservative business attire works best. For men, wear a dark blue or grey suit, blue or white shirt, solid color ties, dark socks, and shined leather dress shoes. For women, consider a similar corresponding appearance with a modern loafer, flats, or low heel shoe—each being closed toe.

When it comes to personal grooming, learn about the agency’s policy. It is in your best interest to walk into an interview already meeting the agency’s appearance and grooming policy.

Men should review the agency policy to determine:

  • Are beards allowed? Moustaches?
  • How long is too long for hair?
  • What about highlights?

For women:

  • If you have long hair, in what styles are you permitted to wear it when in uniform or in an investigative role (i.e. detective)?
  • Are highlights permitted?
  • Are there restrictions on makeup and nail color?
  • What kind of jewelry may be worn? These policies often include the number of rings, earrings, visible piercings, etc.

Up to this point, you haven’t said one word to the interviewers. In my next article, you can learn how to prepare for the actual interview. Knowing what to expect may alleviate some anxiety and improve your chances for success.

Read the second article: Getting Hired as an Officer: The Interview. 

Dr. Chuck Russo

Dr. Chuck Russo is the Department Chair of Human Justice at AMU. His law enforcement career involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations. He continues to design and instruct courses. His recent research focuses on emerging technology in law enforcement, post-traumatic stress, and nongovernment intelligence actors.

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