How to Prepare for an Oral Board Interview

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Preparing for the interview process is an important component of your criminal justice job search. Depending on the specific job you're applying for, you may have a one-on-one with your potential supervisor, or you may face the dreaded oral board interview.

The oral board interview is a very common format in police and other law enforcement job interviews. In this type of interview, you'll answer questions for a panel—typically three to five people, a mix of other officers, lieutenants, sergeants, an HR representative, and possibly someone from the city council or otherwise representing the community. The size and makeup of the panel will depend on the size of the department.

Whatever the situation, learning to ace the oral interview will help you make that all-important first impression and put you on a path toward success in your criminology career. Even though the panel setup can be intimidating, impressing the board requires the same preparation as any other job interview. Follow these tips if you want to impress during your oral board interview.

Do Some Reconnaissance

Before your interview day, take the time to scope out the location. Get a feel for how long it will take you to get there and what the best route will be. Planning your route to the interview will help calm your nerves and ensure you get there on time. No one on the board will be impressed if you show up late for your interview. Remember, early is on time and on time is late.

Anticipate Questions

While preparing for your interview, try to anticipate the type of questions you'll be asked. You won't know everything, but you'll be surprised at just how much information you can get through a simple web search. Nearly every agency has a mission statement and core values, and they often post them somewhere on their websites. These will help you get a feel for what the department considers its most important function.

You should also search for recent news stories about the agency to learn about the issues that the department is currently facing. Aside from web research, consider talking to people who already work for the department. There's no harm in asking about the types of questions you can expect. The worst that can happen is that they'll say they don't know or can't tell you, but at least you've shown interest and initiative.

Devise some practice questions and rehearse your answers. Topics you'll cover are likely to include the type of person you are, why you want the job, and what you think you can contribute to the department.

You can also expect to get some scenario-based questions, where the interviewer or interview board will present a situation and ask you how you'll handle it. Don't panic; the idea is not to test your knowledge but to get an overall snapshot of your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

Practice Makes Perfect

Recruit your family or friends to help you practice. Have them ask you the questions you've come up with. Ask them to give you feedback and evaluate your responses.

You'll also want to spend some time practicing in the mirror so you can see for yourself how your mannerisms and facial expressions look. If you feel silly looking at yourself in the mirror, try recording video of yourself so you can do an honest self-evaluation.

Maintain Eye Contact and Eliminate Gestures

During the oral board interview, be sure to maintain eye contact and pay attention to your hand gestures. If you're allowed to sit down at a desk or table, try to keep your hands folded on the tabletop and make small hand movements to accentuate points only when you feel it's necessary.

Watch Your Verbal Cues in the Interview

Pay attention to your verbal cues, and eliminate as many "umms," "uhs," and "ahs" as you can. These distract the interviewer from the thought you're trying to convey. They give the appearance that you either don't know a lot about the subject matter or that you're making it up as you go along.

Both of the above areas are good targets for practice and feedback ahead of the interview.

Honesty Is Always the Best Policy

Above all else, the key to acing any oral board interview is honesty. If you give honest answers to any question you're asked, your knowledge and passion will shine through, and you'll never have to struggle to come up with a response.

Also, don't forget that there's never anything wrong with saying, "I don't know." Interviewers can often see right through deception, and they always appreciate forthright honesty.

The bottom line is, be yourself. There's no need to be nervous in an oral board interview if you make it a point to put your best foot forward and go in with confidence in your abilities.

If you believe in yourself and are well prepared, you'll nail the interview. Even if you don't get the job, you'll have gained valuable experience on your way to landing a criminal justice job in the future.