As many of the posts on this forum relate to recruitment, I thought I'd make a blog entry about my experiences as an SC interviewer in my force. Hopefully this will be useful to those of you who are thinking about applying or currently waiting for your assessment centres, specifically those applying as an SC. I have been on both sides of the table for SC interviews, I remember mine well & remember the feeling of being sat in the waiting room, flinching every time the door opened dreading the time they'd call my name but also wishing it was over and done with; I remember being in the interview room, the sense of panic when the questions differ from what you've prepared for and I remember the nervous next few days waiting for an email saying yes or no. Now I'm on the other side of the desk, it's all too easy to say "don't be nervous", "be yourself" or any other cliche line but hopefully by reading this blog post you'll be able to avoid some little mistakes which unfortunately lead to people failing.
Please bear in mind, my experiences relate to interviewing Special Constables in one force. While some points may be applicable in other areas, things will vary by force and will differ for PC applicants. My points will relate to general pros & cons I've found to be relatively common which trip people up, this is not a "how to pass" or "secret guide to..." & I'll not be discussing specific questions/criteria you may be assessed on. Any advice given is not scripture & therefore if you go on to use it, you do so at your own risk.
1) Know what you've applied for! - Sounds simple, right? You'd be surprised! You wouldn't go to a 'normal' job interview if you didn't know what the job was & what you'd be doing, and just because this is voluntary (for you SCs), that doesn't change. I've interviewed people who claim to have done loads of research, who have friends/family in the job, been Police Cadets, but then don't know that SCs have identical powers to regular officers, can arrest/search people, the hours commitment or even what sort of general work the police do! This is an easy way to fail! If you want to be a Special Constable, how do you expect me to pass you if you don't even know what a Special Constable is?! DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!! I can't state that enough! Whatever the force, you will most likely be sent a load of material before your assessment, read it, read it & read it again! Have a look at your forces website, specifically the Specials page if that's what you're applying for, and find out as much as you can about them. By all means speak to friends & family in the job, use these forums & wikipedia or whatever, but always go with what the official websites/material say.
2) Know your "drivers"! - I don't mean Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button, I mean 'competencies' or essentially the criteria you are being assessed against. The specifics of these will vary by force but I'd be surprised if you weren't sent some kind of framework/criteria prior to your interview, which outlined what you be asked about or what you will need to demonstrate in your interview & throughout your career. This is another thing to read and read again as getting to know these will make your interview less of shock. In my force, all our questions are based around these drivers meaning if you know them inside out, none of the questions I ask should seem odd. Often drivers/competencies will involve several different aspects, be prepared to be holistic about it but potentially really specific about one aspect too. The best way to describe this is "trees" (bear with me!): Say I want to interview you about trees. I could ask a general question about them & cover the all basics of trees, or I could ask you specifically about the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves & so on. Now, you may have seen you were going to be interviewed about trees so you've prepared a nice overview answer but, you don't know much about their roots specifically. Turns out my question is about the roots, I don't want to hear your prepared general answer or about the branches. I only care for the roots. Make sense? Don't make this mistake. Make sure you know about & are comfortable with ALL aspects of the criteria because you don't know how specific my question is going to be.
3) Think about your examples! - The vast majority of police assessment centres are "competency based". This means I'll be asking you to prove to me that you meet the specific criteria. To do this, I don't need general, wishy-washy answers about how you feel about something, who you are as a person or how you think you'd deal with certain situations. I need you to give me specific examples of when/how you have done something that meets ALL the points of the questions. I emphasise "all" because if I ask the question to tell me a time when you've successfully done XYZ, I want to hear "a time" i.e one example, when "you've" i.e. I don't care what other people did, "successfully" i.e. you may have done XYZ but if it didn't work don't use it, "done XYZ" i.e not just X or not just Y, I want to see all three. Think about these before the day and get them right. Often people will use the wrong examples for the wrong criteria and try desperately to make them fit & will then use another example for a different question which would have covered the previous criteria perfectly. I will not correct you & cannot use the answer to one question as evidence for another (unless you use the same example for both questions which is acceptable in some forces). I have to go with the specific answer you gave so it's worth getting right.
4) Avoid using "we"! - This is often seen if using examples of where you've worked in a group but is still pretty common during entire interviews. Even if the question is about teamwork, this is YOUR interview & I want to hear about specifically what YOU did, I don't care about anyone else. Using "we" doesn't do you any favours & can lead to you not actually answering the question & therefore losing marks. On that note...
5) Listen to & answer the question! - Again, sounds obvious but many, many people don't! If you don't hear or don't understand any part of the question, ask me to repeat it. I can do so as many times as you like & can even rephrase it if it doesn't make sense to you. Asking me to do this does not lose your marks & ensures you hit all the points you need to. The question is all I care about. Do not waffle, go off on a tangent, give me a load of corporate spiel or generalised answers, it won't do you any favours and won't get you any marks. You can say you're the pope, the dalai lama, mother teresa & superman all rolled into one, that's great... but it doesn't answer my question & is therefore of no use to me. If the question asks for a specific example, give me one. If it asks how you'd deal/have dealt with a specific scenario, do not deviate from that scenario because that's not what I asked. I appreciate it's a fine balance you need to strike, if you do not demonstrate what you've been asked (either by saying too much irrelevant stuff or simply not enough at all), I cannot prompt you other than asking to clarify the specific points of the question.
6) Take your time! - Many of the above issues simply come from people panicking. Although I'll have a lot of recruits to interview & can't wait for you all day, there is no rush. Taking a bit of time to think about your answer before you speak will do you wonders & will avoid you blurting out whatever comes into your head that is vaguely related to the question!
7) Don't talk about stuff you don't know! - You answering my questions impresses me, you don't need to try and talk "job" if you don't know what you're on about. Unless asked for (& certainly not in my force), I do not need you to quote legislation to me, talk about jurisdiction, the fact you know the difference between different types of police vehicles, what different ranks can/can't do etc etc. I'm not expecting you to be a police officer, I'm expecting you to answer my questions to show you have potential to become one. Often people will read stuff online that is simply wrong and quote it in an interview to impress me... it doesn't. Unless it's relevant I will not correct you, I'll just think you're a little bit silly
8) Don't take your past for granted! - Have you been a cadet? Served in another force as a PCSO, Special or even Regular. That's great! I look forward to you smashing all the questions by having relevant examples to give. Please don't assume past policing experience is a golden ticket to getting in, it isn't! I have failed people who evidently have done no preparation after they assumed that because they can use acronyms, talk "job" to me & have had a warrant card in the past, that they'll get in. I take every recruit as they come. Yes, policing experience puts you at an advantage by a) probably having gone through a similar process already and b) it should give you excellent relevant examples to the questions I'll be asking but that's it. Unless you use that experience to demonstrate that & answer my questions, I cannot pass you. Don't be arrogant!
9) Don't lie! - In many forces you are interviewed by serving officers... don't try and lie to police officers or even HR for that matter, it doesn't end well. It's obvious and easily unravelled, if you do we can & will check! If you miss out & fail at the interview stage because you haven't provided satisfactory answers, you are welcome to try again. If you get found out for lying, you can forget any future career in the police on honesty & integrity grounds. Don't risk it!
10) Don't be disheartened! - If the worst happens & you fail at interview stage, that does not mean you are not suitable for the job. True, some people just simply don't cut it but in a lot of interviews that fail I find myself getting frustrated, not at you but for you. Much of want you're saying is great, but as per the points above, either you've not said it in the right place or not used it in the correct way to answer the very specific question you may be asked. If the force you're applying to does offer feedback, please take it on board, use the experience you've just had, review what you had planned & try again... please! I almost enjoy passing people who I see a second time more than I do first-timers!
Hopefully that all proves useful to someone! If you'd like to ask me any general questions about interviews, please do so below or PM me. As I've said above though, I cannot & will not give specifics about your assessment day.
Best of luck to those currently in the recruitment process!