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Application Form - Competency Based Questions (CBQ's)

Chief Bakes

The application form is the first step in your journey to become a special constable and join the Special Constabulary. It is also the bit that most people get wrong, not through a lack of ability, but often through a lack of understanding as to what is required. If you were to apply for a job as an accountant an employer would look for qualifications in accountancy, if you were looking for a job as a builder they may look for previous experience and examples of your work. Policing is quite unique in the sense that it is almost impossible to be able to demonstrate your previous experience or skills as a police officer so the police service uses something called competencies. If a career in policing is what you are looking for then competencies will become second nature for you as they are used right throughout the service. 

What does the application form ask?

Well it will ask you to document the following;

  • Your personal details
  • Your educational qualifications
  • Your previous and current job
  • Any medical conditions
  • Any convictions
  • Your referees who we can contact for references. Normally one will be a personal reference and the other will be an employer, manager etc for a work related reference.
  • Several competency based questions

Now its the last part of this that I am going to focus on.


What is a competency?

View All Competencies

Competencies are a set of behaviours in simple terms, police forces are looking for you to demonstrate that you possess the right attributes and behaviours to be a successful police officer. They use what are called positive and negative indicators from a competency framework to assess your responses to the questions that are asked. 

You will find that the areas that are tested are from around 3 competency areas and these will be made clear to you on the application form as to which competency the question is looking at. Lets look at the competency area of Problem Solving. Below are the positive and negative indicators for the competency area of Problem Solving at Level C

Problem Solving

Gathers information from a range of sources. Analyses information to identify problems and issues, and makes effective decisions.

Gathers enough relevant information to understand specific issues and events. Uses information to identify problems and draw logical conclusions. Makes good decisions.

Positive Indicators

  • Identifies where to get information and gets it.
  • Gets as much information as is appropriate on all aspects of a problem.
  • Separates relevant information from irrelevant information, and important information from unimportant information.
  • Takes in information quickly and accurately.
  • Reviews all the information gathered to understand the situation and draw logical conclusions.
  • Identifies and links causes and effects.
  • Identifies what can and cannot be changed.
  • Takes a systematic approach to solving problems.
  • Remains impartial and avoids jumping to conclusions.
  • Refers to procedures and precedents, as necessary, before making decisions.
  • Makes good decisions that take account of all relevant factors.

Negative Indicators

  • Doesn’t deal with problems in detail and does not identify underlying issues.
  • Does not gather enough information before coming to conclusions.
  • Does not consult other people who may have extra information.
  • Does not research background.
  • Shows no interest in gathering or using intelligence.
  • Does not gather evidence.
  • Makes assumptions about the facts of a situation.
  • Does not notice problems until they have become significant issues.
  • Gets stuck in the detail of complex situations and cannot see the main issues.
  • Reacts without considering all the angles.
  • Becomes distracted by minor issues.
  • Leaves others to solve problems and does not see it as part of the role.

You need to ensure that in delivering your response you are demonstrating as many of the positive indicators in your answer as possible making sure that you DO NOT demonstrate any of the negative indicators. The positive indicators are deemed to be the skills and traits of a police officer that the organisation would look for, the negative indicators are behaviours that would make a poor police officer.

Example Question

Tell me a time when you have resolved a problem to maximise the effectiveness of the resources available to you?

Response Structure

This is really critical, it is important that whilst delivering a response to questions that you have a structure. You need to ensure that you tell a story with your responses so that the reader can understand exactly what happened. Every good story has a start, a middle and an end. You need to make sure your responses have this too and that the reader understands what the situation was, what action you took, what the result and outcome was as a result of your actions and ultimately what you learnt from the experience for next time. This structure if adhered to will ensure you cover the key information as succinctly as possible.

Remember SMEL as a structure. Each response should be around 250 words. The most important part is the Middle. You must talk about a specific incident or situation, do not generalise, be succinct, don't waffle and ensure you are clear in exactly what you did. No police service is interested in what your manager, friend, colleague etc did. They are assessing you so make sure you are using the words "I did ..." "I ensured ..." "I spoke to ..." etc The use of the word WE is going to score you no points so make sure you do not use that word if describing others.

Start - (Around 50 words)

Explain what the situation was, what were you faced with, what were the challenges.

Middle - (Around 100 words)

Describe what actions you took, what considerations you had and how you went about doing that. Be specific.

End - (Around 50 words)

Explain what the end result was and how the result was attributed to your actions.

Learning - (Around 50 words)

What did you learn from the incident, what you would do differently next time and ultimately were any changes brought about as a result of your actions and experience in this specific example. 

Example Response

Here is a very simple response to a question broken down into each of the elements so you can see how this is put together.




“In reviewing Special Constabulary recruitment I noted we were not recruiting enough potential officer applicants. When I looked at the number of applications I quickly ascertained that a substantial percentage of applicants didn’t pass the “Competency” paper sift and were not being re-engaged.”


“I decided to pull together a seminar where previous applicants could attend to look at some of the common errors that had been made and educate them as to what WYP looked for in a successful applicant. I arranged to have 500 potential applicants invited to a series of seminars where my colleagues and I delivered a series of presentations designed to assist and encourage re-application to the Force.”


“As a result of my actions 500 applicants successfully re-applied to the Force and went on to pass through the training to be a Special Constable.”


“If I were to undertake a recruitment campaign again I would institute these seminars at the outset to cut down on the numbers we were re-engaging with and increase the success rate for first time applicants.”


Common Errors

  • Poor grammar
  • American spellings
  • No capital letters
  • No paragraphs
  • No structure
  • Poor punctuation
  • Text talk (U c it int gd) 

You are being assessed in your written communication throughout your application form and you are expected to articulate your responses making correct use of the english language. Take your time with it, its not a race, and make sure you get someone else to read through your responses after giving them this guide to read to make sure that you have not missed anything. Failure at the application form will result in you not being eligible to apply again for 6 months so it is critical you take your time and get it right.



It is not important how complex your answers are or if they are amazing pieces of work. Policing is not about putting a man on the moon and therefore it follows that your responses do not need to be earth shattering. Your examples are unlikely to be in a policing context, again this is not what is being sought. Your examples may well be, and in reality should be, from every day life, your work, college, university, part time job, family problems, etc. What's important is purely a matter of you demonstrating that you possess the right attributes (Positive Indicators). Talk about you, not others, be specific, structure your responses as outlined above and be really clear in what you are trying to communicate. Remove the waffle. 

Follow the above advice and you will be successful at the application stage.






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