10 Keys to a Successful Oral Board

In law enforcement, there are several processes that can be implemented in order to create a ranked eligibility list for competitive special assignments or promotion. There are written tests, administrative reviews, and/or assessment centers; but the one consistency amongst nearly all processes is the oral board.

Thin Blue Line of Leadership is not a test preparation blog, but as leaders we often take on the role of assisting our officers in preparing for these processes. One of the most altruistic values any leader can possess is the belief that their own success is found through the success of their officers. Therefore, Thin Blue Line of Leadership is going to share 10 keys to having a successful oral board so that you may share them with your officers to assist with their next testing process.

Before proceeding, let’s get some of the givens out of the way . . .

  • Practice, practice, practice! Do a mock oral board or record yourself giving answers to questions and review it.
  • Look your best because sometimes books do get judged by their cover.
  • Be on time.
  • When entering the room, greet each person with a firm handshake and wait to sit until invited to do so.
  • Make meaningful eye contact with each person on the board while answering questions.
  • Smile! Have a positive, enthusiastic attitude about getting the opportunity to test for the position.
  • Take your time – think then speak.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s look at 10 keys to having a successful oral board that will leave a positive, long-lasting impression with the board members.

  1. Know why you want the position and be able to articulate it clearly. This sounds simple, but often it is very difficult to put this into clear and concise words. To help with this, try writing down the first 10 reasons why you want this particular position as quickly as possible. Then create a few sentences using more generic terms that encompass all of the why’s you came up with. Some terms or variations of them that may help with this would be passion, inspiration, educating, meaningful, leadership, mentor, alignment, vision, strategic, etc. Think of it as your own personal mission statement for the position you’re going after.
  2. Know the job description. Hopefully, before applying for a competitive process, you have read any available General Orders specific to that assignment, know the expectations of the position, and maybe even have had the opportunity to go on a temporary duty assignment. Once you are thoroughly familiar with the position, the next step is to go through your previous experiences, talents, skills, and accomplishments to see what relates and what doesn’t. While it is important to know the strengths you are coming into the process with, it is just as important to know your weaknesses and how you plan to account for them if you get the position.
  3. Organize your accomplishments into themes. While your resume is an excellent tool for putting your past experience in chronological order, it is not an easy way to remember everything you have done when under the pressure of an oral board. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to assist with memory recall during an oral board is to organize all of your accomplishments and accolades into themes. Here are some theme ideas: Organizational Excellence, Mentoring, Problem Solving, Community Outreach, Team Building, Programs, Significant Investigations, Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving, Resiliency, etc. Once your accomplishments are organized, whenever a question comes up that relates to one of these themes, then you will have a much easier time coming up with a relevant experience.
  4. Consider multiple perspectives. When testing for a specialty assignment, but especially when trying to promote, it is vital to show that you can be a global thinker that sees the “big picture.” One easy way to make sure you do this in your oral board it to answer questions either from a “big to small” or “small to big” perspective to help keep your thoughts organized. As you answer more grandiose questions like, “How does a police department build trust with its community?,” start from the perspective of the community, then discuss the perspective of the police department, next go into how you would implement your thoughts with a squad, and finally how you personally have helped and will help the department build trust with the community. This is a “big to small” example – society/community, police department, squad, and then self – but depending on how the question is asked it would be just as easy to start with yourself and go up to the society/community perspective.
  5. Visualize yourself already having the position. As you visualize yourself in the position you are testing for, consider what a day in that life might look like. What would your personal challenges be? What are some possible difficult situations you may face? What would your strongest values be? Many times, oral boards will have questions that relate to “what if” scenarios from the perspective that you are already in the position. Two examples from a sergeant promotional process might be questions like, “What would your top 3 expectations be for your squad?” or “How would you handle an officer that is not performing up to your expectations?” If you have already visualized yourself in situations similar to this, your answers will be more natural and confident.
  6. Personalize your answer with a story. Everyone loves a good story; so give it to them. It’s great to hear what you would do, but it’s always better to hear what you have done. Actions always speak louder than words. This relates back to organizing your accomplishments by themes. When your memory recall is good, you’ll be better suited for providing a relevant story or experience to the given question. But, be sure that it is pertinent to the question; because there isn’t a story much worse than a long-winded one that tells the listener nothing of value.
  7. Be aware of current “hot button” issues facing the police department, and/or law enforcement in general. Many oral board questions have to do with topics regarding high liability, current media headlines, or recent internal department issues. Some of the more common topics include officer discipline, staffing, overtime, on-body cameras, racial profiling, officer production without quotas, use of force, eroding public trust, etc. An interesting article making its way through law enforcement recently has to do with the Warrior versus Guardian mindset. This is an excellent example of a timely topic regarding law enforcement that could make for an interesting oral board question. Being aware of current issues such as these and having a defined opinion of your own will assist you in answering these types of questions.
  8. Consider the oral board an opportunity to teach. What is the topic you are teaching about? . . . YOU! Only you have an idea of how well the members of the board know who you are when you walk in there. No matter how well it is, there will always be aspects of you they don’t know or are unsure about. Use the oral board as an opportunity to teach the board members about aspects of you they aren’t familiar with. Think of it more as a presentation on your part instead of an investigation into your qualification on their part and that alone will help reduce your stress level related to the process. You need to be an expert on yourself.
  9. Truly believe you are the best candidate. This is a must or don’t even walk into the room. By the time you get to this point, you should clearly be able to articulate what your best qualities are, how they relate to the position you are testing for, and the value of everything you have done to prepare. This should come off as humble confidence, not arrogance, and it must be exemplified from the moment you walk into the door, shake their hands, and sit down to begin answering questions. If you have doubts about yourself as the best candidate and do not get the position this time around, take the time to reflect on what you could do to make yourself into the best candidate. From that moment to the next testing process, do everything in your power to make yourself the best candidate. If you believe in yourself, so will others.
  10. Have something to add when asked, “Do you have anything else to add?” Most oral boards are going to end with a question similar to this one. This is your final chance to make sure that nothing is left unsaid. If there is a personal story of yours that exemplifies why you are the best candidate, then this is the place to use it. Here is a word of warning, though, do not do this off-the-cuff the day of the oral board. If you are going to plan a story to present at the end of the oral board, be sure to practice it numerous times so you have it down. Tell it out on someone you trust and get their feedback. Only then will you truly have something to add that will leave a positive, lasting impression with the board members.

Below are some common questions asked on law enforcement oral boards. Try writing out full answers to these questions using the tips from above. By having pre-determined answers to these common questions, you’ll exude confidence and breathe a sigh of relief if any of them come up.

  • Why do you want to be a sergeant or whatever position is being applied for?
  • What have you done to prepare?
  • What would you do if you were chief for a day?
  • If you could change one thing at this department what would it be?
  • Describe a difficult experience you have had with a peer and how you handled it.
  • Describe a difficult experience you have had with a supervisor and how you handled it.
  • What do you see as your biggest strengths/weaknesses?
  • How do you account for your weaknesses?
  • How do you handle employee issues issues? (ie. morale, motivation, disgruntled employees, etc.)
  • Describe the process you use to make a decision.
  • What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the department over the next couple of years?

For some ideas on how to answer these questions, see the Thin Blue Line of Leadership Table of Contents. There are multiple blogs on squad expectations, building influence, culture development, general leadership, etc. Feel free to use any of these ideas and make them your own. Best of luck with your next oral board.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Share your thoughts or comments on this blog below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

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