What is the law enforcement hiring process like? In all likelihood, it is unlike any hiring experience you’ve been through.

While the process will vary from one jurisdiction to another, and the requirements may be adjusted for different peace officer categories, there will be many similarities.

“Why does it take so long?” is one of the most frequent questions asked. Because people that are given the power possessed by cops need to be thoroughly vetted. And there is no simple way to accomplish these steps rapidly. At least not if the professional agency wants to ensure they have hired exceptionally well-qualified individuals.

Law Enforcement Hiring Process

Every candidate should expect some form of the following nine-step process. It could be more or less depending upon the size of the agency; these are general practices when bringing on new recruits.

Written Test

The written tests can vary significantly. Some are multiple choice, others involve reading comprehension as well as writing skills. There are state generated exams and others developed locally.

Physical Agility

Lace-up your sneaks and stretch your muscles, because you will be physically challenged to perform tasks that are job related. The physical testing will include running, typically ¼ mile, and strength related tests. You might expect a physical agility course as well, since this will demonstrate your ability to run while exerting strength.

Oral Board

 My agency empanelled three staff members to interview prospective candidates. It was typically two sergeants and a senior officer (corporal). They will have a list of about 10 questions. Be prepared to briefly discuss your qualifications and answer questions related to various scenarios dealing with the law and your ability to make decisions.

Remember that you are one of many candidates being interviewed. After a while everyone begins to look and sound the same. Highlight your unique features that make you an asset to the department.


This phase could have many features or be non-existent, depending upon the agency. During this step the candidate will complete the personal history statement as well as other paperwork required for the formal background investigation yet to come. You will be required to submit supporting documentation for everything on your application. i.e. college diplomas etc.

Some agencies test your “buy-in” and “commitment” during the pre-background. For instance, they may suggest candidates participate in P.T. or an in-house academic program. Regardless of what it is, they want a chance to observe candidates in a relaxed, yet structured setting. And although they may refer to it as voluntary, if you want to be hired you should wisely view this as compulsory.

Background Investigation

An investigator will be assigned to “turn over the rocks” and “kick the tires” of your life. The person conducting the background investigation will contact your family, friends, references, and employers past and present. If they are thorough, they will find your enemies as well. Moreover, they will check all data base entries at their disposal, both criminal and civil. If you expect there to be a stumbling block with someone in your past, it is best to notify the investigator ahead of time. It is always better to hear your version of events before you are ripped to shreds by a cantankerous ex-whatever.

Candidates appropriately believe that hard drug use and arrests are problematic. But do not overlook financial bondage. Sadly, far more young people have incurred overwhelming debt much earlier in life than previous generations. Get this cleaned up and distance yourself from these factors as soon as possible. The hiring threshold is different with every agency. One department may tolerate something another would not.

Finally, your social media accounts should be . . . well . . . socially acceptable. If not, start scrubbing!

Chief/Commander Interview

If you’re applying with a small-medium sized agency, the chief of police will probably interview you. With larger agencies a command level person will conduct the interview. By the time you arrive at this step in the process, there are fewer right or wrong answers than earlier. The chief/commander wants to determine if you are philosophically a good fit with their agency.

Be prepared to discuss organizational culture and how it meshes with the community. Furthermore, will you be a good ambassador representing the department in community affairs?

Polygraph Exam

The “lie-detector” test scares everyone. Keep in mind a good polygrapher knows how to discern between nerves and deception. “Have you ever stolen anything from work?” is a question that spooks people since work-related pens and paper clips seem to find their way home without criminal intent on your part.

Questions that show deception will be revisited with a qualifying statement so your central nervous system can adjust. “Other than pens and paper clips, have you ever taken something from work with the intent to permanently deprive your employer of the item?”

Medical Exam

Men, turn your head to the left and cough. Women, uhhh, I am not sure what you are instructed to do since I’ve never asked. Anyway, your body will be examined by a physician to ensure you are physically capable of performing the duties of a police officer. Moreover, past medical records from potentially disqualifying injuries will be examined as well. Have them ready for review when requested.

Psychological Exam

You will be given a battery of psychological profile tests before being interviewed by a psychologist. Don’t try to “out think” the questions. There are no right or wrong answers. You are who you are, and that is what the tests will reveal. Do not try to make yourself into the candidate you think the agency seeks. Be yourself!

The psychologist contracted by my agency intentionally operated in a passive-aggressive manner. For instance, by design he’d leave candidates waiting for hours after their scheduled appointment, or he would passively roast them based upon his reading of their tests. Do not be fooled by these strategies. It is simply another way to determine your suitability to be a police officer.

If you succeed in the grueling process, you’re hired! Now you get to attend the police academy and be humbled some more!

What are some tests used by your agency during the hiring process?

– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today