Are you preparing for promotion to sergeant or another first line supervisory position? While the promotional process varies from one agency to another, there are some time-honored truths that all candidates need to be prepared for.

I’ve categorized preparation into five areas of focus: questions, scenarios, mindset, suggestions, and common mistakes. Whether your interview will be with a single person, an oral board, or both, projecting questions and forming responses is key to success.

Basic oral board questions:

    • Would you like to tell us about yourself?
    • What are the responsibilities of this position?
    • What is leadership?
    • What leadership attributes do you possess?
    • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
    • How have you demonstrated leadership?
    • What have you done to prepare for this position?
    • Why are you the best candidate for the position?
    • Why do you want to be a (fill in the blank)?
    • What do you have to offer in this position?
    • What changes need to be made in this position? Why?
    • How do you solve problems? Examples?
    • How do you motivate a low-producing employee?

Be prepared for these scenarios:

  • Ethical scenario.
  • Legal scenario.
  • Organizational scenario.
  • Political scenario.
  • Disciplinary scenario.
  • Current changes in case law.
  • Technology scenario.
  • Newsworthy trends that affect the organization.
  • If your agency, or a nearby department has recently made the news in a negative way, rest assured you will be asked a question related to the topic.


  • Remember you are testing to be a supervisor, not a superstar. Your goal is to convince others you are the best candidate for a supervisory position, not a “rock star” in your current assignment.
  • Understand the principle of feature/benefit. i.e. Feature = Attribute such as a graduate degree or specialty assignment. Benefit = How can it help the organization? A feature without a benefit is useless.
  • Can you explain the big picture? i.e. How does the position fit into the department mission statement?
  • Eliminate if, and replace it with when you get promoted.


    • Prepare and rehearse your responses. The more you discuss these issues/answers, the easier it will be to talk about them during the stress of an interview.
    • Video record yourself providing answers, or ask others to critique your mannerisms and nervous habits.
    • Work through sticking points when rehearsing answers.
    • Begin mental exercises. Every time your boss needs to make a decision, put yourself in his/her shoes. What decision would you make and why?
    • Dress for success. Whether in uniform or civilian clothes, look your best.
    • Answers should be brief—one or two minutes max.
    • Debrief others and develop a library of questions.
    • Provide a solution to any problem that you identify.
    • Know your hooks—something unique to you—and how to use them.
    • Identify how you’ve accomplished organizational expectations rather than excuses why you have not. I.e. Education.
    • Do not be afraid to sip water if it is provided.
    • A tic-tac lodged between your cheek and gum can help keep your mouth moist. (Do not chew anything or suck on a mint.)
    • Be assertive, not aggressive.
    • Compensate for adrenaline.
    • Practice audible answers when your heart rate is elevated. (At the gym if feasible without becoming a spectacle.)
    • Exercise rigorously a few hours before the interview if possible.

Common mistakes:

  • Candidates focus on their accomplishments without integrating them into organizational goals.
  • Describing features without highlighting benefits to the organization.
  • Tying current specialty assignment into every answer.
  • Failing to understand that leading people is different than being a super cop.
  • Providing theoretical answers without tangible, real world examples.
  • Failing to articulate basic organizational goals and objectives.
  • Speaking poorly about competition.
  • Treating process cavalierly.
  • Lengthy answers that go nowhere.
  • Identifying problems without solutions.
  • Providing solutions that have no feasible chance in reality.

This is basic information. A person could form a thousand questions from these lists. Take these details to your mentor(s). It will help you begin dialogue, and they will be able to add their experiences to help you prepare for the next level. Best wishes in your endeavors!

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

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