And how do they differ?
Are you determined to rise through the ranks of your police agency? If you answered, “Yes,” then knowing how to succeed in your department’s promotion process is very important. Promotion processes usually consist of a knowledge based written exam followed by one or more of the following: a police oral board, an interview, or an assessment center. There is just one problem. Many agencies incorrectly label their process.
In this article, I will focus on the unique qualities of:
- Oral Boards or Panel Interviews
- Oral components of Assessment Centers
I will not examine written exams used in the promotion processes. There are experts in the field who address that area much better than I can. If you will be facing a written textbook exam, I strongly recommend that you check out the resources at PoliceCareer.com. They have a vast offering of tools for a wide variety of textbook and legal exams.
Police Oral Board for Promotion
Police oral boards are examinations conducted by multiple panel members. The candidate is asked a series of questions related to their current position and/or the position they are seeking. The key word here is “examination”. An examination means that some type of grading will be used to rate the candidate’s performance. That grading can be as simple as: pass/fail, very qualified, qualified, not qualified or a numerical grade.
Logic says that if police oral board members are going to score a performance, it should be clear to them what makes the grade. Each board member should understand the rating guidelines. This creates consistency in determining the candidate’s grade. Raters should be aware and careful to avoid the known rating errors that can cause subjectivity in scoring. An oral board process should be an accurate assessment of an individual’s performance based on preset criteria.
Police Oral Board Design
Some components can vary from one police oral board to another. If the scoring accuracy issues are in-tact, component differences should not affect the overall fairness of the process.
Some design examples are:
Rater familiarity with the candidate
An oral board may be made up of supervisors from the candidate’s police department. If that is the case, the candidate is very likely to be known by the oral board members. This familiarity can affect rating in that unspoken bias, positive or negative, may be difficult for the board member to set aside. Some agencies, however, go to great lengths to guard against this. It is not unusual for larger police agencies to get their police oral board members from agencies in other parts of the country. Agencies may also prohibit candidates from talking about any personal experiences. The performance, not the candidate’s background, is then the basis for the candidate’s score.
Interactive vs. strict structure
When an oral board is part of an assessment center it is often called a Structured Interview. Structured means the questions are written and asked the same way of each candidate. This consistency can be a guard against claims that some candidates had easier questions than others. Follow up questions from the oral board members can be used to create more of an interactive process. Some police oral boards have predefined follow up questions while others allow the panel to ask impromptu exploratory questions. These questions help discover a candidate’s thought process. It should be clear to you by now which of these approaches contributes to testing consistency.
Prep period processes
Many of the larger police promotion companies reduce inconsistency by giving candidates a prep period. A preset prep period comes before the delivery of the oral responses. During this period the candidate is given a written situation, often a critical incident and/or a personnel issue. The candidate usually has 30 to 60 minutes to develop a response which he or she then presents to the board or a video camera.
Camera vs in-person
Video processes are replacing live oral panel members in many agencies. A fair score should result if the accuracy issue is addressed and the process is managed. The questions may be presented electronically or the candidate may have a question prep period before being recorded. The videos will then be evaluated by a panel. One concern I have heard from videoed candidates is the awkwardness of presenting to a camera with no human feedback.
Role play exercises are usually part of an assessment center. Some promotion consultants include role play with the police oral board process. Role play exercises can be a bit more challenging to score than a straight question and answer oral board. This is because of the behavioral concepts that should be measured. On the plus side, it forces the candidate to demonstrate conversational behaviors rather than just their question and answer pattern.
The above list is by no means all-inclusive. It is designed to prepare you for your process with a better understanding of how you are being evaluated.
Be sure to check out my blog post: The Sergeant’s Oral Board: Preparing to be #1
Clearly, too many police promotion testing companies are calling their processes assessment centers, when they are not. A true assessment center is a highly structured competency process designed to accurately measure behaviors in a simulated environment. The competency ratings are tied to a well-defined rubric. The assessors receive a high degree of rater training to appropriately score the demonstrated behaviors.
If you are unsure if your agency is using a true assessment center, compare your process to the Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations published by the International Task Force on Assessment Centers.
The best way I can sum up how an assessment center is different from an oral board is:
An assessment center has you demonstrating by behavior how you would respond in a particular scenario. An oral board has you addressing your scenarios by saying what you would do. An exception being the Structured Interview, which is an oral board, embedded as one of multiple assessment center exercises.
Other exercises that are used frequently in assessment centers are:
I do not cover in-basket exercises because they are more of a written exercise than an oral exercise. There are publications that can help you understand how to rank and handle the multiple elements of an in-basket exercise. The one that I believe is the most practical guide is Mastering the Assessment Center Method: The Fast Track to Promotion by Dr. Linsey Willis.
Role play exercises have you involved in a scenario as though you were currently holding the rank for which you are testing. A common one-to-one role play is holding a performance counseling meeting with a “subordinate” who is showing a decline in performance. In an oral board, you would tell the panel the steps you would follow to influence the subordinate’s performance. In an assessment center, however, you would hold the meeting having the role player share the reason for the decline and a commitment to improve. Other common role play situations are citizen complaints, community meetings, and roll call briefings. Role players are often instructed to be initially uncooperative, but to increase compliance if you are handling the exercise appropriately.
The topics can be contemporary policing issues, press briefings, community presentations, tactical situations, and others. You may be provided the topic days in advance to research or it may be presented to you on-site. Presentation exercises can run from 5 to 25 minutes and delivery can be as important as content.
In the leaderless group, you and your competitors will be placed in a small group with the mission of solving an assigned group challenge. While your group works on how to successfully resolve the matter, you are being observed by assessors. These assessors then rank a variety of your demonstrated behaviors.
Many will tell you that you cannot prepare for an assessment center. That is absolutely not true. I have many successful past coaching clients who will back me up on that.
Most interviews are less formal than oral boards and less dynamic than assessment centers. An interview may have structured questions and multiple interviewers. The biggest difference between police promotion interviews and the other processes is that it is not an examination. Although there may be measures against which you are being assessed in the promotion interview, you are not likely receiving a numerical score.
Remember the interviewer most likely has not been schooled on the subjective rating errors that can occur in an interview. That provides you with an opportunity to make those rating errors work in your favor. The halo effect, a positive and powerful first impression, is one of them. When it comes to rating errors, the obligation rests with the interviewer, not the candidate.
While coaching police promotion candidates for the ranks of corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander and chief, I have seen a wide variety of processes used. I have also seen variety within the categories of oral board, assessment center, and interviews. Some of these were clearly miscategorized.
I know that being well prepared for your process can dramatically affect performance. That is what it did for me when I was testing for each of my promotions. You need a strategy such as the one that I developed in Oral Boards Made Easy™ for Police Promotion. This strategy will simplify your preparation and increase your confidence for the promotion process.