I get asked some form of this question, weekly. So, I have formulated a list of my top ten things you can do to prepare yourself to compete for a cop job and become a great cop.
Be Squeaky Clean
Many applicants are disqualified at the beginning of the process because of their past behavior. Drive responsibly and avoid a traffic record. Avoid trouble - an arrest record is usually a clear disqualifier. Do not use, experiment or otherwise consume any illegal drug. This includes prescription drugs. If the script isn’t for you, the drug is illegal to consume. Alcohol and tobacco, while legal (depending on your age) are still negative influences. Indeed, some departments are tobacco free. An alcohol consumption is always potentially dangerous.
You are Who You Hang With
Think about how your circle of friends and acquaintances would look to a background investigator. A good background is going to find and interview them. More importantly, we are all influenced by those around us. Associating with people of good character leads to good behavior. Association with questionable characters almost always leads to questionable behavior.
The Internet is Forever
Stop posting, texting or commenting in any manner you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. It will be found and used to evaluate you as a potential police officer. You don’t want to be in a position to have to explain the Facebook picture of you getting hammered at a party. Also, seemingly innocuous postings can have a negative influence. If I were an employer (the police department) and you had continually posted about being depressed I would think twice about hiring you. The Internet is a permanent reflection on you!
Get an Education
While most police agencies don’t require a college degree, without one you: 1) limit your potential employers to those who do not require a degree (usually lower paying); 2) Significantly reduce your odds of actually getting hired 3) Miss an opportunity to reach your full potential. Community College is nearly free and accessible to just about everyone. A two year associates degree is a great start. While pursuing you education, think about developing alternative skills. Maybe you don’t get the cop job, but the degree opens other doors. And, in truth, the police department is going to teach you everything you need to know to be a cop, so a criminal justice degree is somewhat redundant. If you go into an interview with different skills you bring those skills as potential assets for the department.
Join a Club
If you are in college join a club. This shows your ability to work with others and adds positive dimensions to your resume of accomplishments.
Be a Leader
Find leadership positions. If you join a club, volunteer to be on a committee or hold some other office in the club. At work, be a shift supervisor, or if you volunteer, find some leadership position. Develop leadership abilities that you can talk about in your interview – cops are leaders – show you are one, too.
Cop work is about solving community problems. Show your involvement in community by volunteering. There are plenty of opportunities and a few hours a month will put you a head of the completion when you take that job interview.
Learn about Policing and the Police
Go to police department open houses, neighborhood watch meetings or just walk up to the desk officer and ask questions. Casually learn about cops and cop work. This is one of the biggest questions you will be asked during a job interview – why do you want to be a cop? Do you know what they do? Do you know how they do it? Do you know how they feel about it? And, don’t explore just one agency. At a minimum, find out about a municipal agencies, a county agency and a state agency – explore all of your options.
Have a Hobby
How you spend your leisure time tells me a lot about you. A hobby tells me you can, on your own, become an expert in something; it tells me you spend your time in a productive manner; it tells me you have depth to your character.
Develop an exercise regimen. Got into the interview and the academy fit. You don’t have to be a marathon runner or champion weight lifter. But, most agencies list their minimum fitness requirements for testing. Be able to far exceed the minimums.
Good luck, it’s a great career.
About the Author
You can find out more about Lt. Foster here: Police Consultant