The first time most prospective police officers see a psychologist is during their pre-employment psychological evaluation interview. By that time, the candidate had already passed through most of the steps in this lengthy hiring process – the written exam, the oral board interview, the background investigation, agility test, medical examination, and even a polygraph (which is required by some agencies). Usually 2 out of 100 applicants make it so far.

The candidate may go to a psychological screening either before or after a conditional offer for employment. They will be hired only upon the approval of the psychologist. In this sense, the psychological evaluation interview can make or break your dream of becoming a police officer. Therefore, we have prepared this short guide about what does the psychological screening include and how you should behave in order to pass it successfully. There is an online course, Mastering the Psych Exam, which teaches how to minimize your chances of “falsely failing.” This courses provides practice questions and simulates the exam.

Psychological Exam

What is the pre-employment psychological screening?

Prior to answering the question what the pre-employment psychological screening is, let us make it clear what it isn’t. It is not a check of your overall sanity or lack thereof.  if you fail the psychological test it doesn’t mean that you are crazy or that you have some issues, it simply means that you are not fit for a job as a police officer.

So, what is the psychological screening for? It is to determine that you can handle the stress associated with working in the field of law enforcement. It is to show that you have the mental strength to handle abusive language, violence, horrifying crime scenes, long hours of work. Even one single day of the police officer can be physically, emotionally and mentally overloaded and the psych evaluation aims to assess your ability to handle this burden. All in all, there are certain traits desirable for police offers and certain traits that are unwanted in law enforcement.

It can be summed up that the aim of the psychological screening is to determine the candidates who are responsible, mature and stable for work in law enforcement.

The overall procedure of the pre-employment psychological screening varies between the agencies but it usually includes three components:

  1. Pre-test self-evaluation – this is usually the first step in the process
  2. At least one, usually a series of, multiple choice tests or surveys, which are meant to determine your psychological fitness for the law enforcement job you are applying for
  3. Face-to-face interview with a psychologist, who will ask several questions and assess whether you possess the necessary traits and strengths to be a law enforcement officer

Make sure to answer all the questions honestly. Be advised that many of these tests have built-in measures for detecting inconsistency and exaggeration. In other words, you should expect to come across the same question several times, though under different wording.

What to expect at the day of the psychological screening?

You should know that the pre-employment psychological screening may be carried out for several candidates at the same time. Therefore, you should expect to meet several people waiting to be evaluated when you arrive at the place of the screening.

As a starter you will receive an initial questionnaire about your personal history that will include questions concerning your personal strengths and weaknesses, education, employment history, background information, including past drug use.

The initial survey is followed by several multiple-choice personality assessments, where you will need to express your attitude to given statements by marking whether you strongly agree, agree, are neutral, disagree or strongly disagree with it.

Do not be surprised that the personality assessment phase contains the same or similar questions that appear several times throughout the questionnaire. This is done on purpose and gives the psychologist the possibility to evaluate your integrity, honesty and consistency. If you attempt to lie on any of the questions, you will surely fail to give the same lie on the following similar questions and ultimately fail your evaluation. Do not try to deceive the evaluator since their job is to detect such attempts.

The last element of the screening is the face-to-face interview with a psychologist, who will most probably ask you some of the questions that you have already answered in your self-evaluation. This gives you a chance to clarify some of your answers or to explain some of your beliefs.

What to expect during the psychological evaluation interview?

In most of the cases, the clinical interview with the psychologist is the most unpleasant part for all candidates. They feel as if they are being interrogated for a crime they have not committed, which is actually not the case. Approach the evaluation interview with the idea of having a conversation about your life and preferences in general, rather than going to a cross-examination.

The overall feeling about the psychological evaluation interview should be similar to any other job interview. You should expect the psychologist to ask you different questions about your background, current lifestyle, previous work experience, education. The evaluator will definitely enquire about any problems or symptoms (of fatigue, depression, obsessions) that you may experience. By all means, you will also be asked what are your expectations about the job you are applying for.

What does the psychological screening check?

Law enforcement officers should show high ethical standard and therefore there are several personal qualities that are critical if you pursue career in this field.

According to Dr. Gary Fischler, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and a forensic psychologist whose practice specializes in the evaluation of potential law enforcement officers, cited by the Balance, those traits include:

  • Impulse control
  • General intelligence
  • Judgement
  • Ability to perform boring or tedious tasks
  • Reasonable courage
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Personal bias or lack of bias
  • Ability to tolerate stress
  • What motivated the candidate to choose law enforcement
  • Dependability
  • Ability to deal with supervision
  • Appropriate attitudes towards sexuality
  • Prior drug use

These particular traits represent areas that have been determined over time to be important areas to explore when evaluating law enforcement candidates.

How to act during the psychological evaluation interview?

The psychological evaluation interview sounds a bit scary to most of the candidates. Even though it is extremely important for your future as a police officer, you should not attend it overwhelmed with fear. Here are a few tips how you need to behave during the interview that will help you get a better score:

  • Don’t expect the worst – the psychologist evaluating you is not your enemy determined to turn you down by all means. He or she is merely a professional doing their job so do not arrive at the interview feeling doomed;
  • Arrive on time – being late for any of the hiring process stages does not speak good for you. Therefore, make sure to arrive always a bit earlier and start the interview on time;
  • Come prepared – bring your reading glasses, if you need any, so that you can take the written test(s) envisaged; make sure that you had good breakfast or lunch prior to the appointment; bring any documents that were requested in advance;
  • Dress properly – we all know that the outer appearance is the first thing that is being evaluated when we enter a room, so make sure to dress well for the interview – not too formal but not too casual either.
  • Be honest – there is no point in trying to hide something or lie. This will have only negative effect on your final score;
  • Ask questions – if you are not sure about a certain question you are being asked by the evaluator or you don’t understand any of the question on the written test don’t be afraid to ask a question. The evaluator will gladly answer any reasonable question if they can or if they are allowed to do so. Do not ask too much, though;

All in all, you need to relax and approach the psychological evaluation as simply another step in the police officer hiring process. Do not think about “how to pass” the psychological evaluation as this is not a pass/fail exam. Rather think about what you need to do in order to increase your chances for success and follow the above-given advice.

What does the result of the psychological screening include?

The results of all the components are taken into account when the psychologist gives their final opinion whether the candidate is suitable for the position or not (or for a law enforcement job at all). It is not exactly a pass or fail exam, since the opinion is usually given in three tiers:

  1. Low risk or acceptable
  2. Medium risk or marginal
  3. High risk or unacceptable

Based on the psychologist’s recommendation the agency decides whether to make your conditional job offer into a full-fledged one.

What if you fail the psychological screening?

As we already mentioned above you do not need to psych yourself out if you fail the psychological evaluation. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you but simply that you do not meet the criteria for a police officer and you may want to re-evaluate your choice in career path. Nevertheless, if you are convinced that law enforcement is the field that holds your dream job, you should try again. Consider carefully which might be the traits that failed you and try to improve them. Give yourself some time before browsing the job openings and applying again.

Take into account that sometimes the psychologist working with you might not have been the best one or didn’t have a good day (we are all only human and make mistakes as well), so you might have a better chance the second time around. It is also possible to ask for an appeal or review process if you feel that your overall results are highly misinterpreted or incorrect.

As a conclusion, we would like to point out that the pre-employment psychological screening is an essential part of the police officer hiring process. It is the last hurdle that you need to overcome on the road to your dream job. Do not fear it, though, but rather be open and honest and expect fair treatment. Step in the interview with confidence in yourself and you will be able to go through its elements without any issues.

Psychological Exam

If you are interested in finding more about the importance of the psychological screening check out the National survey conducted by Robert E. Cochrane, Robert P. Tett and Leon Vandecreek: “PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING AND THE SELECTION OF POLICE OFFICERS”.

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