STEP 5: Submit Your Application PROPERLY
Submit Your Application PROPERLY
After all of this preparation, it is relatively satisfying to submit an application; you’re casting the first hook into the water. Once you submit the official application, you may feel that simultaneous excitement and nervousness and say to yourself “Well here we go! I hope this is a good decision!” If you’re not a little nervous, then perhaps you should be, given the extent of the hiring process and the gravity of your prospective commitment. Dropping an application says “I am ready to embark on at least four months of processing to include interviews, testing and a mountain of paperwork. And, you may end up serving for that agency for years! So, let’s make sure you are taking the proper steps prior to hitting “Submit”.
The actions I recommend you take for this step include the following:
1. Visit Agency Websites
2. Visit Departments and Ride Along
3. Generate and Update Your Portfolio
4. Review and Submit Application
5. Take a break!
6. Start your PHS Early
Are you ready? Then let’s go fishing!
1. VISIT AGENCY WEBSITES
Excel Is Your Friend
Generate an Excel spreadsheet to compare prospective agencies, and name it “Department Comparison Matrix” or something like that. Use the first column to list your 5-10 agencies. Then, categorize the other columns by criteria important to you. Perhaps you are not willing to relocate, in which case “Location” might be your first. Once you have this spreadsheet, explore each agency website one at a time. Don’t worry too much about their order. As you progress, some agencies will become more appealing and you can re-number them by preference.
When you land on the agency website, visit the ‘Jobs’ or ‘Join Us’ links. These will often reveal the current job openings, and you can check to see if there is an opening for Peace Officer. If there is, you can start reviewing all of the basic requirements and make a determination as to whether or not it would be feasible and a good fit for your preferences. If you do not see an opening for your position, there is often an option for a Vacancy Announcements. You can select the positions on which you’d like to be notified, and you will receive email notifications when there is an opening. When you learn of an opening, be sure to note the closing date on your Excel so you don’t miss it by accident.
Shop and Compare
As you peruse each website, you can populate the information on your Excel, and that will make it easier to quantitatively compare your chosen criteria such as Commute, Pay & Benefits, Schedule, City Population, and Equipment for examples. I also recommend having a Notes column where you can annotate your qualitative observations such as notes on their Culture, Professionalism and Technology. In addition to the agency websites, check out job sites such as GovernmentJobs.gov for City and County positions, and USAJobs.gov for Federal level.
2. VISIT DEPARTMENTS AND RIDE-ALONG
Don’t Be Shy
Before you stop by the front desk, I recommend calling ahead. Some lobbies may be closed on certain days, or there may not be anyone available to accommodate everything you’ll want from a visit. Don’t be intimidated by the building or the general atmosphere. The government is full of regular people who are working to serve the community; that’s YOU. You have every right to go on in and take a look around! You may be surprised to find everyone very welcoming and hospitable. If not, well, you may not want to work in a place like that. I am making this point for a reason; I have spoken with many officers who applied (thereby conveying a serious commitment) having never even visited the building! So, if you are about to dedicate so much time and effort into working there, visiting in advance is a fundamental act of due diligence.
Don’t be intimidated by the building or the general atmosphere. The government is full of regular people who are working to serve the community; that’s YOU.
Call ahead and ask to schedule a short tour of the facility and a 2-3 hour ride along. When you take the tour, you will be amazed at how much you will learn in that short span. Are the people professional and welcoming? Are the vehicles modern and well-maintained? You will potentially be spending a lot of time in the cars and in the report-writing room; so be sure to take a close look. Is this a place where you will be comfortable serving for years? This can be a crucial step. A department may look amazing on their website, but then you find they are grossly understaffed, the employees all seem miserable and the facility is a mess. A process of elimination should leave you with the best choice.
*Special note: a common interview question is “Why did you choose this agency over the others?” If you have actually taken the time to visit a range of departments, you will be able to provide a substantive and impactful response.
If you manage to get a ride-along, you may find it surprisingly informative. You can get a real sense of what it feels like to respond to a 911 call, or stop vehicles. Don’t worry if it all seems a bit overwhelming at first. You have a long way to go before you are in the driver’s seat. If you are fortunate enough to be in an area with progressive and high-caliber training, the police academy, field training, and your personal regimen will prepare you for the job. For now, you’re simply checking out the agency’s vehicles, work spaces and touring the city. Best of all, your interactions with the officers will provide important insight into the department culture.
3. GENERATE AND UPDATE YOUR PORTFOLIO
Once you have visited the departments in person and organized your top five list, it’s time to ensure your initial documents are in order, since they are often required immediately with the application. These documents may include – but are not limited to—a Cover Letter, Resume’ and Letters of Recommendation.
Most agencies require a cover letter as an attachment with the application. Here is a chance to make a strong impression to your prospective hiring authority. For your cover letter, use very simple statements to make it clear why you believe you will be a dependable asset for their agency. Do not write one cover letter and use it for multiple agencies! Generic letters are insincere and tell the reader you are not interested enough to specify why they are special. Some statements you may want to consider for your cover letter may express the following:
– What about this specific agency appeals to you;
– Why you are dedicated to serving the community;
– A few items on your relevant experience;
– Examples of when you exemplified the agency Corps Values;
– How you will promote the agency Mission or Vision;
– Why you can be trusted with to make vital decisions while handling emergencies;
– You are prepared to commit for the long term.
Keep it short; I recommend three short paragraphs at the most. Review it several times for grammar, syntax and spelling. And, remember to thank them for their consideration. Most cover letters will look very similar; make an effort to be more creative and stand out from the crowd.
There are a range of formats for resumé’s, but they are often categorized into something like Chronological, Functional, Targeted, Technical and Combinations. If you look at ten officers’ resumés, you will see ten formats; there is not a “police resumé” per se. My personal recommendation is to use a combination. My resumé has a block at the top that highlights my main areas of experience and expertise, a la Functional, followed by a second section that is a snapshot of my work history (Chronological) and a third section that states my specific qualifiers such as certifications and education, i.e. Targeted.
Although the resumé is a short document (1-2 pages maximum) it is extraordinarily challenging to generate a powerful one. Why? Well, the resumé is the integral document to market yourself as the best candidate. Your prospective employer may take one quick glance at it, or closely scrutinize it. Either way, the goal is for them to be impressed. That is in the case of a real person reviewing your file. Another consideration for your resumé is that you’ll be submitting it into an online system, where it will be scrubbed by hiring software. Some of these programs sift for “key words” or phrases and automatically score the resumé by the absence or presence of these key terms. Your resumé, along with other portions of the online application, can be an opportunity to ensure your application is scored high and thus selected for further review by hiring software “bots”.
…the resumé is the integral document to market yourself as the best candidate.
So how do you know what are the key terms? You don’t. You can do some further research on how the hiring software operates, but I personally think your time will be better served by taking the other steps in this series as opposed to learning how to game the software. However, I would pay close attention to the vacancy announcement, and perhaps use some of the same terms. Don’t copy from the announcement and paste into your resumé, but closely use the announcement as a guide.
Once you believe you have a solid resumé, take a look at it from a distance. How does the overall shape of the text appear? Are the margins aligned? Is it too busy with excess text, or too asymmetrical? Remember, the law enforcement profession is generally very traditional in their approach to the hiring process, as I will reiterate in other instances in this series. So, your text should be neatly aligned and concise. Avoid filler words and flashy adjectives; they facade the facts and take up valuable space. You most likely will not be impressing anyone on the hiring board by your experience, but you can impress them with your professionalism, attention to detail and writing ability. Police work entails a lot of paperwork; your resumé is a first impression that you are good with it.
Letters of Recommendation
Contact some of your previous employers, co-workers and friends and ask them to write a few paragraphs about your character and suitability for police work. Specific examples make the letters more interesting. One great tactic is to generate a group email. In that email, you can summarizes your intent to become a peace officer, list some specific traits that are important to police officers and ask the recipients to make some relevant comments. It is helpful to summarize in bullet-form your recent work experience. Finally, ask them to get it back to you by a certain date and time, within 3-5 days. Send the email, then follow up with a phone call. Set a reminder in your calendar, and then follow up again until you have 3-5 solid cover letters. Ideally, you’ll have at least a few from previous employers, co-workers and friends, and they will add real character to your portfolio.
These are not the only documents that may be required upon the initial application. If you are prior military, have your DD214 ready. I would also have your test scores (POST and PFT) ready to go. They may ever require a typing certificate, Selective Service registration and ID cards. Get everything you can in one place before you log in to apply.
4. REVIEW AND SUBMIT APPLICATION
Surprisingly, this may be the easiest part. Once you log in and click on the Apply button, you will be prompted through several pages where you can simply fill in the blanks. Most applications will start with your identifying information. Remember to save your work as you go, and do not leave any fields blank! If a box does not apply to you, mark “N/A” in that field. If you are lacking in information to complete a box, make an effort to seek out that information instead of skipping it. Unless you’ll miss a deadline, a complete application tomorrow beats an incomplete application today.
Review, Review, Review!
Now that you have the boxes filled in, review it two are even three times for accuracy and completeness. You will be amazed at how many corrections you will need to make. If you are fatigued by staring at the screen for hours on end during this process, take a break. Go for a walk. After that, review the application again. When you feel absolutely confident it is an accurate representation of your best self… SUBMIT. Then, be sure to annotate the submission date on your Excel tracker.
5. TAKE A BREAK!
Congratulations! Submitting an application for Police Officer is no small feat, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. Don’t wait to pin on your badge to celebrate. Enjoy this milestone. You earned it! I do not recommend moving directly on to the next application. You’ve been working hard; now it’s time to do something enjoyable to commemorate the important milestone. This may serve to form a neurological connection between sacrifice and reward. The process of applying to any one agency is long and arduous, let alone several agencies. It is important you progress through it in a measured manner; like any other long-term projects, you must plan for intermittent rest and recovery periods. If you set a good schedule and stick to it, you can maintain your physical fitness regimen and other routines that will keep you healthy and well-rounded. Don’t burn out before you start the job! Keep an eye on the other vacancies and only after you are good and recovered should you embark on your next application. And when you do, make sure to set your schedule accordingly, i.e. “Every morning from 0500 hours to 0700 hours until next Friday”.
“…you must plan for intermittent rest and recovery periods.”
6. START YOUR PHS EARLY
ne final point, and then I promise, it’s about to get a lot more fun. Start your Personal History Statement (PHS). The PHS is a colossal packet detailing your entire existence. Your prospective agencies will ask you to submit the PHS prior to initiating your background investigation. Yes, you have several steps to go before Backgrounds. However, you should really start compiling all of this information well in advance, to save yourself that nightmare scenario of multiple agencies asking for one within a short span. Do not under estimate the time required to complete this document.
Again, I will prescribe an Excel document for your PHS. Wouldn’t it be nice if you only had to do one PHS that you could submit to each agency? Yep, but for several reasons (some more rational than others) many agencies require the PHS via their system in their own format. So, it is best to keep your own PHS, so when the time comes, you can simply copy and paste your information over to the new form without having to spend more time tracking it down. Compile the information starting now, and organize it chronologically into the Excel pages categorized as the following:
· Residences (Addresses, Roommates, Landlords,);
· Work History (Dates, Addresses, Supervisors, Coworkers etc.);
· Family (Full names, addresses, phone numbers, emails);
· Schools & Colleges;
· Contact with Law Enforcement (Including Traffic Citations);
· Drug History – Approximate dates, substance(s) circumstances;
· Selective Service Registry / DD214 Information;
· Volunteer Work / Social Organizations;
That’s it for applications! Good luck! You’ve got this! Dig in, drive hard and follow through! For customized guidance applications and building your public safety career, visit IPRSafety.com. And, check back here soon for the next step in this series: STEP 6: Invest in the Right Gear,where I will provide some crucial insight on gear needs, nice-to-haves and items to avoid. Stay safe and stay well!