Y ou have heard me say that you cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s thinking. Now add to this that you cannot recruit for today with yesterday’s methods either. Today’s labor pool has become more complex, and most departments are failing to adapt to this. It is difficult enough to recruit for law enforcement now so a recruiting agency must prepare to respond if they want to hire and retain good employees
First and foremost, every staff member is a recruiter for two reasons. First, if you work there, you know what kind of officer or deputy you want to have on your shift. Should you know friends, reach out to them. But to do this, we must give all employees knowledge on how to respond to a prospective recruit. More on this later.
Second, all need to be guarded on how they interact with the public for you never know who might be inquisitive. I have been told more than once where prospective applicants happened upon an officer at a coffee shop or at a special event and start-up a casual conversation. “How do you like working here, Sir?” Then the curmudgeon officer spews vile and venom about the department. Whether or not that officer was having a bad day, they have just frightened off an applicant. Every staff member must be ready to provide a prospect with basic knowledge on at least where to go on the website, what the process entails and other rudimentary basic responses. I have seen some departments give every officer a business card with recruitment information to provide to an interested party. Today’s job seekers are “wired in” and will research the website and assorted links. Provide them with the accurate links from the start.
Now for the official recruiters; you must step your game up as well. If you are advertising on the web, prepare and expect applicants from outside of your jurisdiction. Do you know what the housing market is like for your area? Rental property market? How is the school system rated? Overall other employment opportunities for their spouses or partners?
A big mistake I see now is that every department is advertising the usual stuff. Salary is on the top line. Bonuses, incentives for pre-certified officers and usual perks (health insurance, retirement, etc.). These are the ‘curb appeal’ or ‘attention-getters’ to get their attention and get them to the website or to make that call to you. What you need to be prepared for are the questions that will surface and have strong answers. Here are a few ideas but not complete:
Application process and timelines—if you are unemployed now, how long could this take to get their first pay check. Having this on the website with realistic timelines could help explain this.
Background check and Investigations—Qualifiers and disqualifiers often confuse applicants. Explain what and why these are done. How deep an of investigation is done. Will there be a polygraph? Credit history reviewed? Prior drug use? More than likely, you are speaking with a novice on this process, so your ability to explain and ‘sell’ the reasons we do this may be important. Recall—there are no stupid questions. Now, if they are current or prior certified, again your agency may be more in depth than what they encountered in the past.
Union or not—If you are a union shop and the applicant is from a right-to-work state, have some answers ready. Do I have to join? How much are the dues?
Application and academy process fears—An entry level applicant has several opportunities to have a fear of failure complex. Will they pass the written tests? Will they pass the medical, psychological and fitness tests? Will they pass the background investigation? Now, add passing an academy! Then passing a field training program! Be ready to explain in layman’s terms what is expected of them and why.
Lateral entry—These applicants present a whole gambit of different questions. First and foremost here, know your state’s POST (or applicable) rules and standards. If they have been away from law enforcement – how long is too long? Know the re-certification process. Out of state applicants – maybe a challenge test or academy all over again! This can be tricky so have some FAQ’s answered with the links to the answers. Lateral and out of state can be complex at times, trying to sell the idea of attending the academy again is not that alluring to most.
You have to know your territory—Earlier it was mentioned about available housing, make that affordable housing. Look at this as a real estate agent—how do I sell living in this town to him or her? It would befit every recruitment officer to have an informational meeting with your local Chamber of Commerce and a trusted real estate agent. What are the selling points of this place? If you were born here or lived/worked here ten years or more; it matters not to you. But if you were taking the job and relocating here, you would have lots of questions. Be age specific on this, if you are in your 50’s, can you relate to a 25-year old’s needs?
Local Labor Market—if the applicant has a spouse or partner, what are their opportunities. Know where the local employment offices are, being helpful is the key here.
Crystal Ball—There will be questions of ‘how soon will I make sergeant’ or ‘how soon before I can get a K-9?’ Have some reasonable answers for these career centric questions. You probably have heard them all, but do not cringe nor laugh at them, simply explain the organizational culture of the department.
Pensions—One question that I have heard recently deals with the portability of the retirement plans. The current generations we are hiring from are not the ones that our fathers came from. The idea of a good retirement plan is one thing but that may have dwindled over the past couple of generations. More mobility and changing of jobs seems to be the trend now.
Concierges and cruise directors prepare for the non-resident applicants to ask questions about processing and transitioning timelines. If they are coming in for testing, can it be done all at once? Hotels get expensive. They may be taking time off from work and extended stay times will have financial impact on them. If you have hotels that are close to testing and you can obtain a friendly price to request, this may go a long way with them.
Be Honest —I recall my Army recruiter’s pitch to me back in the 1970s, many of us recall the promises never kept. I do not want police recruiters to stoop to that level. It is everyone’s job to be a recruiter in some way. If you are assigned as your department’s recruiter- step up your game. Invest time now in preparing for the questions that could make a difference in them pursing your agency or walking away. And should they get hired and you lied to them, then their retention is in jeopardy. When you hire someone, invest in long term, not just filling the quota. Our service population demands a professional police agency - so act professional and recruit professional candidates. It is difficult now to fill our ranks but creating a positive recruiting culture will work. You department is not the only one offering employment, so don’t let the good ones walk away because you did not perform your job.
About the Author
William L. “Bill” Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served in leadership positions including chief during a career that spanned over 40 years.