If you don't feel you have to prepare for a promotional oral board or an assessment center then don't waste your time and the time of the oral board. The process is more than just walking in and talking. You must become involved with researching.
Now many of you are asking, "What do I have to research? If I don't know it by now I will never know it." Well let's change your attitude and begin to think realistically. We don't know it all and we have to find out what is happening in our department.
You must determine what qualities your chief of police is looking for in his supervisors. The best way to determine this is to contact the chief and request a meeting to discuss the upcoming promotional exam. Now, before you say, "I couldn't possibly do that because the chief is too busy," or "I don't think he has an open-door policy," remember that the chief is looking for a supervisor that can be depended upon and one that demonstrates initiative in handling difficult situations. What's the worst thing that can happen? The chief will tell you that he will not discuss the process with you and if this occurs, you are no worse off than before. In fact, you may be in a better position because you have demonstrated to the chief that you are interested in the position and displayed your initiative in this process.
Don't just stop at the chief's door; also talk to other people within the city who have input into how the department is run. The City Manager is an important individual who has opinions about supervisors within the police department, so pick his brain and determine what he is looking for in management personnel.
As a police chief, I always felt it was beneficial for the candidates to know exactly what my expectations were, and then they could decide if they wanted to be part of my team. I had an open-door policy that allowed the candidates to come and discuss their concerns with me, but it was up to them to take the initiative to speak with me first. Naturally, I could not tell them what questions the Oral Board would ask because I didn't know. However, what I could do was to advise them, as I am doing with you now, on how to prepare for the oral examination and give some insights into how they could improve their performance during the testing process.
If your chief is unavailable then find someone who has been through the process, knows the chief's philosophy, and is willing to talk with you. Once you find them, be a sponge, soak up every bit of information possible, and ask all of the questions you feel are relevant to the testing process. Discuss areas regarding what the chief is looking for as it pertains to leadership traits and management styles.
Speaking of management styles, determine what your leadership style is. There is no leadership style that is best. There are a number of books that discuss the various styles utilized by today's leaders, Including: autocratic, situational, and participatory with the latter being laissez-faire. It may be difficult for you to define exactly which style fits you, so take the time to determine how you would operate out in the field handling various situations as well as your personnel. When you are comfortable with this style, name it, then be ready to explain to the raters how this leadership style fits you.
For example, I always considered myself a situational leader which basically meant that I would act according to the situation at hand. There were times that I would ask others to give input or participate prior to making my decision. Other times, I would immediately take control and make the decision without any outside assistance which would be described as autocratic. Do not use or be involved with a laissez-faire or laid-back style of leadership.
This is a very short synopsis of leadership styles and how I use them, but make sure you have your own style and don't just copy mine or anyone else's, because it will only get you in trouble when you try to be somebody you're not. You must be comfortable with the style you have chosen; if you're not, the raters will see through your facade.
Remember that defining your leadership style is a necessary part of your research, and it will assist you immensely during your Oral Board or Assessment Center Exercise presentations. While gaining this information, you will find yourself developing more and more confidence in your ability to compete, which in turn will assist you in gaining an edge on your competition. Remember, gaining an edge on your competition is the purpose of being well prepared.
Now that you have spoken with the chief, his command staff, and anyone else you respect and feel can assist you. But your work is just beginning. It doesn't matter whether you are involved with an Oral Board or an Assessment Center Exercise; the preparation is always the same.
Become familiar with your Department's General Orders as well as your Administrative Rules and Regulations. Talk to your Department's legal adviser, your City Attorney, or your Police Officers Association's legal representative. Try to contact someone who is knowledgeable with current case law, especially in matters of Skelly, The Police Officers Bill of Rights, discipline, the American Disability Act, to name but a few. Be confident in your knowledge of your Department's policy on Use of Force and Vehicle Pursuits and any other "hot ticket items" that may be alive in your Department or community. Know them forward and backward, inside and out.
Read the newspapers to determine what is happening in other communities and around the country regarding Law Enforcement activities, and determine how these activities may affect you and your Department.
Speak with someone in Finance, and discuss how the budget is prepared. Know the amount of the City's budget and what percentage goes towards the Police Department. Know the type of budget your City uses. Is it a line item budget, a program budget, a combination of the two, or some other type of budget not mentioned?
If your Department has a Mission Statement, be familiar with its contents. Does your Department participate in Community Oriented Policing? If so, know what it stands for and determine how you feel it benefits or doesn't benefit the community and the Department. Be prepared to defend your answer. Also, if you believe it can be improved upon, have a plan in mind so you can explain it to the raters in case they want to hear your opinion. I always believed in a quote by Henry Ford: "Don't bring me your problems, bring me your solutions." Part of your plan should include how you will get your troops to buy into this philosophy. Remember, it is a philosophy not a program.
The promotional process is very exciting because even though you passed your written examination, your placement on the eligibility list will depend on how well you perform during the Oral Board or Assessment Center Exercise.
On many occasions, I have observed that candidates who passed their written examination with high scores met their Waterloo during their Oral Board presentations. Many candidates have demonstrated poor judgement in tactical situations, unusual mannerisms, immaturity, lack of leadership abilities, or anger and quick tempers. The stress is enormous and oftentimes, the unprepared candidates will fall apart and demonstrate that they are not as good as their written scores depicted.