Podcast EP 01 – What you need to know about psychological testing for police applicants

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Summary

In this episode of ‘Let’s talk police applications’ the main points of discussion are:

  1. Understanding psychometric testing
  2. Understanding psychological interviews
  3. Three questions you must be able to answer
  4. What to be aware of if you have seen a psychologist

Transcription

G’day, everyone. It’s Russell here from Prime Motion Training. Welcome to this episode of Let’s Talk Police Applications.

This is, in fact, the very first episode. Therefore, a little bit of context, I suppose. This will be quite a casual discussion about all things police applications. I’ll be sharing some little tips and techniques and things that I think might help you with your journey to becoming a police officer.

In this first episode, I want to focus on psychometric and psychological assessments, which form part of police applications. If you are thinking about being a police officer or applying to become a police officer, there’s probably no surprise that part of the assessment process involves that psych element.

So – Without any further ado, let’s dive into this first episode!

Okay. A little bit of definition to start with psychometric and psychological are two slightly different things.

A psychometric assessment… If we look at the word psychometric, psych means mental process, and metrics means to measure. Really, it’s just the measurement of your mental process.

Psychometric Testing

Psychometric assessments are often done as an online test. But, I don’t really think of them as tests as such because they’re not really a traditional test where you might have 30 questions and you’ve got to get 28 correct in order to pass the test. It’s really more like a personality profiling tool. It’s almost like a personality survey.

The questions that you might have to answer in a psychometric test or assessment are generally designed to understand or, I guess, uncover your personality, your perspective on things, and your thought process.

It’s important to be honest when you’re answering the questions in psychometric tests. You should avoid trying to understand what the questions are getting at. What are they trying to ask here? Forget about that. Just concentrate on the question and answer it honestly. You’ll find that the questions tend to repeat themselves in these assessments or surveys. They might ask the same question in different ways. But essentially, the question’s being asked again. Therefore, you would expect the same answer to be given again. If you’re being honest throughout the questionnaires, you really don’t need to remember what you answered last time or how you answered the same question last time. Just continue to be honest, and then you don’t really have to think about it too much.

Now, being honest also goes for questions that might make you feel as though your answer could come across as a little bit negative. An example might be, “Do you ever get angry?” You might want to answer no to that because you think, “Oh, gee. I don’t want them to think I’m a bit of a hothead.” But if you answer no, you never get angry. They’re going to think that you’re lying straight away because we’re all normal human beings. We all experience a range of normal emotions, including anger… or anger, rather.

But look, what’s important is that you have the right emotion for the right context. I mean, for example, if you got really angry about something very trivial or inconsequential, that might be a cause for alarm. But the fact that you get angry simply means you’re a normal human being as long as the context is, I guess, justified. Don’t try to paint yourself into a certain picture. Just be honest, and that picture will start to form by itself.

Psychological Interviews

Let’s have a look at psychological interviews now because I know for police applicants, this is a stage in the recruitment process that can create a little bit of concern. The interviews are very different to psychometric assessments. Now, naturally, as the name suggests, a psychological interview is just that. It’s an interview with a psychologist. It’s not a question-and-answer survey that you might do sitting in front of a computer.

Now, given that every police applicant is a unique human being, psychologists really are no different. They’re unique human beings. The dynamics, I suppose, between a psychologist and a applicant can be quite different. If there was a different applicant with the same psychologist or if there was a different psychologist with the same applicant, you could get a very different experience. An experience that one applicant might have could be quite different to what the next applicant has. Whilst it’s nice to talk to different applicants about their experience, yours might be quite different to what someone else may have experienced in their interview.

Alright. In essence, the psych is going to ask a whole heap of questions in order to try to better understand your personality, your communication style, your emotional intelligence, and your aptitude or suitability for the role as a police officer. They’ll ask a whole heap of questions that could go in any direction. They might ask about your family, your friends, work colleagues, any other associates that you may have. They’ll explore the relationships that you might have with these different people, so questions like what do you do with them? Why do you like them? How long have you known each other? They might ask about positive experiences that you’ve had with those various people and even negative experiences or maybe disagreements that you may have had with these various people.

Now, they might ask you for examples of how you’ve handled different situations in the past. Examples might be closely related to what police officers need to deal with. They’re searching for a bit of evidence there that you have the capacity to handle different situations that you might have to deal with if you are successful and become a police officer. Some examples might be dealing with conflict, having to deliver bad news, showing resilience, or being confident and assertive maybe in a stressful situation.

Now, they might ask you how you would handle different situations in a policing context, so more hypothetical situations, rather than asking for examples that you’ve shown in the past. For example, it might be something like how would you deal with an aggressive person who might be affected by drugs or alcohol or have some type of mental illness? An important element of the psych’s assessment will focus on your emotional intelligence.

Now, I’m not really a big fan of the word emotional intelligence. It suggests that if you’re either dumb or you’re smart. I think, really, it’s probably more about your emotional awareness: how in tune you are with your own emotions. This is a big part of the interview. You might find that many questions are emotionally based. This part of your interview needs a lot of preparation because your ability to articulate your own emotions could be the difference, I think, between a successful or a not-so-successful interview. I actually think from my experience working with more than 6,000 police applicants over the last 17 years, that this is an area where a lot of applicants come unstuck, and that is that they lack the ability to explain their own emotions.

I mean, if I asked you, “How do you know when you’re sad?” what would you say? How would you explain it? We all know when we’re sad. I mean, I know when I’m sad. But how do you explain it? How do you put it into words? I think more applicants who are unsuccessful at the psychological interview stage are unsuccessful not because they don’t have the capacity to be police officers. Rather, they were not able to answer the questions properly. They couldn’t clearly explain their answers around emotional based questions.

I’d strongly encourage you to think about how you could answer questions around a range of different emotions. Now, one of the exercises that I take my members through when they’re preparing for the psychological assessments is to jot down as many emotions as you can think of. Then, write down how you would explain these three important things. What triggers that specific emotion for you? What is it? What situation, or context, or environment might you find yourself in that could trigger a specific emotion for you? That’s what emotional awareness or intelligence is all about: understanding that “I know that in this situation, it’s likely to make me feel this way.”

The second one is, how do you know you’re feeling that emotion? Again, you’ve got to be able to explain that. How do you know you’re feeling that way? Then, the third one is, what would you do to manage that emotion?

3 Questions You Must Be Able To Answer

I’ll quickly run those through you again ’cause I think they’re really important things to think about when you’re preparing for your interview with a psychologist, especially around emotions.

1. What events trigger specific emotions for you?
2. How do you know you’re feeling that emotion?
3. What do you do to manage that emotion when you are feeling it?

If you can clearly articulate answers to these three questions, you might be on a good path to be able to get through this part of the application process. If you struggle to answer those three questions, I think you might find yourself in a little bit of trouble.

Now, in your list that you make, I strongly, strongly encourage you to think about including the emotion of stress. It’s one of the most common questions that I’ve experienced from feedback with, again, almost 6,000 applicants over the years. They almost always say, “There’s a lot of questions about stress and how I deal with it, how I recognise it, and what I do when I feel that way, et cetera.” Make sure you include stress in that list if you are going to do that exercise.

Now, the other thing about psych interview questions is that you have to be prepared to answer three or four layers deep, a little bit like an onion. The psychologist might want to peel back the layers, three or four layers deep, on any particular question, especially around the emotions. They might say, “How so?” or, “Tell me more,” or, “Why?” or any of those open-ended questions that encourage you to give more information.

Now, just be honest. It’s really important that you’re honest. In that way, if there are multiple questions and they’re digging deeper and deeper and deeper, you’re not having to come up with more and more BS to answer the question. You just continue to be honest and answer the how. Tell me more. Why did that happen? Just keep being honest. If you’re being honest, it doesn’t just mean that you’re not lying. It also means that you’re being very honest about the feelings that you have in those different situations. Really important that you get that.

If you’re honest you don’t have to remember what BS you’ve been telling!

When I say be honest, again, I’m not talking about just don’t lie. I’m also suggesting that you be really honest about the emotions that you do experience in different situations. If you said that something makes you sad or if you feel rather that something makes you sad, then just say so. “A situation like this would make me sad.” Be prepared for follow-up questions. But don’t say something that’s not actually true. But you think it might be a good answer. Or maybe you can’t think of anything else to say. You’re going to say that. Whatever you say, it needs to be honest because the follow-up questions are really difficult to answer if it’s not generally true for you.

It could also lead to some confusion for the psychologist, especially when they start digging four, or five, or six layers deep with follow-up questions, trying to understand why that context or that situation would make you feel that way. If it’s not actually true for you, you’re going to keep making it up the deeper you get. They’re going to get more and more confused the deeper you get. It creates this lose-lose situation.

You might end up finding that you get to a point, if they keep pushing, where you think, “Shit. I know I’ve answered this the wrong way now. What do I do now? Do I backtrack? Do I change my answer? Do I just keep digging and hope they stop asking questions?” That can be avoided if you’re being really honest and truthful. Be honest with your questions and your answers, particularly around emotions. It’s really important.

What To Be Aware Of If You’ve Seen A Psychologist

Okay. Another little thing I want to focus on as we head towards the finish now is just around mental health history. If you’re an applicant who’s had some type of mental health history in the past… And that could be something simple like you’ve had to see a psychologist. Now, it might be that you had two or three visits with a psychologist. An example might be maybe you’ve lost a loved one or you had a long-term relationship, and it’s broken up. That’s had a significant impact on you. Whatever the reason is that you’ve seen a psychologist, you need to prepare some information in advance of your interview.

Now, often, you’ll lean heavily on the psychologist to help you with that. It could be some type of report. It could be a referral letter or a letter of explanation. But they will need to paint a picture for the police force that you’re applying for so that they can get that background information. Now, I’ve had some issues with psychologists in the past, where they’ve provided letters to police applicants. They’ve included some fancy language or they’ve included information that’s not actually completely accurate or honest with the way in which the applicant was feeling.

For example, if you went to see a psychologist because you’ve had a relationship break up and you were just having some challenges getting over that situation and trying to move on, that would be perfectly fair and make sense. If your psychologist wrote, “I saw applicant A on four separate occasions after a breakup with a long-term relationship, and I was helping applicant A with some tools and techniques to help him come to terms with the challenges of moving forward.” Something like that. Perfectly fine. Obviously, it would need to finish with, “No issues here. Nothing left over. Don’t need to see them again. Nothing for you, police department, to be worried about.”

But instead, some psychologists will introduce things that may not have been there in the first place. I had one recently with a member whose psychologist, in a very similar situation to what I’m describing, included the word anxiety. Applicant A was experiencing some anxiety due to a recent breakup in a relationship. Now, I asked this member of mine, “Was that true? I mean, did you feel some anxiety about the situation? Was it stress? Was it sadness? Was it just trying to deal with the challenges?” He told me it was about the challenges of just moving forward. Really, what he wanted to do was just chat to someone outside of the family structure, outside of his friendship group, so we could get it off his chest. There was no mention whatsoever or any indication from him that he was feeling anxious about the circumstances. Yet, the letter included feeling anxiety and feeling anxious about the circumstances.

Now, if you find yourself in a situation like that, be assertive. Be confident enough to go back to the psychologist and clarify the wording. That’s exactly what we did. We were able to have the letter reflect a more accurate description of why he went there in the first place and what the situation was. Now, I strongly feel as though that could have potentially avoided an application disaster.

It’s your application, not theirs, so be confident, be assertive and ask for what you need!

If you’re in a similar situation, I really want to encourage you to be mindful of that. I know there are a lot of applicants trying to get into the police force who have seen psychologists in the past for a whole range of different things. That’s perfectly fine. In this day and age, there’s absolutely no shame whatsoever attached to that. In fact, if you’re struggling and you don’t go and see a professional, people will get on your back about that. “Why didn’t you go and see someone? Why don’t you talk to someone? Go and see a psychologist. What are you a tough guy?” They’ll get on your back for not seeking professional help. Please don’t be concerned that the fact that you may have seen a psychologist in the past could negatively impact on your application.

It won’t on its own. But they will be very interested to understand the circumstances, why you felt you needed to see the psychologist, what you got out of those sessions, and how that’s helped you move forward from that position. All of these things are things that you have to be able to put into words and explain yourself, despite the fact that a letter from a psychologist might do a good job of explaining that anyway.

Alright. Back to the interview to wrap things up. When you’re in a psychological interview, let the psychologist do their job. Their job is to ask questions to get to know you better so they can make a recommendation. Just let them do their job. You can help them to do their job and make it easy for them by communicating clearly. Focus on the question. Answer the question clearly. Give them the answer that they need.

Now, again, I’m not saying answer it the way you think they want to hear it. You’re certainly not going to go away and prepare some scripted answer. That’s the worst thing you could do. But answer the question, if they ask you about last time you felt sad, tell them, “The last time I felt sad was…” and then it gets straight to your answer. Be careful not to add extra information that’s a little bit off-centre. It’s not really relevant to the question. You might find if you do that, they’ll cut you off quite a bit because they want to stay focused on the answers that they’re looking for and the information that they’re trying to find. Stay focused on the questions. Clearly articulate your answers. Don’t add extra information in if you don’t need to.

Now, above all, just be honest and enjoy the chat. You’re talking to another normal human being. This is your opportunity to show the psychologist what a great police officer you’ll make.

Alright, guys. Well, that’s the end of the first episode. I think we’ll wrap it up there. I don’t want to go on for the sake of going on. I want to share some important information, which I hope is helpful for you. I hope that it was.

Thanks for joining me for this first episode of Let’s Talk Police Applications. I look forward to chatting to you again soon.

In the meantime, keep your foot on the gas!

Cheers
Russ.

About the Author

Russell Kempster

Russell Kempster

Russ spent 12 years as a police officer with Victoria Police. The last four years of that time was spent at the Victoria Police Academy as an instructor, where he taught everything from fitness to firearms. He has trained police applicants, as well as recruits undergoing their initial training, experienced serving police officers and was even called on by Victoria Police to help train other would-be police academy instructors.

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