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So, You Want to Become a Police Officer?

November 27, 2012

We’ve been doing well for guest posts recently – thanks to the good folks who are prepared to share their knowledge with us. This post comes from Richard McMunn who is the director and founder of How2become, a specialist careers site.

“A career as a police officer can be varied, stimulating and rewarding, and the benefits include a two-year training programme and excellent career development opportunities. According to the Guardian, around 30 per cent of police officers are graduates, so if you’re interested in joining their ranks, you can apply to your local police force right after graduation. Applicants must be at least 18 years old to join the police, and although there is no age limit, the police force retirement age is 60, so if you are close to that age, your application will most likely get rejected. There are some recruitment schemes just for graduates, the Metropolitan Police have one, but most graduates will apply in the regular way competing with non-graduates.

  • Before the First Step -The competition for police work is intense, so if you’re interested in becoming a police officer, it’s a good idea to become involved in community groups, such as youth clubs or sports groups. You should also work on improving or maintaining excellent physical fitness and mental dexterity. It helps to volunteer as a special constable, which will give you important insights into local police work, as well as helpful contacts in the field. It’s also an excellent way of finding out if you would really like to work as police officer full-time and it will also significantly increase your odds of being accepted into the force. Think about your personal image, you have to look the part, e.g., if you have tattoos, they can’t be offensive, no matter where they are on your body – and you should avoid getting tattoos on your neck or face, because most police forces require you to hide them under your uniform.
  • The Basic Attributes in an Effective Cop – Although there are no formal educational requirements, prospective police officers must have a special type of personality in order to become an outstanding police officer. The best candidates for police work are those who are level-headed and always honest. Police officers must be able to think clearly under intense pressure and make crucial, yet quick decisions with very little supervision. The best cops are natural born leaders who have great people and communication skills, which they execute with patience and understanding. However, the most important traits overall are having a strong moral compass – knowing right from wrong and also possessing an innate desire to serve your community.
  • The All-Important Legalese – In addition, there are several basic requirements that you must fulfil if you wish to apply to a police force. You have to be a British, Commonwealth or EU/EEA citizen or, if you are a national of any other country, you must have the right to remain in the UK permanently. Sites like How2Become offer more information on the exact UK requirements. People with a history of minor cautions or convictions are usually allowed to become police officers, although people who have committed certain serious offences will be excluded, such as those relating to violence, drugs or firearms. Your financial status is important, too – those applicants who have received court orders against them for debts incurred or those who have been declared bankrupt are not eligible to apply.
  • The Actual Application Process -If you fulfil the basic requirements, you should contact your local police force to find out about the application process, which differs from force to force. You are only allowed to lodge your application with one police force at a time. The first step in the application process is to fill in an application form. In order to put your best foot forward, take your time to carefully and thoroughly complete the application. Some police forces include competency questions on the application form in order to screen out unsuitable candidates, so look out for them and answer them competently and completely. According to recent studies, a whopping 75 per cent of people who apply to become police officers don’t get past the first step, which is the application, and for those 25 per cent that do move on, only one person out of ten actually become police officers.
  • Testing 1, 2, 3 - If you are considered to be a suitable candidate on the basis of your application form, you will be invited to an assessment centre, where you will undergo a series of written tests, interactive exercises and an interview. These tests and exercises are designed to find out whether you have the necessary skills to become a police officer. A wide range of traits in the areas of communication, problem-solving, team-working, numeracy and literacy are tested. In addition, personal qualities, such as confidence, integrity, sound judgement, calmness, tolerance and diplomacy, are assessed during the interview and tests. If you pass the assessment centre tests, a fitness test is the next step. The final stage of the application process usually consists of a medical examination, an eyesight test, a background check and obtaining a security clearance.
  • The Benefits of Police Service – The starting salary of a police officer is between £22,000 and £26,000, although salaries vary from force to force, with some forces paying extra allowances, like those based in capital London. Benefits packages include a pension plan, sick pay and at least 21 days paid holiday per year. Police officers benefit from flexible working hours and overtime is usually paid generously. As a police officer, your work will be interesting and diverse. People who you protect in the community will most likely view you as their hero and consider you to be strong and brave. Being in the force is an honour bestowed on only the best candidates; therefore you’ll feel great pride once you’ve made the grade and become a police officer.
  • The Downside of Police Work - As a police officer, you will put your life at risk whenever you work, because you are expected to put your safety behind those who you are responsible to protect. It’s a dangerous job that grows even more dangerous daily, due to the continuous rise in crime rates. There are times you’ll have to zoom through heavy traffic to get to a crime scene or to apprehend a perpetrator, and you will even risk getting shot. Sometimes, you’ll need to do extensive paperwork, which can be quite tedious and boring. In addition, some people may view you as a cold, cruel snitch who only wants to arrest people and earn your monthly quota in traffic tickets. The hours can be long and exhausting at times, and you’ll have to deal with people who are frightened, angry, drugged, distressed or uncooperative. There is a lot of pressure to serve and protect the community and the fact that crimes will continue to be committed no matter what you do can be discouraging at times.

It takes a special type of person to become a police officer, and if you feel you have the qualities necessary, you should go ahead and fill out an application. As a police officer, you can look forward to a long and rewarding career that provides a sense of accomplishment every day. However, the job is risky and demanding, so if you decide that becoming a police officer is not for you, you could also consider other important jobs in the police force. These include the roles of information analyst, librarian or call handler, which will allow you to protect your community in many other ways.

Richard McMunn is the director and founder of How2become; the UK career and recruitment specialist. For the last 7 years How2Become has helped applicants prepare for and pass recruitment processes and assessment centres in order to secure their chosen career. Find Richard on Google Plus or Twitter.

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