‘Unconventional’ questions take center stage in police officer interviews

There were some relatively standard questions asked this week of the six candidates for promotion in the Southborough Police Department. Questions about leadership style, goals for the department, and the like. And then there were the not-so-standard ones.

“Some of my questions may seem a bit unconventional,” Selectman John Rooney warned the candidates.

The fun in watching someone else get interviewed is thinking about how you would answer the questions if you were the one on the hot seat. So, let’s do just that. I’ll give you a couple of Rooney’s ‘unconventional’ questions and you share in the comments how you would answer them. Come on, it’ll be fun!

Question 1
It’s late at night, you’re on patrol, and a car speeds by you going 20 mph over the speed limit. You pull the car over only to discover it’s your mother. What do you do?

Question 2
If you could meet three people in all the world — past, present, real or fictional — who would they be? (This was the question that proved most challening for many of the candidates.)

Question 3
You’re driving a two-seater car on a stormy night and you pass three people at a bus stop: an elderly woman who looks like she’s about to expire, a good friend who at one point in the past saved your life, and the mate of your dreams (who up until this point you have not met and might not meet again). What do you do?

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Jerry C
13 years ago

Give me a break! This is what they put those people through? On question 1, they should have thrown in “It’s mothers day, and it’s late a night………”.

Yiwei Sun
13 years ago

I like these questions! Way better than those “how many golf balls could fit in a swimming pool” questions which I had during my job interview upon gratuation:-)

13 years ago

Seriously? Time was taken up with this line of questioning?

13 years ago

Foolish waste of time and had the potential of putting the Town in an uncomfortable position if a candidate could then use his/her answer as a possible reason to have been denied the position..e.g., what if one of the people an applicant most wanted to meet was the Prophet Mohammed…. or Hugh Hefner? Why go there???

Frank Crowell
13 years ago

I guess they could leave out: “What is your favorite color?”


Pat Q
13 years ago

I agree………silly questions.

HOWEVER, I have the answer for Question #3.
You give the good friend the keys to the car and tell them to drive the elderly woman to the hospital before she expires, and you sit on the bench with the mate of your

: )

13 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

I agree these are silly questions and what do they plan to learn about the candidates from them. Pat love your answer to question 3.

13 years ago

And maybe mom had a wee bit of wine at about two hours ago or told you she wouldn’t wash your dirty laundry ever again

13 years ago

I guess I am the only one who likes these questions:-) Coming from many boring interview questions like “tell me about yourself” or “what are your weakness” in the corporations that only shows the laziness of the employers, I did find those situational questions refreshing. There is no single right answer to any of these questions but to find out how the candidates think (i.e., thinking process”.

I do LOVE PAT Q’s answer. Very clever.

John Rooney
13 years ago

Unconventional, perhaps. Lacking merit, not so fast. Do not focus on the question; focus on the purpose of the question.

Question 1 is famous oral board police question. The question relates to the candidates’ integrity, which, in my opinion, is the most important leadership quality. If I heard “Yes, I would because that is my job …,” then the candidate would have immediately lost my vote. Would they honestly give their mother a speeding ticket? The question was also framed in such a way that it gave the candidate an opportunity to offer examples of their past when presented with a difficult, similar scenario.

Question number 2 is again a time-tested interview question asked to see how the candidate thinks. It avoids canned responses, and it very much tends to reveal quite a bit about the candidate. Some candidates will name 3 people directly on topic to the job, some will name people more focused on leadership and organizational issues, some will focus more on individual development, while others will simply throw out three names just to answer and be done with the question. It is an indirect and proven method that provides tremendous insight into the work style of candidates.

Question 3 posited a moral and ethical dilemma and at the same time required the candidate to think logically, as Pat’s answer demonstrates. I want senior officers to think logically all the time. I was looking for someone who can make important decisions while under a variety of stressors. It was important to me that these candidates demonstrate that they are the type of person who can not only make effective decisions, but can solve a problem in short order.

So, Yiwei, there are at least two people who like these questions in town.

Kelly Roney
13 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

Q1 is also a chance to show a sense of humor, which I would think is essential to any public service. Imagine the possibilities…

13 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

Mr. Rooney,

I wish you or the other selectmen had asked each of these candidates what ideas they have to improve the performance of the department and to improve efficiency. Now those are also questions that have merit.

Mr Rooney – I don’t always agree with you but I respect you for posting your thoughts and defending your position on this blog. Now if only you could explain why we are going to be spending so much more money on a new Lt. and 2 Sgts. for the same size police force. Also, lets be clear that this WILL cause the town to expend a substantial increase in salary expense for the police department. Too bad this was never discussed or brought to the attention of town voters at the recent town meeting. The voters had the right to know this was in the works.

Earl E. Byrd
13 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

1. Seems odd that the Chief would not independently make hiring and firing decisions for the department. Is having the BOS this intimately involved with the staffing of the department standard operating procedure in cities and towns in Massachusetts?

2. Are the candidates for the open positions currently employed by the department? If they are, don’t we have enough knowledge of their integrity, ability to think, and moral and ethical make up?

3. I’d challenge those who believe these questions are effective tools to identify the best candidates, to take a look at the research on their effectiveness in screening out the best candidates. How one responds in an interview, and especially one in a public forum has been generally found to be more indicative of how successful they are at interviewing, rather than if they are the best candidate.

4. No question in my mind that our BOS has the best interest of the department and town. What concerns me is the disconnect between digging for “evidence based research” when it comes to how to operate our schools, and the disregard for the same when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best for our police department.

What we don’t know that we don’t know scares me more than the stuff we know we don’t know….

I'm just sayin'....
13 years ago

I also think these were excellent questions and absolutely not a waste of time….the answers speak to character and “thinking outside of the box” potential. Sometimes there is not a black and white answer and I believe that is actually a very important consideration for a police officer. It is also important for an officer to uphold the law, so these questions were very pertinent.

I also love Pat’s answer! Are you one of the candidates? If so, you nailed it!!

Thank you, Mr. Rooney, for thinking about this process with intelligence and bravery (meaning you were more interested in getting a better picture of the candidates than worrying about the backlash from a sometimes very ungrateful, unthinking public!) You are one of those “thinking outside of the box” kind of guys. Using all resources available to solve problems can only make the process and outcome more successful.

13 years ago

Those that think these questions silly have never been charged with the responsibility of conducting an important interview. Those that think that these questions put the town in “an uncomfortable position” are simply and utterly clueless. I am a CEO of a large investment firm and these are exactly the type of questions you want answers to from someone in a leadership position.

Southborough it is time to wake up. I do not know Mr. Rooney but he is spot-on.

People who are closed minded and cannot step outside of traditional methods are not the type of people you want as leaders. Those that cannot see the tremendous value of these questions will never be leaders but will always remain hidden in the back of the line.

13 years ago

Gee. This should have been fun. Only Pat answered a question. She had the same answer I did for number 3. As for the others: I would pull over my mother and check on her, because she never speeds. Maybe she is ill or in some trouble? I wouldn’t add more to the answer for the interview since that is not required.

For the three people: Jesus, Yoda, and myself at a younger age.

Now, Mr. Rooney, what are YOUR answers, please.

I think these were very suitable, not unusual, and could be helpful in bringing candidates with some intelligence and depth. thanks John.

Bill (not the same one as above)
13 years ago

More so than almost any other profession, law enforcement officials encounter “unconventional” situations and are expected to react in a moment’s notice. “Unconventional” questions during this interview or almost any interview are appropriate and not uncommon. It is difficult to anticipate “unconventional” questions that will be asked during a job interview; thus, the answers and reactions to these questions reveal a lot about a candidate.

I'm just sayin'....
13 years ago

So, Mr. Rooney, there are more than two people in town who think your questions were good ones and very pertinent! And, “M”…yes, this could have been fun, but I think the seriousness of the process and the distrust of some residents with how town business has been conducted in the past, especially with hiring and promoting in the police department, clouded the “fun” aspect of Susan’s question, “What would you do?” And kudos to you, as well, for your answer to Question 3!

Hi, Susan,

As an aside, I am wondering if there is something amiss with the blog…I answered before Mr. Rooney (at least, when I posted mine, his was not there) and then only the last one (from “Bill, not the same one as above”) showed up in my inbox on my smartphone last night around 9pm, when there were three that had been posted. This is the first blog I have ever participated in so maybe I don’t understand the way they work, but it would seem that it wouldn’t take that long to be posted (the time on mine is correct, so if that is also true, Mr. Rooney is a VERY early riser!!) even though it has to go through its screening process before actually being posted on the blog. Not complaining, just wondering if it is working properly :-)

Pat Q
13 years ago

Ok………so I have to come clean after receiving so many kudos for my answer to
question #3. I acutally got the answer from my 12 year old daughter! She had
asked me this “riddle” one night over dinner and I was quite stumped.

She had learned the riddle at school.

Oh, the things I have learned from her!

: )

13 years ago

I think that these questions are very good. I think there is a reason John Rooney asked them. His father was a chief of Police. He knows what he is doing. I think everyone needs to mind their own business. He is much smarter than all of you in Southborough who have no idea what you are talking about.

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