I am frequently asked whether it is a good strategy to apply to several police departments simultaneously. I believe it can generally be problematic for the applicant. On the one hand, it may seem completely rational to increase the likelihood of getting hired by being in the selection process for several agencies. On the other hand, preparing for each agency's testing process can make you a nervous wreck and may hinder you from doing well in any of them.
Background Investigators are loyal to their departments and consider themselves the ”Gate Keepers’ of their organization. They are looking for the most qualified candidates and individuals who want to work at their agency. In their view, you may appear to be an opportunist and willing to work for whomever first offers you a position. One question you will always be asked during an “Entry Level Interview” is, “Why do you want to work for our agency?” If your response is, “I believe the All City Police Department is the best agency in the state,” then what do you tell the other agencies you applied to when asked the same question? You can listen to how to formulate your response to this question in my podcast by following the link to Episode 002.
You are required to disclose on your application whether you currently applied at other agencies or previously were rejected. Almost immediately, you will be asked what your status is at those other agencies. Additionally, you will be asked why you applied to those agencies. If a Background Investigator is not overly impressed or thinks you are a mediocre candidate, your application might be delayed. Background Investigators are afforded great latitude in the time-frame to complete an investigation. If you are highly qualified and impress the investigator, they will complete your background as rapidly as possible. One of the downfalls of multiple applications is if your #3 agency moves towards hiring you quicker than agency #1. The minute you tell agency #3 you are not interested, they will likely remove you from the process.
Although you will generally be asked the same questions during a background no matter where you apply, there is a phenomenon I call “Story-Creep.” Story-Creep occurs when you tell a Background Investigator about a certain incident in your life, and it slowly modifies each time you tell it. This especially occurs when you are recounting a particularly embarrassing or shameful event in your past.
Humans have a natural tendency to lessen their guilt and paint themselves in the best light possible because it can be exceedingly difficult to take full responsibility for their actions. Not being entirely truthful about an event is the quickest path to being disqualified and receiving the dreaded DQ (Disqualification) Letter. Having to tell the same embarrassing story to investigators at multiple agencies when Story-Creep is in effect will make you appear to be a liar to at least one of the agencies. Once one agency disqualifies you for untruthfulness, it is exceedingly difficult to explain yourself.
Also, many Background Investigators in my geographic area belong to a local professional organization and meet regularly. They discuss investigation issues and various candidates. Without a doubt, if you tell an investigator you applied at another agency, it may prompt a call to the other agency to discuss your progress and perhaps your answer to a problematic life story.
All of this is less likely to occur if you start by applying to your number one choice of agencies and go through one background investigation at a time. This is a general guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule because there could be unavoidable scenarios. You may have applied at one agency, but then for budgetary reasons, they suspended hiring, and consequently, all background investigations were stopped. So, while technically you are still an applicant at that agency, no one would hold it against you that you moved on and applied at another agency. The key here is that any reasonable background investigator should not hold that against you. If you apply at your first agency and somewhere during processing, you apply to another agency, ensure you notify the first agency.
In the final analysis, the decision is entirely yours, and based on your particular circumstances. Do not be caught being asked about applying to multiple agencies without fully considering your answer.
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