Peace Officer Candidate Selection Process

Although the specific hiring process varies from agency to agency, below is a prototypical peace officer selection process.

  • Application
  • Written Exam (Reading and Writing Assessment)
  • Physical Ability Test
  • Oral Interview
  • Background Investigation
    • Complete/provide Personal History Statement and other materials
    • Meet w/background investigator for background interview(s)
    • Fingerprinting
    • Polygraph examination
  • Medical Evaluation
  • Psychological Evaluation

Selection Process Defined


The application will require you to provide basic information such as name, address, date of birth, etc. It may also require more extensive information, such as personal history information. You should contact the hiring agency directly to inquire about their specific application process.

Written Exam

You will be asked to demonstrate reading and writing ability by passing the POST Entry-level Law Enforcement Test Battery (PELLETB) or another examination designed to measure reading and writing ability. The PELLETB is a paper and pencil, multiple-choice examination. If the agency utilizes the PELLETB, the Applicant Preparation Guide (pdf) and Frequently Asked Questions webpage are good sources of information. Whichever exam the agency decides to use, be sure to ask for and review the study guide, if one is available.

Additionally, if you will be required to submit to a written essay exam; online writing labs (OWLs) can provide useful information. A simple internet search for “online writing lab” should result in links to various OWLs. OWLs provide information on the basic mechanics of writing, which is generally what agencies are looking for – good writing skills, not content.

Physical Ability Test

The majority of law enforcement agencies administer a physical ability test (PAT) in some form; however, POST does not require this type of test as part of the selection process. As such, POST has no standards or guidelines for administering a PAT. POST does, however, require the administration of a physical conditioning program during the academy.

Information on preparing for entry into a basic academy and the physical conditioning program, as well as reference information in preparing for the agency-specific pre-employment physical ability test can be found on the Physical Ability Test FAQ webpage.

Oral Interview

The oral interview will likely be conducted by an oral panel consisting of the head of the department, department staff and/or human resources personnel, and will minimally cover the following six categories:

  • Experience – assesses your ability and experience in accepting responsibilities and performing assigned tasks as demonstrated through achievements in work, school, and other activities.
  • Problem Solving – assesses your reasoning skills in developing timely, logical responses to a wide variety of situations and problems.
  • Communication Skills – assesses your oral communications skills, which includes speaking, listening, and non-verbal communication.
  • Interest/Motivation – addresses your interest in and preparedness for the peace officer job. It includes an assessment of your general level of interest, initiative, and goal orientation.
  • Interpersonal Skills – assesses many facets, such as social knowledge/appropriateness, social insight, empathy, social influence, social self-regulation, sociability, team orientation, social self-confidence, conflict management skills, and negotiating skills.
  • Community Involvement/Awareness – focuses specifically on your experiences and interest in community issues, as well as your interest in and ability to fill multiple roles and serve a diverse community.

These six categories are covered in the Interview Peace Officer Candidates: Hiring Interview Guidelines document. This document is designed to assist agencies in the conduct of the interview; however, candidates may find some of the information useful.

The oral interview is a “professional” interview, for which you should adequately prepare. Here are some basic steps in preparing for the interview:

  • Do your research – learn about the department, the job, the community, current law enforcement issues within the community
  • Dress appropriately – remember that this is a “professional” interview
  • Be prepared – arrive early; plan and/or drive your route ahead of time; allow for delays due to traffic, parking, etc.
  • Remain calm – interviews are inherently stressful; however, if you have prepared yourself, you should be able to relax and enjoy the interview process
  • Be gracious – at the end of the interview, take time to thank each interviewer

These basic steps are intended as a guide in preparing for the interview. It is in your best interest to conduct your own research to determine what would work best for you and the specific position you are seeking.

Background Investigation

The peace officer background investigation is a very time and labor intensive process, requiring the collection of a variety of official documents, contacts with relatives, friends, employers, and many others, and checks of almost every aspect of your personal history. The specific POST requirements for the conduct of the background investigation are found in Commission Regulation 1953. POST also provides agencies with background investigation guidance as contained in the POST Background Investigation Manual. Although these references are designed for agency use, applicants may find them helpful in understanding the background process.

The background investigation process commonly begins with a meeting with the background investigator, who will explain the process and have you sign and complete waiver, release and other agency forms. The most lengthy and important form you will complete is the Personal History Statement (PHS) - Peace Officer (2-251) (pdf). The investigator may have you complete the POST PHS or a similar form created by the agency. The information you provide on the PHS will be used in the background investigation. The information provided must be complete, accurate, and straightforward.

Note that there are very few automatic bases for rejection. Even prior instances of illegal drug use, driving under the influence, theft, or even arrest or conviction may not be, in and of themselves, automatically disqualifying. However, deliberate misstatements or omissions can and often will result in your application being rejected, regardless of the nature or reason for the misstatements/omissions. In fact, the number one reason individuals “fail” background investigations is because they deliberately withhold or misrepresent job-relevant information from their prospective employer.

At some point during the background process you may be asked to show proof of age, education, and employment eligibility. Since it will take some time to acquire the official documentation (i.e., certified copies of birth certificate, official sealed copies of high school and/or college transcript(s), employment eligibility verification documents), you may consider collecting the information ahead of time. You should contact the employing agency to determine their specific documentation requirements. You should also consider printing out the POST Personal History Statement (PHS) – Peace Officer (2-251) (pdf) form, completing it, and keeping the information as a “working” copy in a file for future reference. If the information on your PHS changes (e.g., you move residences, change jobs, complete college, etc.), be sure to update the information on your “working” copy. When it comes time to complete the agency’s personal history statement, you will have your personal history information and related documents readily available.

Also, as part of the background investigation process, you may be subjected to a detection of deception examination, such as a polygraph or voice stress analysis. Although it is not a POST requirement, detection of deception examinations are not uncommon. The primary purpose of these examinations is to verify the truthfulness of information that applicants have provided on the PHS and to the background investigator directly.

Medical Evaluation

The medical evaluation must be conducted by a licensed physician. This and other POST requirements are described in Commission Regulation 1954.

The medical evaluation will begin with the completion of a Medical History Statement - Peace Officer (2-252) (pdf). This form will ask questions regarding your medical history. As with the background investigation, completeness and accuracy is critical. The agency will provide you with information on when and where you will be having your medical examination, and with whom (i.e., you cannot obtain a medical evaluation from your own physician).

Agencies must establish their own medical screening procedures and evaluation criteria based on the job duties, powers, demands, and working conditions as defined by the department [Commission Regulation 1955(c)]. As such, you would need to contact the agency directly concerning any questions about the medical evaluation. However, POST does provide agencies with detailed guidance in the conduct of the medical evaluation. That guidance is contained in the POST Medical Screening Manual for California Law Enforcement. Although this manual is designed primarily for screening physicians, you may find it contains some useful information related to medical suitability.

Psychological Evaluation

The psychological evaluation must be conducted by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. In addition to licensure, the psychologist must meet POST continuing professional education (CPE) requirements. These and other POST requirements are described in Commission Regulation 1955.

The hiring department will schedule your psychological evaluation with their contracted screening psychologist. The evaluation with generally begin with the completion of a personal history questionnaire. This questionnaire is different from and supplementary to the personal history information you would have given to the hiring department as part of the background investigation. The evaluation will consist of the administration of written psychological tests, as well as a clinical (in person) interview with the screening psychologist.