Preparing for Your Oral Board Interview

Introduction

The purpose of this publication is to help you prepare for taking an oral board interview (also called a screening panel interview) for the Arizona Department of Corrections. The following three steps are important for your preparation:

  1. Develop your job knowledge and skill, so you are well qualified for the job;

  2. Familiarize yourself with how an oral board is conducted; and

  3. Practice your interviewing skills

A careful review of the information provided in this publication will assist you in completing your interview.

How to Prepare for Your Oral Board

  1. Learn everything you can about the position you want.

  2. Take specific classes to develop knowledge and ability (classes in supervision, inmate management, crisis intervention, professional development, criminal justice, etc.).

  3. Read reference materials about the subject matter (supervision, communication, professional, occupational books, etc.).

  4. Volunteer for work in your present job that is similar to the target job (temporary supervision, administrative work, special projects, etc.).

  5. Talk with individuals in the target job in order to gain more details and insight about the position.

  6. Try to envision the tasks that a typical employee in the target job actually performs.

  7. If you are applying for a promotional position, study the department’s written instructions that relate to the target job.

  8. Compose and answer some interview questions you might expect.

  9. Practice with others, try using a tape recorder, or practice in front of a mirror.

  10. Read books or articles on behavioral interviewing.

  11. Take classes that will assist you in completing an interview (interviewing techniques, communication, presentation skills, etc.).

What to Expect at an Oral Board

Below is a general outline of how oral boards may be conducted. Each board is different, and all the items listed may not apply at every board.

  1. When you arrive for your interview, there may be an information sheet provided for candidates in the waiting area explaining such details as who is on the board.

  2. Board members will probably refrain from casual or friendly conversation with candidates during and between interviews.

  3. You may be asked to show a picture I.D. for identification.

  4. If there are distractions in the interview room, such as noise or an uncomfortable temperature, you should say so immediately.

  5. The board consists of the chairperson and usually three other board members, who are at least one grade higher than the position being filled. The members will introduce themselves, even if they already know the interviewee, and the board usually sits across the table from the candidate.

  6. The chair asks if the candidate requests exclusion of a panel member because of a conflict of interest. A panel member is automatically excluded when he or she:

    • Has directly supervised the applicant within one year prior to the interview.
    • Has been directly involved in a disciplinary action recommended or taken against the candidate.
    • Has a personal friendship with or is related to the candidate.

    [Note: Either the interviewee or a board member may request exclusion for other reasons.]

  7. You are usually told the time limit for the interview (about 30 minutes) and the number of questions (most commonly six). A copy of the questions may be provided for you to read along as each question is read aloud to you. You   may not make any written notes during the interview.
  8. The board members take detailed written notes. The board members are trained to remain impartial toward candidates. They usually refrain from nodding, smiling, or providing other feedback. There may be little or no eye contact because they will be busy taking notes.
  9. When the candidate appears to have finished answering a question, the panel member who asked that question usually says, "Are you ready for the next question?"
  10. The questioning continues in this fashion until the last (usually the sixth) question is finished. You have approximately five minutes to answer each question, and there is no time limit on any single question.
  11. After the last question, the panel member says, "Thank you." If the interview has not taken up all the time allowed, the chairperson may ask if the candidate wants to add to the answer to any question.
  12. The chairperson then closes the interview and excuses the candidate.

How to Answer the Questions

  1. Be clear and concise, but provide detailed answers that are as complete as possible. You may take a few moments to collect your thoughts in silence before you begin each response. Do not be afraid of silence.

  2. You may be scored on your overall communication skills, so be aware of such things as tone of voice, grammar, clarity, rate of speech, and the organization of your answer. Remember, you have about FIVE MINUTES TO ANSWER EACH QUESTION, although there is no time limit on any one question. Slow down and take your time.

  3. Cover all the steps you would follow, methods you would use, and actions you would take. Don't skip something because it seems too simple or obvious. Talk as if you are addressing people who know nothing about Corrections, and, that way, you will be more likely to include details and explanations. For promotional positions in the security series, include answers that apply in most or all security-level institutions.

  4. When questions relate to Department Orders, be sure your answers are consistent with the Orders.

For many questions, it is important to discuss more than just the steps required by Department Orders or written instructions. You could include administrative (task-related) behavior and techniques; supervisory methods you would use; and interpersonal (people-related) explanations and ideas, i.e., how you would deal with people, if relevant. Discuss what you've learned from experience and judgment, as well as technical job knowledge.

Expect Two Kinds of Questions

Type One:

"What would you do if...?" In other words, how would you respond to a specific job-related situation? An example would be, "How would you deal with a subordinate who is continually twenty minutes late to work?" In some cases, how you would handle a situation depends somewhat on what you discover as you deal with the situation. Thus you might say, "If I discover such-and-such, then I would...." Remember to include factors that could apply to all the institutions, not just the one where you presently work.

Type Two:

"Tell us about a time when you...and describe what you did." This type might also be stated as, "Give an example of a situation when...and list the steps involved." For instance, "Tell us about a time when you had to write a report, and describe what you did."

Remember, points are given for separate factors or individual ideas in the answer that are judged to be examples of effective behavior based on standards established by persons with experience in the job. How many ideas can you count in your answer? Make sure the factors actually answer the question, such as listing specific steps you would follow, specific methods you would use, and specific actions you would take. An answer such as, "I'm pretty good at this," does not provide a description of "what you did" or "what you would do."

Examples of How to Answer a Question

The question is, "Describe a report you have written, and list the steps you followed."

An answer that scores few points:

"I'm pretty good at writing, since I've always liked to read better than to watch TV or do a lot of sports, for example. I think I do a pretty good job, because I get good feedback on my work. In fact, I often am singled out for extra assignments, or I'm asked to help others or to check their finished product. Writing is part of the reason I like this job, and that I think I'd be good at the new position. I'm a whiz at spelling especially; I recheck anything doubtful with a dictionary, since I don't have a spell check like I do at home. You can bet I'd do a fine job. This is an area where I really shine. It's just something I've always been good at. I don't want to brag, but I have a natural ability, and I've done whatever I could to develop it."

Was an example given? No, so very few points may be awarded.

Now, count the separate ideas or factors:

Factors:

1. Recheck for spelling errors.

No other factors (specific steps, methods, or actions) were presented to actually describe what was done. Instead the answer was, "I'm pretty good...I've always liked...I get good feedback," and so forth. These responses do not describe how a report was written. They do not list any of the steps, methods, or actions. Always re-examine a question to determine exactly what is being asked. Such responses as, "I'm often singled out," or, "Writing is part of the reason I like this job," or, "It's just something I've always been good at," do little to contribute to the response. In the example above, if the applicant did have experience or skill in writing a report, the applicant may benefit by learning how to provide an answer like the one below.

An answer that scores many points:

"Just last week I had to do a detailed report on some property damage. First, I always look for samples of reports previously done by other staff members. If you can find something pretty similar, you know the format and level of detail they want in the content. Then I did some simple research, which basically consisted of some price checking and talking with two or three people who were involved or knew about the situation. I paid careful attention to deadlines, as usual, so I got it in on time. I proof read it for typos, and I checked the spelling by using a dictionary. The grammar I'm not too great at, so I proof read the report again and checked it for grammar errors using a reference book. Finally, I asked for some feedback on the finished product, and my supervisor pointed out a couple of things I could change next time. I'm always trying to improve. I think that pretty well describes how I do these reports."

Was an example given? Yes, a "property damage report" was the example.

Now, count the separate ideas or factors:

  1. Obtained samples for format and content.
  2. Did research.
  3. Interviewed other staff.
  4. Watched and complied with due dates.
  5. Proof read.
  6. Checked spelling.
  7. Checked grammar using a reference book.
  8. Sought feedback on writing.

NOTE: "I'm always trying to improve," is a response that receives no points in this example. It does not describe the specific steps, methods, or actions taken. Because it is a very general statement, it is unlikely that it would meet any of the standards for effective behavior.

This question might also be written as, "What would you do if you had to write a report at ADC? Describe the steps you would take."

Remember

In your preparation for the oral board interview, remember to follow these three basic steps: (1) develop your job knowledge and skill; (2) familiarize yourself with the oral board process; and (3) practice your interviewing skills.

Expect surprises! There will always be questions you did not anticipate. Don't become nervous or apprehensive; take your time and do the best you can. You can score well on these boards without having perfect answers. Afterwards, you will often think, "Here's what I should have said!" Slow down and try to remain calm during the interview. You may use the entire time allowed, so, if necessary, just ask for a few minutes to think about some of the questions.

After your interview, respect and protect the oral board process. Don't discuss the questions, don't ask others about them, and don't listen to others discuss the interview. If you violate this confidentiality, you may face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. In the event that the oral board is compromised, it may have to be redone.