Recruiting with Emotion and Market Positioning

By Skinner, Chris | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 2010 | Go to article overview
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Recruiting with Emotion and Market Positioning


Skinner, Chris, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


For decades, recruiting personnel into law enforcement seemingly did not present much of a challenge. Departments often saw an overwhelming number of quality applicants compete for limited positions. Today, however, agencies apparently have difficulty recruiting a pool of suitable candidates. Additionally, many organizations, including the Hillsboro, Oregon, Police Department (HPD), must compete in a condensed marketplace with numerous other employers for desirable candidates interested in starting a law enforcement career or changing from one agency to another. To address today's challenges, departments must examine their recruiting methodology.

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Attracting Candidates

Two distinct groups compete for law enforcement positions. One consists of entry-level recruits with little or no related experience. Often, they recently have graduated from college or ended military service. In Hillsboro, these applicants undergo several months of training, both in-house and at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. Agencies usually do not consider them ready for public service for up to 1 year from the initial application phase.

The other category of applicants features police officers interested in a lateral move. They have state certification and experience working at other agencies. These candidates can serve within months of hire.

Every law enforcement agency in the Portland metropolitan area tries to recruit the best police officers. The prominence of labor unions and collective bargaining agreements has created tremendous parity among these organizations with respect to such benefits as salary, shift schedules, and medical and dental coverage. Further, most, if not all, departments feature a paramilitary structure and function under the same general set of rules and regulations.

With all things considered equal, why do aspiring officers pick one organization over another? Why do they choose certain agencies versus applying for all? Rational decision making has become obsolete in a market of parity. Applicants rely more on emotion, sometimes without their awareness or understanding. Accordingly, in a competitive marketplace, departments must establish a strategy to differentiate themselves and appeal to their target groups' emotions.

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Researching the Issue

Understanding the two target groups proves crucial in creating market position. To better understand the entry-level applicants, I conducted a series of interviews with criminal justice students attending Portland State University and Western Oregon University.

I asked all of the participants the same questions. One was why they wanted to become a police officer. Most of the individuals expressed their desire to enter a profession designed to help people. I then asked the students why. The majority of them said they were uncertain but that "it just feels like the right thing to do." I pushed the students on what "feels" meant, and, as I expected, they struggled to express their feelings in words. So, I provided them a list of emotions used in previous research. (1) Once the students could find terms to describe what they felt, they communicated such words as joy, happiness, thrill, kindness, confidence, and acceptance. I then asked the participants if they thought they could experience these feelings at any of the law enforcement agencies in the Portland metropolitan area. Interestingly, students aligned closely with agencies that would give them the best chance at acceptance and happiness.

The second part of my research focused on lateral police officers who decided to move from one agency to another. When explaining their decision, they named greater opportunity as the primary reason for leaving. I asked them to elaborate, and the officers talked about the potential for different special assignments and promotions.

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