Examples of Scenario-Based Interview Questions in Criminal Justice

Scenario-based interview questions assess ethics, priorities, and more

Employers typically ask two types of questions—experience-based and scenario-based—during criminal justice oral board interviews. Experience-based questions require you to talk about how you've responded to actual situations in the past. Scenario-based questions ask you to describe how you might respond to a hypothetical situation in the future.

Employers look for certain types of answers to scenario-based questions. They're trying to pin down your thought processes rather than have you recite learned responses from memory.

An Ethical Scenario

The question: You and a fellow officer respond to a traffic crash. When the other officer inventories one of the vehicles to be towed, he discovers a large amount of cash. You see him put the cash in his pocket. Later, you notice that no mention of cash is listed on the inventory sheet. How would you respond?

How to answer: It's easy to simply say you would report the officer to his superiors and be done with it. However, employers are looking for indications that you understand why the other officer's action was wrong. They want to know that you're conscious of the high ethical standards you'll be held to and that you can overcome peer pressure to do the right thing for your community. Successful answers articulate all these points.

Work-Life Balance

The question: Your department is short-staffed and everyone has been asked to take turns working extra hours to help out. You've already worked late once this week, but a coworker called in sick and now your supervisor is asking if you can fill in again. You have plans with friends after work. How would you respond?

How to answer: Your employer is looking for insight into what sort of work ethic you possess and where your priorities lie. It's not just about whether you're willing to work. It's about how you prioritize your​ work-life balance. Acknowledge the difficulty a supervisor might have in ensuring staffing and that you understand the need to pull your weight at work. You can also make it clear that depending on the plans you made, you might not be able to cancel them easily. You might indicate that even though you can't cover that particular shift, you would be willing to pick up the next one.

When Orders Contradict Policy

The question: Your supervisor asks you to do something which you're certain is either against policy or out of line with your organization's standard procedures. How would you handle this situation?

How to answer: It's not uncommon to disagree with a supervisor, and employers understand that they can sometimes get it wrong. What the interviewer wants to see here is that you have the interpersonal insight to deal with the supervisor politely and respectfully while at the same time doing the right thing. A good answer addresses the steps you would take to seek clarification from your supervisor, how you would let her know you think the situation should be handled differently, and that if it's not illegal, immoral, or unethical, you'll do what you're asked. It also is good to mention that you'd want to discuss the situation with the next-level supervisor later.

Office Politics

The question: Two coworkers on your shift clearly don't get along, and they each come to you to complain about the other. Describe what you would do in this situation.

How to answer: The purpose of this question is to get a glimpse into how you'll interact with coworkers, but it's also a hint at how you deal with conflict. Interviewers want to see that you have the maturity and communication skills necessary to minimize conflict and encourage a positive work atmosphere. This skill also is valuable on the job when you need to respond to calls that involve multiple parties in conflict.


The question: You notice that one of your team members seems distracted a lot lately and he isn't following orders, maybe because he never really heard them in the first place. What would you do in this situation?

How to answer: This is a good opportunity to show some empathy while at the same time demonstrating that you know the job comes first. Is your team member experiencing a problem, and is it work-related or personal? Explain what you would do to get to the bottom of the situation, being mindful that a team member's distraction and inattention can put you all at risk. When and how would you alert a supervisor to the problem?

Acing Your Next Interview

Be sure to provide organized, logical, and well-thought-out answers, no matter what type of questions you're asked. Provide details, not quick, off-the-cuff answers. Take the time to show that you recognize what the issue is, why it's an issue that needs to be addressed, and how you would work to resolve it.

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