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How to Interview a Probation Officer

by Morgan Rush, studioD

Probation officers work with offenders to learn more about their backgrounds and current environment, reporting to the courts regarding the potential for successfully integrating back into society. The Massachusetts Court System states that probation officers decide whether probationers need additional supports such as counseling or social resources. They might also recommend revoking or modifying probation as necessary. Interview questions for probation officers should assess communication skills, problem solving and the individual’s philosophy or beliefs about the role of the courts in rehabilitation.

Assess Strategies and Techniques

Decades ago, probation officers did not necessarily rely on research-driven methods when working with inmates, according to the Federal Probation Journal. Modern probation officers stick with strategies that encourage positive results. For example, officers frequently rely on motivational interviewing, a technique that involves asking clients to analyze their beliefs about change, to encourage inmates to increase accountability and self-motivation with regard to their actions. During the interview, ask candidates to describe what processes and strategies they rely on to interact effectively with probationers. This could include examples of successful or unsuccessful strategies attempted in previous positions.

Dealing with Conflict

It’s unrealistic to expect that probation officers will always develop positive relationships with inmates. Although that’s an admirable goal, chances are that officers will sometimes be assigned to work with reluctant, hostile or deceptive inmates and probationers. Part of the interview should address the candidate’s strategies for addressing lying, aggression, deceptiveness or other possible negative characteristics. Ask the officer to frame her response with examples from past interactions with probationers. Look for responses that downplay emotion and emphasize de-escalation in order to get progress back on track. Be skeptical of candidates who assure you that they’ve never encountered negative interactions with probationers.

Gauging Self-Knowledge

Because probation officers hold a position of authority over other human beings, and can make decisions that substantially impact their lives, reflection and self-knowledge are essential values. The interview should ask candidates to demonstrate their ability to recognize their own prejudices, preferences and capacity for judgment or error, according to NJ Lawman Law Enforcement magazine. You might begin by asking the candidate to identify a time they experienced or observed prejudice on the job; this might help them warm to the subject before you ask them to discuss their own preconceived ideas and assumptions.

Test with Hypothetical Questions

The interview process can also include hypothetical questions in order to preview what decisions a probation officer might make on the job, according to the New York State Department of Civil Service. For example, you might ask what a candidate would do if a minor probationer’s mother approached the candidate to confide that her husband beats her. Candidates who state that they would “straighten out” the husband or tell the mother that their responsibility lies with the minor probationer and not with her personal problems might not be right for the job.

About the Author

Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.

Photo Credits

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