When you think of the police department, chances are you can visualize flashing red and blue lights and possibly hear the theme song “bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do” (or maybe just the 80s and 90s kids do). Well there’s a lot more that goes into creating a police department than what meets the eye. 911 dispatchers, or police dispatch centers, are your first line of defense. They definitely take “how can I help you” very seriously, and we thank them for that. I was able to interview one of our essential heroes about how she was able to achieve her job as a 911 dispatcher, and she made it very easy for us to understand.

911 Dispatcher Job Description

To start, I asked her to give a brief description of the day to day activities and responsibilities of a 911 dispatcher. Tasks may vary according to your city or state. for larger cities expect for the responsibilities to be shared through out the shift. Usually shifts can range from 8 to 12 hours. Emergency operators work around the clock, so its expected to work over night and on holidays. A typical shift consists of a couple high focused positions; phones and radio.

At the phone position you are answering all calls including non-emergency calls. There could be a call answered that involves lower priority disturbances such as information about civil grievances and criminal issues (i.e. information on city ordinances vs trespassing).

Radio position requires you to monitor multiple radio channels and listen for any signs of assistance needed. At this position you speak directly to the officers. This also involves documenting everything that officers say for court purposes. 911 dispatching, although demanding, can be an exciting and fast pace career. There is definitely an exhilarating aspect to receiving and distributing assistance to your community as fast as you can.

How to become a 911 dispatcher

Start with the basics and google 911 dispatcher jobs in your location (ex. New York City, California, Texas). Chances are there are job openings for the position in your area, but that doesn’t mean the process will be easy or quick. The good thing about this job is that there isn’t really any experience required. They’re more interested in what attributes you possess (multitasker, fast typer, honesty, integrity, working well in teams, the ability to work with people of different backgrounds). Building your resume to focus on these traits would be a good idea.

That being said is any schooling required?

The minimum education level needed is a high school diploma, but having a college or graduate degree does give you an advantage during the selection process.  The process itself is highly competitive with thousands of applicants, so anything that will set you apart from the rest of the group is beneficial.  Once you do get hired the Department will send you to a POST Certified Dispatch School. You can choose to take this on your own at your local community college if you want, but it is not required, and it is common to be hired without it.

Great! You got an interview.

Being prepared for an interview can really enhance your chances with any job so we’re going to give you a quick briefing on what to expect. The further along you read the more detailed the information you’ll find, don’t get intimidated we’ve got your back.

How long is the interview processes? There is essentially 3 sections to the interview process. The initial interview process can be lengthy (20-30 min) because you are being interviewed by a panel of people.  The panel usually includes the Communication Center Manager, Training Supervisor, Senior Dispatcher, and a Police Sergeant. 

What tests do I have to take? There are several tests that are required; a POST qualification test will be required as soon as the agency responds to your application. Shorty after completing the POST test, you will have to continue with a series of tests to asses your skills such as a typing test, department personality assessment, polygraph test, medical clearance and a psychological evaluation as well as going through a background check with a background investigator. Also, be ready for 3-6 months of dispatcher training after getting the job. Keep in mind, each hiring process is unique to the different cities that you apply for; however, this will give you a general idea of what to expect.

At last you will then encounter a final interview with the Chief of Police.  This interview is more of a formality and is very brief (less than 10 min). Some of these steps vary based on the agency.

What questions are asked in the 911 Dispatcher interview process?

Okay, now that we have the brief over view in place, lets get more into the nitty gritty of how the interview could play out. Interview questions that are asked are designed for your answers to highlight attributes such as integrity, honesty, and the ability to remain calm under pressure.  They will ask you questions that reiterate what you wrote in your application, so make sure that you are not over embellishing on things in your application, but if you do, remember what you said.  Consistency is key.  

They will ask you to describe a situation you’ve experienced in which you had to demonstrate your capability to make quick decisions under stress.  They will also ask you to explain how you work in groups and with people of different backgrounds; specifically how you resolve conflicts that arise with fellow coworkers and handling difficult/rude callers.  Working in the Communication Center is a unique experience, and knowing how to manage different personalities is beneficial.

Other questions may be centered around why you want to be a dispatcher, and what you’ve done to prepare yourself for this position.  It is important to come into the interview with answers for these questions and a knowledge of the city the department is located in. This would include demographics, population size, city boundaries and size (square miles) as well as tourist points of interest (amusement parks, convention centers, bar areas, stadiums, etc).  It is also important to know facts about the Department itself (who is the chief, deputy chief, how many officers are employed, etc).

As in most positions, one of the questions asked is more of a “get to know you” question where they ask you about yourself.  In this question it is good to describe yourself in a way that highlights the qualifications they are looking for in this position (answers like multitasker, fast learner, great team mate, open, honest, calm and collected).

The last question is always, “do you have any questions for the panel?” It is important to have at least one question. You can ask anything job related. For example, “what will the training process look like.” There is a lot of freedom with this question. The key thing to remember is; ask a question. 

Dress to make an impression

Although dressing up for an interview seems like common knowledge, it tends to be a highly overlooked expectation that can leave a desirable impression on your possible employer. In this case, its an important part of police department culture.

How should I present myself in the interview?
In the interview you should be dressed in professional attire.  For women, it’s not mandatory, but this is a military inspired agency, so wearing your hair back in a pony tail or bun and wearing slacks with a more conservative blouse goes a long way.  Doing this just shows that you respect the culture of the department and that you’re here to learn. 

For men, again not mandatory, but it is expected that you are clean shaven with short or shorter hair, and wearing a dress shirt and slacks; bonus points if you wear a tie. 

For all people, no visible tattoos or piercings. The best traits that you can wear are confidence and good posture.  Walk in and be ready for firm handshakes and direct eye contact

Things to remember

The process to work for a police department is long and rigorous, and it starts with the application.  You will have to fill out an application that is very detailed and extensive.  It will ask questions about drugs use, about past relationships, about other agencies you’ve applied to, about laws you might have broken, about jobs you’ve held or have been fired from, just to name a few. Answer honestly to all these questions and print a copy of the application with your answers to reference throughout the process.

Consistency is key! Any change to your answers, however slight it might be, could end in disqualification.  This comes into play mainly in your background check, your polygraph exam and the initial interview.

How much do 911 Dispatchers make? And what are the benefits like?

As demanding as this interview process is, I assure you its worth the effort. Government jobs have a way of paying off in the long run. For example; 911 dispatch employees receive a 457b retirement plan, a pension after 5 years, and paid sick time plus paid holiday and vacation time. With a pay scale starting at an average of $47,417 in annual salary plus many opportunities for overtime which pays time and a half. Overall salary depends on your location and cost of living, for example, the 911 dispatcher salary in California has an annual median of $65,120 that can rise as high as $94,830.

The outlook for 911 dispatcher jobs is positive with more positions opening up as long time dispatchers are retiring. Not to mention there is high job security once you get the position, and especially after you have built seniority. With seniority you get higher pay, more benefits, and better scheduling opportunities. Also, more and more people are interested in essential jobs in these times of uncertainty.

Don’t be discouraged & good luck!

With any sought after career there are usually thousands of applicants and usually only 1-2 spots available. Don’t be discouraged! If you don’t get hired right away or if you don’t hear from the agency keep trying, applying for neighboring cities can be an option to start. Its very common for Dispatch Operators to be hired in a neighboring city and lateral to the city of their choice. If you’re looking for a position in law enforcement, be prepared for the long haul.  It’s definitely more of a career than a “right now” job. Just remember your dedication will pay off in the end. Good luck!

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