Probation officers work with offenders to rehabilitate them back into society. This can involve ensuring they attend appointments, working with them to solve any living problems, drafting rehabilitation plans, and helping them reintegrate into a life where they no longer commit crimes.
Their role has supervisory responsibilities; if an offender re-offends, probation officers also play a part in deciding whether the offender needs to go to court and, if so, which court would be the most appropriate.
To be a good probation officer, you need to demonstrate a wide range of skills and abilities to carry out the role with compassion but be firm and unbiased in your decisions.
In this article, we explore what these skills and abilities are. We also look at how, as a recruiter, you can test for them so you can be sure that the individuals you hire have what it takes to excel in the role.
What should a probation officer be able to do?
The duties of a probation officer are varied and require several different skills and abilities. Probation officers must update and maintain their allocated offender's case files, including information on their family and background history. They must draft rehabilitation plans, reviewing their allocated offenders' progress against milestones and goals that contribute towards their rehabilitation.
A large part of their role is monitoring an offender through field, home, school, or work visits including curfew checks, ensuring they don't violate the orders of their probation.
In such cases of violation of these orders, probation officers play a part in deciding on remedial action; if the case needs to go to court and which court is the most appropriate.
The work of a probation officer relies on the networks they build with other social services, such as psychiatric services, community agencies, or other correctional facilities. Establishing links with these services and including them in an offenders rehabilitation plan where appropriate, provides support for offenders to adjust to life when rehabilitating inside and outside a correctional facility.
Where offenders do re-offend, probation officers are often required to initiate pre-hearing and pre sentencing hearings, using their understanding of an offender's background and circumstances that may have contributed to their situation to propose appropriate recommendations.
Skills to look for in a probation officer
Good probation officers demonstrate a core set of skills. These skills enable them to communicate effectively with others and support the offenders they are working with, helping them adjust and thrive in life outside incarceration. These skills include:
Reading comprehension: probation officers gather information from various documented sources when maintaining and updating their offender's information files. The skills to read, understand and interpret written documents enable them to build a picture of an offender's background.
Problem-solving: probation officers are presented with various problem situations in their role. They need to be able to use their analytical and decision-making skills to determine what the best course of action is, both for the offender and to maintain the integrity of the justice system.
Communication skills: demonstrating strong communication skills and using appropriate words and expressions to express themselves clearly is an essential skill for all probation officers.
Critical thinking skills: having the skill to think critically when faced with challenging or problematic situations enable probation officers to use their logic to weigh up options and decide which approach is the best in the given situation.
Microsoft Office suite: having a working knowledge of Microsoft Office suite enables probation officers to efficiently document information on their offenders and share it with various agencies and courts as required.
Useful abilities for a probation officer
Successful probation officers draw on a specific set of innate abilities, enabling them to use their skills and knowledge to their full potential.
When recruiting for a probation officer, it is advisable to tailor your process to assess the following abilities:
Written expression: having the ability to write documents clearly and concisely where key messages are easy to understand is an essential ability required by all probation officers. Several agencies can use the reports they draft, so ensuring that their documentation is accurate and clear is of utmost importance.
Written comprehension: as part of their role, probation officers must gather documented information from various sources. Demonstrating an ability to understand written information and interpret the key points enables them to work efficiently.
Deductive reasoning: applying general rules or patterns to information to make sense of different data sources helps probation officers make reasoned decisions.
Inductive reasoning: probation officers are often faced with various sources of information that they need to piece together. Demonstrating deductive reasoning in their approach enables them to find links between data that can help rehabilitate offenders.
Attention to detail: having the ability to selectively focus on information or, focus on a task over a period of time ensures that probation officers are accurate in the tasks they need to complete.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a probation officer
To recruit the best candidates for the roles you have to fill, it is essential to assess candidates to see if they demonstrate the soft skills required to work effectively as probation officers.
As part of your recruitment process, we recommend that you assess candidates for the following skills:
Interpersonal skills: a scenario-based assessment that requires candidates to draw on their active listening, verbal and written communication skills, and ability to pick up on social cues. This test also evaluates candidates on their social awareness when dealing with others.
Decision-making skills: a test that assesses all aspects of a candidate's decision-making and how they use analytical and logical thinking to make the most appropriate decision based on the situation they have been given.
Adaptability: this assessment looks at an individual's skill in dealing with changing situations, their flexibility in doing so, and their preference for action in an environment that can rapidly change.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a probation officer
Assessing individuals for the abilities needed to succeed as a probation officer is essential if you are to recruit candidates of the highest calibre. Evaluating individuals on their inherent abilities is challenging.
Fortunately, there are several pre-employment tests that you can use to get a better understanding of their abilities to be a successful probation officer.
Logical reasoning: a timed test determining an individual's ability to use logical thinking to solve problems. Candidates need to determine the relationship or pattern between information, and then use this to solve problems.
Verbal reasoning: the ability to infer the main points of information from written documents is at the core of a probation officer's role. This timed test allows you to assess this ability under timed test conditions, candidates must work under pressure, read the question carefully and make the correct assumptions from the information they have read.
Error checking: a test determining whether candidates can pay attention to detail, selectively focus on a task and work under pressure.
Microsoft Word: a practical assessment of an individual's skill in using Microsoft Word effectively and as relevant to the requirements needed of a probation officer.
Our recommended test battery for a probation officer
Based on the skills and abilities needed to excel as a probation officer, we recommend using the following test battery:
Interpersonal skills: a test that uses workplace scenarios to determine an individual's ability to flex their communication style, pick up on social cues and communicate and work effectively with others.
Decision-making skills: an assessment of a candidate's ability to make reasoned decisions using analytical and critical thinking.
Logical reasoning: a test that assesses individuals' ability to think logically, identify patterns in the information and use this logic to solve problems.
Verbal reasoning: evaluating candidates on whether they can read, understand and make assumptions from written information, then use what they have learned to solve problems.
Microsoft Word: assessing individuals' proficiency in using Microsoft Word as relevant to the type of tasks they would use the application for when working as a probation officer.