In a recent CBP report, a typical day of processing, discovery, seizures, and interceptions includes:
- 1.1+ million passengers and pedestrians processed
- 2,354 apprehensions
- 23 arrests of wanted criminals
- 4,695 materials seized for quarantine
- 3,707 pounds of narcotics seized or disrupted
And, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Amid a significant workload and considerable stress, CBP needs to see that you will remain a team player who has the back of every fellow employee, officer, and agent around you. Discuss how you handle high amounts of stress in the workplace and what you plan to do to keep your cool and remain helpful and collaborative, no matter the volume of work and pressure on any given day.
CBP Interview Questions
On a typical day, Customs and Border Protection seizes thousands of pounds of illegal drugs and makes hundreds of apprehensions. How will you best support your colleagues while managing a perpetually heavy workload?
In a recent CBP report, a typical day of processing, discovery, seizures, and interceptions includes:
"The volume of processing, seizures, and apprehensions handled by CBP is remarkable and difficult to comprehend as an outside observer. For myself, every seizure and apprehension means less crime on our streets, fewer drugs for our citizens to abuse, and a lower number of illegal weapons in the hands of dangerous people. Thinking about this is highly motivating and will serve as a significant driver for me, even on the most difficult days. The more often I can skillfully help my team members along the way, the better. I will support my colleagues by maintaining this enthusiasm and desire for collaboration every single day."
How do you deal with uncomfortable situations?
Often, the work environment of a CBP agent can be challenging, tense, stressful, and uncomfortable. You must show resilience and the ability to handle discomfort. CBP wants to know that you can keep your cool in situations and handle discomfort with professionalism and poise. Discuss the ways that you approach uncomfortable situations and, if possible, give an example that puts a spotlight on your ability to react appropriately to discomfort.
"When working in a potentially tense environment such as border patrol, I understand that many uncomfortable situations can arise. I have had my share of eye-opening situations, and I could argue that having raised two kids, I am no stranger to discomfort! In the workplace, if an uncomfortable situation arises, I face the issue head-on, but tactfully. Sweeping things under the rug or turning a blind eye is never the answer. I have no problem being open with my colleagues. I am sure that, within CBP, there are many opportunities to rely on each other through uncomfortable or stressful situations."
What have you done to train and prepare yourself for a role with Customs and Border Protection?
Previous CBP applicants consistently recommend that, while working through the interview stages, you keep yourself mentally sharp and physically fit. Your CBP fit test may include training in the use of force, an obstacle course, controlled falls, and a weight carrying challenge. When applying to work with Customs and Border Protection, there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for their stringent interview process. You could work out, meditate, practice acute problem solving, or learn more about the history of border protection services. Be prepared to discuss with the interviewer the tangible actions you have taken to ensure full preparation for a career with Customs and Border Protection.
"I have always kept myself in pique physical condition, and continue to do so through weight lifting, long-distance cardio, and CrossFit. I am in the best shape of my life and will commit to maintaining a strong workout regime throughout my career with CBP. Although physical fitness naturally contributes to mental health and stability, I am sure to prepare myself further through guided meditations, reading books on leadership, and even taking the time to train my memory and attention through Luminocity brain games."
What is a 'pandemic,' and what part do you believe Customs and Border Protection plays in such an event?
Customs and Border Protection offers a robust FAQ section on their website with questions directed at pandemic preparedness in the workplace. The agency defines a pandemic as a 'global epidemic of an infectious disease.' When hired, you must react appropriately to direct threats, including pandemics such as SARS or COVID-19. When a pandemic is declared, borders may close, and work processes may change dramatically.
Your response to this question may vary depending on the role for which you are interviewing. For instance, during a viral pandemic, a Border Patrol Agent may be required to perform screening and quarantine those trying to cross the border. Be prepared to show that you have an understanding of the role that CBP plays in such an event.
"I have followed CBP closely during times of global crisis and have an enormous amount of respect for the way that you train your teams to adjust and pivot to new demands. Customs and Border Protection plays an integral role in protecting borders by land, air, and sea. I believe every employee must be highly trained when it comes to reacting swiftly and appropriately to any pandemic or global crisis."
Customs and Border Protection agents are on the front lines of guarding the country against illegal activity. How will you meet the mental demands of this job?
As per the CBP.gov website, working for Customs and Border Protection is a strenuous job. Throughout your application, you will need to pass a structured interview and demonstrate the characteristics and traits that every CBP employee needs to possess.
These competencies include good judgment, strong decision-making skills, emotional maturity, interpersonal skills, a cooperative nature, and sensitivity toward others.
Knowing these are the core competencies that you must portray throughout your structured interview, be prepared to provide examples of the ways that you will need and exceed these expectations. Be sure to use aligning CBP language as much as possible, while providing tangible examples rather than blanket statements of competency.
"I know that CBP looks for candidates who are skilled in decision making and have emotional maturity while showing sensitivity to others. When it comes to these mental demands, I will meet and exceed your expectations. Based on my previous work experience in high-pressure roles such as large events security, I have proven my ability to make wise, calculated decisions that benefit large public groups. I fully embrace the inclusion efforts put forward by CBP and have shown my desire to help diverse groups through the volunteer efforts listed on my resume. I am emotionally mature and have been practicing stoicism for the past three years, which means training myself to be emotionally resilient."
What do you know about the Customs and Border Protection Ethos?
The CBP Ethos is a collection of statements surrounding the security agency's identity, beliefs, and aspirations. The hiring authorities at Customs and Border Protection want to see your investment in their mission and views as an active candidate. These ethos statements are:
- WE are the guardians of our Nation's Borders.
- WE are America's frontline.
- WE safeguard the American homeland at and beyond our borders.
- WE protect the American people against terrorists and the instruments of terror.
- WE steadfastly enforce the laws of the United States while fostering our Nation's economic security through lawful international trade and travel.
- WE serve the American people with vigilance, integrity, and professionalism
Take the time to review and learn these statements as carefully as possible. Although CBP is not expecting you to memorize their ethos in the first stages of candidacy, they will expect you to be familiar with the concepts.
"I have read the CBP Ethos and understand that they are a critically important part of your agency's beliefs and identity. I plan to memorize them verbatim; however, what I can recall now is that CBP acts as frontline guardians to the citizens of this Nation. You protect, serve, and uphold the laws of the USA with ultimate professionalism and integrity. It would be an honor to join this security agency, and I will come ready to uphold these standards at all times."
All CBP employees must maintain high standards of honesty, integrity, and character to gain and maintain the trust of the public. How will you exude this commitment in every interaction with the public?
Customs and Border Protection put integrity and character first when making hiring decisions. The hiring authorities not only want to hear you say that you possess these characteristics; they want to see these traits in action.
CBP has published an 'Integrity and Personal Accountability Strategy' for all employees. In the forward from the Commissioner, R. Gil Kerlikowske, he states, 'Integrity, a core value of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the cornerstone upon which we build the foundation of public trust and confidence that enables us to perform our mission. The personal embodiment of the core value of integrity reflects our commitment to professionalism and excellence in law enforcement. Personal integrity is a commitment that each of us makes to doing the right things, the right way, at the right time, including the reporting of inappropriate, corrupt, or criminal actions when observed.'
Using information from the Integrity and Personal Accountability Strategy, and using similar language to the CBP, take some time to think about the tangible ways that you will exude honesty, integrity, and character during your career.
"I understand that less than three-tenths of a percent of CBP agents are found to violate this critical code of conduct. These instances include crimes such as corruption, bribery, domestic violence, and driving under the influence. To exude integrity, to earn and keep the trust of the public, I will always behave in a way that is honest, fair, and right. Even the smallest delinquency is unacceptable. I live a clean lifestyle, which includes refraining even from alcohol. I was raised to do what is right, even when nobody is looking. Rest assured, I would keep myself on the straight and narrow while also holding my fellow teammates accountable."
CBP agents must be bi-lingual in English and Spanish. Do you have any special linguistic skills to mention?
Customs and Border Protection do not require you to be bi-lingual when hired. However, according to their website, 'you must learn Spanish while at the Border Patrol Academy, and you must pass a series of Spanish tests after entering on duty to continue in the Border Patrol.' If you have additional language skills, make sure to include details on your resume. You can keep your answer brief and be sure to rate your skills in each language as beginner, conversational, or fluent. Also, remember to express your enthusiasm and willingness to learn Spanish should you not yet possess this skill.
"I am fluent in English and am proactively learning Spanish rating myself as a beginner. I will continue to teach myself Spanish through the interview and hiring process, ensuring that I have a leg up when it comes to the language testing CBP provides throughout academy training."
Customs and Border Protection agents safeguard our borders. How will your expertise, character, and dedication to our mission be of benefit to our agency?
This question is another way for CBP to ask, 'Why should we hire you?' Take some time to think of the ways that your best skills and characteristics are a match for Customs and Border Protection and their overall mission to safeguard America's borders.
This question is the best time to qualify yourself and let the interviewer know that you are passionate about this career opportunity. It's a good idea to approach this query like you would giving a sales pitch or crafting a credibility statement.
If hired, how would you solve a problem or create solutions for CBP? Choose a handful of your strengths that align with the requirements of this job. Prepare your answer around that framework, clearly distinguishing yourself from other candidates.
"The core values of CBP include Vigilance, Service, and Integrity. When it comes to vigilance, I will apply my keen observational skills as well as my ability to think and react quickly under pressure to ensure the safety of the public. I consider myself to be an observant and watchful person who will be of service when it comes to detecting and preventing outside threats. I am courageous, as shown by the time I spent serving in the Navy. I have a proven history of stepping up when it comes to protecting our nation and serving my country. I am dedicated, trustworthy, and also see integrity as the cornerstone to every action that I take and each decision that I make. It would be an honor to be of service to this esteemed agency and the American citizens."
Working for Customs and Border Protection can be exceedingly stressful. How will you cope with this intensity on and off the job?
One of the most significant concerns for an employer is that outside influences and stressors begin to affect work performance and outcomes. This concern is especially real when dealing with high-pressure environments such as customs and border protection.
Assure the interviewer that you understand the importance of keeping your focus in the workplace. Discuss the actions that you take to ensure professionalism is present at all times and talk about the preventative measures you will put in place to ensure that professional stress does not enter your personal realm.
"I fully understand that stress management is an incredibly important skill to master. It's important to me that I never misappropriate feelings of stress. I am assertive in both my personal and professional life, which means that when a stressor comes up, I nip it in the bud before the symptoms creep into other areas of my life. Also, I have a significant social support network between my family and friends, which I believe is critical to healthy stress management."
Customs and Border Protection has a robust Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan designed to create an inclusive and engaged workforce. How do you plan to support these efforts?
CBP has put a lot of resources and effort into ensuring they fully embrace equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion. To CBP, 'diversity and inclusion management is the ability of an organization to create an environment in which differences are valued and integrated into every part of an organization's operations and leveraged to improve performance.'
Before your interview, take the time to review the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, released by CBP. You can find this information on the CBP.gov website. Customs and Border Protection has also provided Diversity FAQs to address a candidate's most frequently asked questions, such as what is the purpose of the plan, and what are the agency's overall diversity goals? Comb through their website for available documents and releases on diversity and inclusion. Then, work to create a specific and tailored response in regards to the ways that you will support and encourage their efforts.
"I read a great deal about the CBP Diversity and Inclusion Program as well as the committee's four goals. First, CBP is looking to create a diverse, inclusive, and engaged workforce where diversity is fostered and valued. I will encourage this effort by wholeheartedly supporting my team members regardless of race, ethnicity, age, ability, language, gender, orientation, or religion. I will take every opportunity that I can to learn about other cultures through CBP educational forums and will embrace and appreciate those different from me. Lastly, I understand that CBP conducts community outreach activities in a variety of communities to educate and approach a diverse range of recruits, including unrepresented minority communities. I would like to be involved in those efforts as soon as possible."
Every CBP employee is required to disclose misconduct immediately. How would you approach reporting the actions of others?
Inside of the Customs and Border Protection Standards of Conduct, it clearly states that 'every CBP employee is required to report allegations of misconduct immediately.' There are a variety of approaches to reporting misconduct, including by phone, email, or writing to Internal Affairs or Homeland Security. Take the time to review the Standards of Conduct so that you are fully prepared to discuss how you would correctly handle an issue of misconduct.
If you have a specific example of a time when you faced this situation, provide your story example using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Using this framework will help you to provide a well-organized and engaging response. Otherwise, offer a hypothetical example outlining the fact that you would follow CBP protocol to the letter.
"If I were to suspect or witness employee misconduct, I would report the issue at once. My first step would be to notify my immediate supervisor. If this person were not available, I would take my concern up the chain of command. If those steps were not available, I am aware that CBP has a hotline specifically for this purpose. I also have the ability to email or write Internal Affairs or Homeland Security, depending on the severity of the infraction. Rest assured, I would take any concern seriously and will do my part to ensure CBP maintains its vow of integrity, vigilance, and service to the country."
Customs and Border Protection maintains a profoundly stringent hiring process. Why should we hire you?
The CBP interview process comes in nine stages:
2. Entrance Exam
3. Qualifications Review
4. Background Investigation
5. Medical Exam
6. Fitness Tests
8. Polygraph Exam
9. Drug Test
Understanding that the CBP interview process is lengthy, in-depth, and indeed stringent, it's up to you to show that you are the right person for the job without a shadow of a doubt. If you can't think of ways that you are unique from other candidates, ask a few friends or family members what they feel sets you apart from others. Their observations may help you understand your most significant contributions and how you are perceived.
Perhaps you already know what sets you apart! These stand-out reasons could include career accolades, personal achievements, industry-related training, linguistics, or volunteer work. You can also put a spotlight on the ways that you already embrace CBP ethos. In an interview, you are your most influential advocate, so be prepared to sell yourself with balanced confidence and humility.
"I am confident that, after clearing all stages of the Customs and Border Protection interview process, the hiring authorities will find me to be an ideal candidate. I have spent time learning the CBP ethos, reading through the Standards of Conduct, and learning about the Diversity and Inclusion program in place. In addition to this eager attitude and willingness to learn, I bring skills such as being trilingual and a dual degree in Criminology and Law. These are just a few of the ways that I will contribute to CBP initiatives and represent this esteemed organization with complete enthusiasm."
In addition to border agents, CBP employs forensic scientists, international trade specialists, public affairs officers, and other specialists. Talk to us about the unique skills you will bring to our agency.
Customs and Border Protection is the nation's largest Federal law enforcement agency. For this reason, the agency looks for a significant range of talent when it comes to the security professionals and agents they bring into the fold. You may not be able to speak five languages or hack intense security systems with a single line of code; however, you likely have unique qualities, characteristics, and knowledge that helps you to stand apart from other candidates. Be your greatest advocate when answering questions related to your fit and go to your interview prepared to speak about the ways that you stand out in a sea of candidates.
"I believe one area of skill that stands out is my ability to quickly make critical decisions based on my ability to read and understand laws, legal commentary, and regulations. This skill comes from the knowledge I gained from obtaining my degree in Criminal Law. I am eager to apply this learning for the benefit of Customs and Border Protection and my country overall."
Customs and Border Protection does not tolerate violence or harassment in the workplace. How often do you lose your temper or fail to control your emotions?
Customs and Border Protection wants to gain greater insight into your personality and whether or not you will be a fit for the ethos and expectations of CBP. Talk about your ability to maintain your cool on the job. Discuss your positive characteristics and the way that you ensure everyone is heard and respected in the workplace. If you have an example of a time when your calm presence stood out from others, you can tell this brief story.
"I maintain my cool and do not easily lose my temper. Naturally, I am a calm and confident person, and it's pretty hard to get me rattled emotionally. In my current role, my colleagues and supervisors know me for being even-keeled. In law enforcement, I believe it is imperative to maintain a calm, controlled presence at all times. This stable behavior ensures that my coworkers, my superiors, and the public feel that they can trust me."
Customs and Border Protection offers a diverse workplace community. How have you adapted to serve others of different cultures?
Are you willing to consent to the rigorous medical testing required to join the Customs and Border Protection roster?
Talk about the ways you demonstrate leadership qualities even when you are not in a leadership role.
We want to hire employees with a keen interest in public protection and law enforcement. How do you stay up to date on current events that may impact Customs and Border Protection?
You are on the job and a member of the public calls you a racial slur or derogatory term. What do you do?
What do you know about the history of Customs and Border Protection?
Customs and Border Protection considers the use of prohibited substances a severe matter. Have you ever used, possessed, sold, or distributed illegal drugs?
Certain employee conduct, on and off duty, may be subject to disciplinary action. What actions do you understand to be impermissible?
Have you carefully reviewed the CBP Standards of Conduct? Are there any points of ethical conduct and responsibilities you feel unable to fulfill?
Answer with complete honesty. Have you ever committed a crime, participated in any illegal activity, or maintained inappropriate criminal affiliation by association?
Walk us through your post-secondary education and how the knowledge you gained will benefit your career with CBP.
Why are you choosing a career with Customs and Border Protection? Talk about your most significant motivating factors.
Customs and Border Protection has land, air, and marine monitoring capabilities. Which division is of most considerable interest to you? Explain why.
How familiar are you with international trade laws and regulations?
Customs and Border Protections includes 'integrity' in its core values. Talk about a time that you acted with integrity.