Getting the badge – Part 2

Today I am writing a brief continuation of my article “getting the badge”.   As promised I am going to continue with talking about questions you may face, and should be prepared to answer in a Fire Service oral interview.  The questions you will face will depend on if you are up for promotion or going for an entry level position.  Undoubtedly one the questions you will face in both are questions addressing Customer Service.  This may be phrased similar to the following:

“Tell us about Customer Service and how it affects the Fire Service.”

With some Departments having public relations issues, everyone questioning government budgets and salaries, Departments having to do more with less; this is becoming a hot topic for many agencies.  Chief Brunacini was the first major influence in bringing Customer Service to Fire Departments and if you don’t know who he is or the influence he had in the modern day Fire Service I suggest some homework.

Customer service is the biggest and most important aspect of what we do, because if affects everything we do, and everything we do affects customer service.  We deliver a non tangible product or a service funded by tax dollars.  From when the doors roll up and lights go on and we roll out to a call; down to the way we present ourselves in public, say hi to the little kids, open our stations to the public to see their fire engines.  Anytime we make contact with the public it should be our goal to make their day a little better because they had contact with us. And when they do call for service, we not only meet their needs, we exceed their expectations if we can.  

This is also a great opportunity to share a specific example of a time you or your company delivered exceptional customer service or a time you went above and beyond.  Don’t lie, don’t share someone else’s story; only share if you have one.  I sat on a panel for a department inCaliforniaand one of the candidates left a lasting impression when he answered this question moderately well, but he also used an example from his previous career.  The whole panel scored him a 5 (on a 1-5 scale) even though he stumbled with words to answer, he shared a real life example and showed us he not only understood customer service, but also practiced it. 

I’d like to address the day of the interview and your conduct during the interview process.   Preparation should have begun long before the day of, however it should go without saying; get a good night sleep the night before.  Get a shift trade if you can so you can be rested.  Do not go “out drinking” the night before.   If you are tired or “not feeling well” (bottle flu) the panel will notice or will assume you are inattentive.  

Be sure you know where you are to report to, and arrive 20-30 minutes early. This will allow you to walk in the door or check in no less than 15 minutes early.  If you need to, drive past the location the day before and scout it out.   

Wear a suit, shine your shoes and shave!!  Nothing less is acceptable.  A panel will not turn you away for your appearance however you should not be surprised when you don’t get a call after you have shown up with a5 o’clockshadow and a collared shirt.   This may sound elementary to some and that’s good; however in the last process I was involved with, there was a candidate that showed up in khakis and tennis shoes.  So I felt I should at least say it.

Bring several copies of your resume to the interview for the panel to review.  If you can, find out how many panel members there will be interviewing you.  If you can’t get that information, be prepared, bring 5 copies.  I know you probably turned it in with your application but the Human Resources Department often will keep the original and give the panel one copy along with your application to review.  Carry your copies in with you in a nice folder.  Most will have submitted copies of certificates with the application however when I promoted I brought in a binder with color copies of my certificates to give to the panel and department.  I have also seen many bring a binder of their originals and tell the panel you have them for review if they choose.  Both are acceptable, in my opinion, and shows that the candidate is organized, well prepared and takes care of his certificates.  Having originals will also show the panel there is no issue with you having counterfeits.  (I ran into this issue with a candidate in 2007.  He is no longer in the fire service.)  

Leave you phone and sunglasses in the car.   

Here are a few things that will make you stand out but that are not necessarily graded:

Many times you will be seated in a room while waiting for your interview time.  Take this time to think and reflect, not update your Facebook status or “check in” at Big City Fire HQ.  
Be prepared to get called in early.  By showing up early you have not only made a good impression but also made yourself available, and sometimes panels will call you in early- be that guy (or gal).  When a member calls you in by coming out to get you, stand up immediately and if they offer you a handshake, make eye contact and remember their name and address them by their rank.  As you walk in the room through the open door the panel will often stand and offer you an introduction and handshake.  Here’s where many fail; DON’T SIT UNTIL TOLD TO!  This is often a good time to distribute the resumes to the panel with their permission.  Once seated, maintain good posture.  Best position is ankles crossed, feel slightly under chair, hands folded or placed on top of your folder or binder if you brought one.   The reason I mention this is because I have seen so many poor examples and due to nervousness or as they are involved with answering questions they begin to fidget, slouch or swivel in their chair.   Some office chair swivel, don’t swivel.   Moving is natural but try to avoid needless moving or fidgeting.  

Part 1 of my article should have prepared you for what you are about to face now that your seated.   Remember: eye contact with the panel member asking you the question, then while answering make or attempt to make eye contact with all members.   Just because one member asked you the question, you are speaking to them all and they are all rating you. 

I hope these articles have given you some useful information in preparation for that next interview.   If anyone has specific questions with regard to anything not covered or addressed feel free to post as a comment and I will try to reply as time permits. 

 I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavors!  

Coming soon:  Training, the often overlooked aspect of customer service.