It’s no surprise to most of you I have had a moderate amount of experience with oral panel interviews, both as a candidate and as an evaluator on the other side of the table. This has undoubtedly given me much insight to the process and allowed me to see many great examples and some not so great. Being involved as an evaluator both with an agency I have worked for, and as a guest, I have come to understand the process a bit and can share some behind the scenes insight. I have met one on one with many in attempts to help them better prepare for the hiring process. I have assisted with Resume development, mock interviews, education development and mental preparation. As with a written test, the oral interview is part of the testing/selection process, so I won’t give you answers; rather tips for success and ideas for preparation. I don’t claim to be a professional writer so I apologize now for the format as I am trying to fit a lot of information into a brief article.
The first step, and often the most overlooked, is the self evaluation and mental preparation phase. This step involves not only knowing yourself, but evaluating why it is you want the job at ABC Fire Department or why you want to be a firefighter (for the new candidates) then finding a way to articulate this to the panel in a manner in which they can relate. If you know yourself well you will be able to answer honestly. You should be excited to be there and you should be excited to be able to tell the panel about yourself and why you will be a great candidate or recruit. One of the best forums to accomplish this is both the opening and closing statements. The exact forum will vary but an example is listed below:
“Tell us about yourself and what you have done to prepare yourself for the position of Firefighter.”
This is often the first question and is your opportunity to capture the panel’s attention. Making yourself memorable is the key here. There are a number of candidates interviewing for this position and they are all going to come in and answer this question the same. They will state their name, age, mention they like snowboarding and have “always” wanted to be a firefighter then proceed with a verbal rundown of their resume listing experience and education. While many panels may not rate this answer low, many will. In addition to that, after 2 days of interviews a panel wont remember you because all the “other” candidates have a Firefighter I and II, they all volunteered, did a ride along, read Fire Rescue magazine, had an uncle who was in the fire service, owns a FDNY sweatshirt, ect (you get my point). Find a life experience or a characteristic that makes you uniquely YOU and relate this to your chosen career as a firefighter and why that makes you a valuable member of an organization and member of a Pumper, Rescue or Ladder Company. I want to be a firefighter because I like helping people is over used and viewed as insincere. An example of an “opening statement” I have used before is listed below. While it may seem lengthy, often a 3 minute answer to what is called the opening question is appropriate.
I think that to tell you about myself I have to go deeper than simply talking about my resume. Who I am involves my character, integrity, work ethic, customer service and my dedication to the fire service. My preparation for a career in the fire service and ultimately for this position began at an early age when I decided the Fire Service would be my chosen profession. My first position was as a volunteer firefighter and this was my first exposure to the challenges and comradery of the Fire Service and this is when I made the change in my career direction. As I advanced in the fire service and became a Lieutenant in 2001 I found myself in a leadership role, not only on the fire ground, but in that position I was assigned to develop a recruit training program, implement it and lead instruction. I began to evaluate myself as a leader, took the leadership principal- know yourself know your subordinates and know your job- and applied to myself. Through examples of other leaders and those I served with I developed my leadership style. I feel that a drive for continued self improvement and sound judgment has made me a successful leader and that that being able to adapt my leadership style to meet the needs of the situation has been one of my biggest successes. Other aspects of leadership I’ve been able to achieve is setting an example, decisive action, team building and a unique problem solving ability.
I have been in the fire service for approximately 15 years, 12 of them career paid. I have worked in California which has given me excellent opportunities for a very diverse background. As you may know California offers some unique opportunities and challenges for firefighters. We work in an all risk capacity so my background has included structure fires, Wildland fires, special rescue and emergency medical care at the paramedic level. I have been assigned to a rescue, ladder truck and engine. I’ve worked as a volunteer, and paid; from the rank of Firefighter to Battalion Chief. The California master mutual aid plan has allowed me to be involved with some of the major incidents throughout the state, on apparatus, as a strike team/task force leader and as part of the incident support in an overhead assignment. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to advance in my career as well as be in involved with training, program development and grant writing, and heavy involvement with all aspects of prevention including fire/arson investigation.
On page 2 of my resume my certification levels through the California Board of fire services are listed as well as some the individual certificates I hold and classes I have attended. In 2007 I became a registered California State Fire Marshal Instructor, which allowed me independently teach state certified classes throughout the state. I have many contacts in the fire service so I was able to assist several departments throughout the state achieve different certification levels in their department. In 2009 I was invited to sit in and evaluate a new class for the State, called Command and Control of the RIC deployment. This was a great opportunity for me and after some adjustments were made to the curriculum I was given the opportunity to deliver the class regionally.
I also have owned my own business form many years and that has taught me some valuable skills that are unique to the business world but that I have carried over into my fire service career.
While a candidate shouldn’t sound rehearsed, having an opening and closing statement prepared should help the candidate put honest thoughts and ideas onto paper and in an organized fashion. Good grammar is important however, you don’t need to recite your statement word for word. Often many panels will open with the question: “Why do you want to be in the fire service?” This question is a little less open ended and requires you to do some soul searching.
Closing statements vary from panel to panel as well, but this question is often given to the candidate in the same manner: “This concludes the interview and the questions we have for you, do you have any questions for us, or anything you would like to add?” This can be handled in different ways, but it is always wrong to answer “no” or not to answer. Again, this is your moment to sell yourself. Obviously, if you did miss something, you can cover it here but hope you don’t find yourself in this situation. A few questions isn’t wrong either, it does show interest. If you can in this question posed to the Board about their agency, find a way to show you have been researching their Department. However, this is the last time you will be talking to this panel and after you leave they will be rating and scoring you. They just asked you an open ended question, run with it. I would advise of no more than 1-1/12 minutes on this statement and make it pack a punch. Here’s an example again of one I have developed and used over the years:
First of all, I would like to thank you, the members of the board, for your time and your effort and being involved with this process. Second, I hope I have been able to show in our brief time together that I have the knowledge, skills, and abilities for the position of _______ and how my education, training, and experience have prepared me for this position and how my abilities as a leader will make me a valued asset to this fire department. Years ago it was told to me, one of the best things you can do as a candidate is make that panel imagine you as a member of the organization.
Something I have believe that sets me apart from the other well qualified candidates is my motivation, dedication, desire, and most of all, enthusiasm I have for the job.
Given the chance, you can count on me to continue my motivation, dedication and enthusiasm to the fire service, to the community, to the Department, and to the position of ______ within your department. I have prepared myself to the best of my abilities so that I am able to provide the best possible service to the members of the department and the citizens that are served by the ______ Fire Department. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today!
Look for a second post within the next week that will address other aspects of preparation, conduct during the interview and address some other common questions candidates may face in interviews; and some tips for answering them in a manner that will set you apart from other candidates.