Are Your Oral Board Answers Too Long?

Two minute responses can be considered a salvo drop.


Answering the question longer than a two minute response can be considered a salvo drop according to my associate and friend Tom Dominguez. A salvo drop is where an air tanker drops the whole load of retardant or water on a fire all at once instead of spreading it out. All retardant compartment doors are opened at the same time. This is done when the retardant is needed all at once.

Tom is right about salvo drops. I've had candidates where the instant we would finish a question they would immediately start like a parrot on this salvo drop, never coming up for air, or giving the raters an opportunity to interact. Often it was word for word, without being personalized to the candidate, out of one of the many books out there with suggested oral board answers. We could often tell by the 2-3 question which book or college program the candidate got their answer. Valuable points are lost here.

There is one exception where you can use a salvo drop answer. It's the answer to the question, "What have you "Done to Prepare for the Position?" You don't want to hold anything back here. Dump the whole load.

Keep in mind too that in a 20-minute interview you will have about 5-6 questions and answers. We host 'It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat" f-r-e-e college seminars where candidates can volunteer to answer the next oral board question (not knowing what it would be). One candidate who arrived late leaped at the opportunity for the next question. Once he was in the hot seat he was asked the question, "What do you know about our department?"

The candidate proceeded to give this fast, rapid fire, long endless answer. It was like he was trying to cram everything in he could think of down to fine details. Just when you though he was coming in for a landing, he touched down and took flight again. You could see the glaze coming over those in the room (as you would see from an oral board panel) as he continued.

When he finally ended the first comment from the room was, wasn't that answer too long? The attendees saw first hand how these long endless salvo drop answers can start to work against you to the point of overkill, making you sound anal. Oh, yea this is the guy we want to stick in a station and drive everyone else crazy.

One candidate said he had been told by many other candidates and firefighters to keep answering until they stop you. Well, put your self in the position of a panel member and you have to stop this guy to get him to shut up. How would you rate them?

If you go endless in your answers, you might get cut off before you got to deliver some of the best stuff. Since oral board scores are calculated in hundredths of points (82.15, 87.63, 90.87, etc), the goal is to keep building on a few hundredths of points here, a few there, pulling away from the parrot salvo dropping clones.

Instead of a salvo drop, you're trying to get the panel members to banter back and forth with you on these situational questions. This allows you to satisfy the panel members, get the top score possible on that question, and cause the raters to go on to the next question. You will get bonus points if you personalize your answers by delivering a nugget answer story relating how you have already experienced this situation; even if it isn't fire department related. Creating the banter back and forth gets the raters involved and a chance to deliver a nugget answer. This is one way how candidates are blowing past the competition in the oral boards.

Here's a sample question: You have been given the responsibility of conducting a fire prevention inspection at a business. The business owner is adamant about not letting you enter the business. What would you do and why?

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