Firehouse.com Online Exclusive

Are Your Oral Board Answers Too Long?

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?

Here is a shortened salvo drop answer without coming up for air an interacting with panel members: I would start off by asking if this was a bad time. I would attempt to schedule a time with the owner that might be more convenient. If the owner continues to be adamant about not allowing the inspection I would explain the inspection is to ensure the safety of his business, employees, and customers and is required by law. I would also advise him that compliance to the fire code may protect him or his business from liability if a fire were to happen. If the business owner continues to refuse the inspection, I would advise that I would be required to report the situation to my Captain, and advise that I anticipate the department would follow the policies and procedures for non-compliance. I would further explain the specifics of these policies or procedures in hopes the business owner may change his mind and schedule an inspection. All the while I would be friendly and empathetic to the inconvenience this may cause the owner. Yada, yada, yada.

Let's take this salvo drop apart and get the interactive banter started with the raters.

Point: You can give your answer to the rater who asked the question as if they were the business owner to try and create the banter.


Candidate: I would start off with asking you if this was a bad time. I would attempt to schedule a time with the owner that might be more convenient.
Rater: What if the owner is adamant about not allowing the inspection?
Candidate: If the owner continues to be adamant about not allowing the inspection I would explain the inspection is to ensure the safety of his business, employees, and customers and is required by law.
Rater: What if he still refuses?
Candidate: I would also advise that compliance to the fire code may protect him or his business from liability if a fire were to happen.
Rater: What if he doesn't care about this stuff?
Candidate: If the business owner continues to refuse the inspection, I would advise him that I am required to report the situation to my Captain, and advise I anticipate the department would follow the policies and procedures for non-compliance.
Rater: The owner still doesn't get the message?
Candidate: I would further explain the specifics of these policies or procedures in hopes the business owner may change his mind and schedule an inspection. All the while I would be friendly and empathetic to the inconvenience this may cause the owner.
Candidate Bonus Points: I experienced this situation while working at XYZ company and I resolved it this way . . . blah, blah, blah.

Reply: See the difference? Which do you like best? This will vary from question to question. If the raters don't pick up the baton and start the banter, you can play both parts, i.e. Candidate: I would ask the owner if this were a good time. Candidate playing the owner: If he was adamant about allowing the inspection, I would explain . . . and on and on until you come to the conclusion.

If you are doing banter with the panel members and they attempt to go onto the next question and you're not completed with your answer, ask them if you could finish your answer first. Practice this skill with your hand-held tape recorder.

Now that you're armed with this information, is this going to make a difference in your next oral? Think about it. The salvo dropping clone candidates (yeah, like you use to be) are parading through. Then, you walk in the room and it's show time. You're creating banter while getting top scores on your answers. Unknowingly, you are causing the raters to say in their minds, that's it! This is what we have been waiting for all day.

Can you get a badge the first time out?

I do not usually tell others that this was my FIRST test that I took because I know that so many people are taking test after test after test . . ..

Capt. Bob - I wanted to let you know how you've helped me in acquiring an INCREDIBLE job! Long story short - I finished college, got a job using my degree, but was miserable in my line of work. Through various avenues I started getting involved in, and learning about the fire service. I loved what I was learning, so I took a written test with thousands of my closest friends. :) I passed the written and knew I had better find out about how to perform well on the oral interview. I ordered your DVD/CD program and I wore the batteries out on a tape recorder, going over question after question out loud for several months. You were right, the tape recorder revealed so much of what I needed to work on in my interviewing skills. I passed the oral, agility, academy, and probation for a premier So Cal department. I am now LOVING my job - and that crosses over into every area of my life - my marriage, my friends, my church...I am VERY thankful. I do not usually tell others that this was my FIRST written test that I took because I know that so many people are taking test after test after test. But I also know that this process can sometimes be shortened if they seek the help of experts like yourself! So I say THANK YOU for your wisdom and knowledge! I believe it was an integral part of helping me get the badge. Sincerely, Paul

"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

Fire "Captain Bob" Author of Becoming A Firefighter,
Conquer Fire Department Oral Boards, and
It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat!

www.eatstress.com

Loading