Perception is in the eye of the beholder. People are continuously forming opinions about you, based on their perception of you. Alternately, you are also continuously forming opinions about others, based on your perceptions of them. This is something you, the firefighter candidate, needs to be aware of, any time you are interacting with fire service (or non-fire service) folks while participating in the firefighter hiring process. Situational awareness in relation to perception can help you increase your chances of getting hired as a firefighter. However, not being aware of how others perceive you or the message you are sending to others can quickly reduce or eliminate your chances of getting hired as a firefighter.
Let me provide some examples, all of which I have personally experienced (note to the best of my knowledge, all of the candidates that were observed doing these behaviors were not hired by the department they were applying to):
1. You show up at the firehouse to ask the crew some questions about becoming a firefighter in their department, and you arrive empty-handed (bearing no edible gifts that are so graciously accepted at firehouses around the world). Will the crew still make some time to talk to you? Maybe, maybe not. Most firefighters have busy schedules; showing up with some edible gifts will usually allow them to find some time to meet with you and take away from their busy day.
- Perception: you are not prepared, and that you think their time is not worth anything. Is it true? Not necessarily - is it reality? In their eyes it is.
Suggestion to not be in the same situation: ALWAYS take the time and spend the money to bring some edible treats to the firehouse when doing a visit. Yes, I know it can get expensive, and you're probably on a limited budget. However, you need to spend money to make money. Take the time to invest in your future and in your career. Is it better to make (or bake) something yourself or buy it in a store? It depends. If you decide to not purchase something at a store, make sure the cook who created it is producing quality stuff.
2. You show up at the same firehouse to ask the same crew some questions about becoming a firefighter, and you are wearing flip-flops, shorts that look perfect for the beach (but not for a visit to the firehouse), and a Metallica t-shirt. By the way, you also haven't shaved in a day or so, or you think your goatee or fu-manchu mustache makes you look like cool.
- Perception: same as #1 above and also that you are immature and unprofessional, and you don't believe in proper presentation or taking the time to look nice for certain occasions. Is it true? Not necessarily - is it reality? In their eyes it is. Would you dress like that on a first-date? I would hope not. Think of the visit to the firehouse as a first-date of sorts.
Suggestion to not be in the same situation: Always wear appropriate clothing to ALL phases of the hiring process, not just the oral interview and/or the chief's interview. While visiting a station or showing up for the written examination, wear some khaki pants (like Dockers, casual / clean or polished shoes (not your scuffed up tennis shoes), and a nice polo shirt. While you don't need to wear a suit when visiting a station, you do need to look appropriate and professional. You'll never know whom you will see on your oral board or some other phase of the hiring process. Reputations can be formed very quickly when visiting fire stations.
Note: This might be a surprise to some folks, but I actually like Metallica; so I'm not bashing them. I just can't think of too many places I would wear a Metallica t-shirt, except for going to one of their concerts.
3. You are a male and you show up to an oral interview and you are not wearing a suit, you are wearing a sportcoat and slacks, or a polo shirt and slacks, or some other combination of clothing considered inappropriate for firefighter oral interviews.