Firefighter Candidates: Strengths And Weaknesses

When you're deciding a weakness, use something you have already done something to correct it.


Question: I was going over some questions for interviews, and I was hoping someone could help me with an answer. What are good answers for the question; what are your strengths and weaknesses? What are some bad answers? John

Reply: Let's start with what your answers are first.

O.K. If asked those questions I would probably respond with something like; My strengths are education, willingness to start from the bottom, my diverse background in fields other than fire fighting, and the fact that I have experience but am very adaptable to my current surroundings. My weaknesses are occasional tunnel vision, excitability, and no full-time experience. There are probably a thousand faults but you get the point. Where do I go from here? John

First understand that if we start giving answers, everyone would clone them and they would lose their value. I encourage candidates do use their own answers, reflecting their personal life experience.

This question can be asked in many ways, i.e.: What attributes do you think a firefighter should possess, or what qualities, what strengths etc. I think you can come up with better strengths. Education, starting at the bottom and a diverse background are not really strengths. They are what you've done to prepare for the position. Areas relating to loyalty, honesty, and being dependable etc. are strengths.

When you're deciding a weakness, use something that might have been a weakness, but you have already done something to correct it i.e., you had a problem speaking in front of groups. You have improved this situation by taking a public speaking class or joining Toastmasters.

Since firefighters are in a living environment, we would not be looking for someone with occasional tunnel vision and excitability. No full-time experience is not a good choice for a weakness either.

Got a call from a candidate. He lives in Washington now and his oral was in 4 days. He got his Firefighter1 from an academy in Southern California. He said it hasn't helped much trying to get a job. He has now been a medic for 8 months with no luck in testing. In the most pathetic monotone voice he said this is the department he really wants to work for and (with absolutely no enthusiasm) he will be one of the 15 hired.

He asked if he could run one of his answers on what a negative is for him that his firefighter buddies and other friends helped him work out. Sure, shoot. Joel said a negative for me is my past. Even though I got a DUI and some other minor stuff, that's not who I really am.

I couldn't believe my ears. Uh, Joel that answer would only open a can of worms. Don't use it.

Joel said, OK how about this one. Another negative for me is my paramedic skills. This job will help me improve them. Again, I couldn't believe my ears. Yep, that's the guy we want to hire, the one with the poor medic skills. Can't use this one either.

As already mentioned, everyone becomes an expert when they get hired. The answers Joel worked out with some firefighters and friends were definitely not helping but hurting him. The bigger problem is he didn't even have a clue. This was just one answer. How bad were the others?

I would like to say this was an isolated incident. We encounter these bad answers on a regular basis. It is especially painful in an actual oral board where we see the candidates die a slow death one question after another. Then the candidates wonder why they don't get hired. This is an area where we try to keep candidates from stepping on the land mines.

After a little probing, we did find a negative Joel could use that he was working on to improve.

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

Fire "Captain Bob" Smith has coached countless entry-level and promotional candidates to get their badge. Over 2,000 candidates have received their badges from this program. He is a retired, 28-year veteran firefighter from Hayward, Calif. Captain Bob is a well-known speaker, author of the audio/video program "Conquer the Job Interview" and the books "Eat Stress For Breakfast" and "Fire Up Your Communication Skills." He is a member of the prestigious National Speakers Association. You can book him as a speaker or get a copy of his books and tapes by calling toll free at 888-238-3959. E-mail: captbob@eatstress.com or Web site: www.eatstress.com