Making The First Impression

How long do you think you have once you walk into the oral board to hook them into listening to your stuff? Many guess 2, 3, 6 minutes or more.

How can you make a really great first impression to carry you through the interview?

After seeing clone after clone after clone candidates, someone will walk into the room and BAM, BAM, BAM they set the room on fire! They nail every answer. When they leave, the raters say, who was that masked man? We want to give them a badge! You can do it too! I haven't worked with a candidate yet who couldn't do it. They just didn't know they could do it. Just minor corrections are usually all that is needed to separate them from the clone pack of candidates.

How long do you think you have once you walk into the oral board to hook them into listening to your stuff? Many guess 2, 3 and 6 minutes. You have 32 seconds. In that first 32 seconds of your oral board you come in with what's called the "halo" effect.

In that first 32 seconds the board is checking your appearance (the strongest nonverbal statement you can make is what you wear), choice of words, inflection, voice, eye contact and body language. If you open with a clone answer, you're dead meat.

There are supposed six other areas in the oral board where you can recover, but don't count on that happening. Once you see the glaze come over the oral boards eyes, you've lost them and they won't come back. Trust me. Please open using a signature story about yourself.

Candidates have about a 20-minute opportunity for a 25+-year career. The ultimate goal is to have the least amount of distractions in your oral board. Everyone has his or her opinions. It seems once a person gets hired, they quickly forget how hard it really was to nail that badge.

As well meaning as some people are, I don't believe anyone wants to be responsible for a candidate not being able to complete their pursuit for a badge. What might have worked for one candidate doesn't mean it will automatically work for others.

Since oral board scores are calculated in hundredths of points (82.15, 87.63, 90.87, etc), bad or incorrect information can place a candidate less than one point out of the running and put them out of the process. I have seen this all to often.

I just had an oral where I was asked to tell them about myself, my training and education. I proceeded to "dump the whole load". Two questions later I was asked "What have you done to prepare yourself for the position of firefighter." I was stumped. I had just told them everything and now had nothing to say without reiterating. My question is: How do I differentiate the two questions especially because I don't know what I will be asked.

Yep, one of the worst things you want to do is reiterate in the body or closing of your oral board. Sometimes the raters make errors in asking or combining more than one question at a time.

This might help:

The dilemma is shall I have a short or long answer for the typical opening question "Tell us a little about yourself". Remember "a little". This is just an icebreaker question to get you comfortable in the chair. A one-minute or less answer about you and your hobbies is all that is needed here.

They don't need your name (they already have it) and NEVER tell them your age (they don't have that and never will until you're hired). A "Nugget" here: If they look baffled after your short answer, ask if they want more. They usually won't.

Most candidates make a big error on this question by dumping the whole load on why they want to be a firefighter, what they have done to prepare, why this city and on and on. That's not what this question is about. It's only to get you comfortable in the chair. Then, when the panel starts asking why you want to be a firefighter, what have you done to prepare and the other standard 30 possible oral board questions (Click here for the list of questions), you have to reiterate what they have already said. You lose valuable time and points here.

When some candidates start talking in an oral, it's like going on a journey. There could be no final destination. Most panel members aren't packed for the trip. I asked a candidate to tell me a little about himself during private coaching one day. I stopped him 12 minutes later somewhere in Montana. I said you have just used up 12 minutes of a 20-minute oral. What do you think we have time for now? Remember this question is only to get you comfortable in the chair.

How would you like to get ahead of the curve with the cutting edge interview skills to get that badge? Then you want to sign up to receive Fire "Captain Bob's" exclusive information rich FREE e-mail FireZine Newsletter by clicking here.
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: or Web site: