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Conquer The Fire Service Promotional Interview!

Many candidates think that if they have it figured out in their head and have written it down, it is going to come out of their mouth the same way.You have fallen off the end of the earth for up to a year or more. You've been immersed in preparing for the written portion of a promotional test. You have gone through all the policy and procedure manuals in the job announcement, purchased books, IFSTA manuals, and anything remotely related to the test. Your family can't remember who you are.

While taking the written test, you can't believe your agency (or the testing firm they hired for big bucks) could know so little about the fire service and put together such an irrelevant test. The major areas that were listed as material to study on the announcement didn't have one question on the test. Talk about a dog-and-pony show.

Several candidates, including you, protest test questions. One you protest you already had right. Weeks pass. Even though the Personnel Department knows the test scores within days of the test, they finally release the results three weeks later. You are not No. 1. But, you are not at the bottom either. You are in the upper end of the pack in the middle. You are in the Olympic camp. All you have to do is make the cut.

After investing all this time and money for the written test that can be weighted as only forty percent of the total score, most candidates do little or nothing preparing for the remaining sixty percent in the interview process.

Many candidates think that if they have it figured out in their head and have written it down, it is going to come out of their mouth the same way. It does not! They do mock orals with their buddies who either have never been on an oral board (everyone is an expert) or it has been so long that they are out of touch with the process. These buddies can't bring themselves to tell you how bad you really are.

Over the last 28 years, I have been coaching entry-level and promotional candidates, most of which had great credentials. They had degrees, certificates, training, and experience. Yet, they couldn't present the package. And, if you can present the package, you don't get the badge. Period! These people are shocked that candidates with fewer credentials and less seniority, the village idiot, or guys they call the "Car Salesman" type get the badge that had their name on it.

Understand there is only one person keeping you from getting that badge . . . it's YOU! Stop looking in the magnifying glass at others and start looking in the mirror at yourself. Even golf pros take lessons. It's time to step up and get the gold "Nuggets" to put you over the top, make the cut in the Olympic camp, and get the badge for the job of your dreams.

Most candidates don't do enough testing to get good at it. Have you been beat up enough in the past? Are you tired of being the bride's maid when lists expire? Do you identify with what you have read so far? If you don't think so, you might be in denial. "De-Nile" is a river in Egypt. Let your wife or friends read this and let you know if you qualify. If so, I want to share some "Nuggets" I have acquired from 28 years of fire-service test experiences that have helped shortened the learning curve to enhance and strengthen your position to get promoted. Are you ready to take the plunge? If so, here we go. Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

This is a great time for promotional opportunities. Up to forty percent of the positions in the fire service are promotable. It is the quickest way for you to improve the economic situation for you and your family for the rest of your career and far into the retirement years. We are at the natural 20-year cycle for retirement; some areas of the country are going to 3 percent retirement; positions are being filled; and administrations are changing. And, you can never know what will take place in a promotional examination.

Candidates who don't prepare, won't show up at the written test to fail and be embarrassed. I know a test in which 25 people signed up for a captain's test. Only nine showed up for the written. The six who made the list were promoted within a year. You never know.

The interview portion of the promotional is the most important. It can be as simple as an oral interview including a fire problem or a full-blown assessment center. The assessment center can be made up, but not limited to a combination of an in-and-out basket, fire problem, oral board, a presentation to a panel or group, peer counseling, conflict resolution, leaderless group discussion, or writing an essay.

Fantasy Land

The oral interview is like fantasyland. It is not like the real world. Your answers in the oral board might not be what you would do in real life. Don't fall into the trap. The board understands the rules; you can't fool them. If you try, the board will crank up the music and let you dance your fool head off. Don't try to intellectualize and bring heavy logic to this process. If you do, someone who understands the rules in fantasy land better will get the badge. So, please follow the yellow brick road rules in fantasy land, and don't look behind the curtain.

Our entry-level and promotional candidates are improving their interview and assessment scores up to 15 points and nailing that badge! In future issues, I will share "Nugget" skills that can improve your chances of obtaining a badge and not having to take another test (unless you want to go up the chain of command). If you have any questions on the promotional process, please e-mail me at or call 888-238-3959.

Here's Your First "Nugget" Skill: Projects

Be able to identify projects that have your name attached to them. Here is how Kevin handled this situation on his first captain's test:

Kevin's oral board asked him if there were any projects or programs that carried his name. He asked the board to turn to his r