Tell us about a time that................
While the testing process remains the same for fire and law enforcement and will continue to include an oral interview, the things they are looking for are changing slightly. Police agencies are a bit ahead of fire agencies, but they are shifting to looking more at the personality of the applicant than the resume and credentials.
If we are going to give an academy and train the newly hired to do things our way we can look more at the person. If we hire a very qualified person that is an A55 we then get 25-30 yeas of A55, my department met our quota of A55 in 1982 and we don’t need any more.
In changing how we look at people there are a lot more panels asking the “Tell us about a time” questions, such as:
Tell us about a time you made a bad decision,
A time you were asked to do something wrong,
A time you had a conflict with a co-worker, conflict with a boss,
A time you had to make a difficult decision,
What is the toughest decision you have ever had to make?
The list goes on and on. I am a big fan of preparing for an interview and having your thoughts together as far as what you want to say in an interview, but there is little you can do to prepare for something out of left field. That is part of the reason for this style of questioning. They want to see how you react to a question you would have a tough time having prepared for and you have to come up with on the spot.
Here is a technique I think will help. Your subconscious mind is far better at this stuff than you are. You know that little voice that told you not to do the stuff you wish you hadn’t done latter? When asked a question like this, usually the correct answer pops right into your head. The problem is that you then try to figure out if that is what they are looking for, if it applies to the fire service, and then you start trying to think of something better and get vapor-lock. “I got nothing” usually doesn’t get you many points on the rating sheet.
I asked a guy one time “What was the hardest thing you have ever had to do”? You could see the wheels spinning and then he said he didn’t know. I said that he must have thought of something, and asked what it was. He said that when he was half way through medic school his father was diagnosed with cancer and he decided to quit school and went and spent 18 month with him while he died. It did put his plans off by two years and had to restart medic school, but he had never had a great relationship with his dad and now he did, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. I said that was a great answer for him and sounded perfect to me. His question was how it applied to a fire interview. That is what I am trying to explain here, it doesn’t have to fit into a fire interview, it has to be the right answer for you, they asked a very simple question about you and you should give them the answer that comes to you.
Another guy was asked about when he had had a conflict. He tried to say he had never had one, got along with everyone, was never a problem. They kept after him and said, “No one your age has never had a conflict” until he came up with something they were not going to move on. He though back and remember getting hired at a job in a travel agency where competition was stiff, and they were on commission, no one would help him to learn how to do the job properly. He didn’t want to report it and get anyone in trouble, nor have to say he couldn’t do the job. So he called an office in another area and made friends with someone there and they helped him learn the job. What a great answer, he had a problem and handle without being a problem.
So if you do come up against something like this let you mind go and find the right answer for you. Do pause and review it quickly before you answer to make sure it is appropriate. I have seen people say things in interviews and they were just as surprised it came out of their mouths as we were. But allow your subconscious to help you.
One way you can get good at this is to do mock interviews. I used to get together with others testing and we would shoot questions back and forth for hours. It is a learned skill and you can improve you ability to answer on the fly and sound professional while you do so with practice.
Good Luck, Capt Rob