Not a Regular Job Interview!
Many regular job and corporate interview candidates like the following are stunned and baffled why they don't have high scores on their firefighter interviews.
I just received my oral board score for the City of Glendale. The score did not represent how I felt I did during the interview. This is a big problem for me because I now realize that I DON'T KNOW what the board was looking for. I make presentations for a living, so I felt confident in what I did to prepare. I was sure that I just about nailed it.
I've always been competitive about what I set out to accomplish, using every tool that I can utilize to reach my goal. Sir, I would greatly appreciate your training to help me be the best that I can be at the oral boards.
I've been preparing for these orals for months and felt extremely prepared. I don't want to waste another oral board without knowing that I've done all that I can to be the best candidate possible. Thank you for your time Sir.
Regards, Fire Recruit Jeff
Reply: Jeff, You're not alone here. You have discovered like many other's that a fire department oral board is different than anything you have encountered. Too many candidates beat there heads against the wall for years getting to the point where you are now.
After my interview rejection an east coast city last week, I sent a letter to the D/C thanking him for the opportunity and telling him I'd appreciate any feedback from the interview. Well - he was honest - he indicated he wanted me to keep testing & interviewing, but wrote that I:
-talked too much & over answered the questions
-talked too fast
-some of my answers were based on book knowledge (?)
Also - as I mentioned I approached this like I would a corporate interview (BAD IDEA) and I tried to 'close' them at the end - they asked if I had any closing questions (jeez I wish I read your web site before going in) and I opened my big stupid mouth to say 'I kept your rejection letter from last year (I actually showed it to them - this was my second time interviewing) and it mentioned that candidates had failed to prepare and properly sell themselves to the board. I've been working to improve myself in these areas for the past year - have I properly done this?'
The D/C mentioned in his letter back to me that, 'I don't think that showing the letter I mailed out last time was the best thing you could have done. It was as if you were showing it off and showing us that you still had it.' I need to keep my damn mouth shut and just answer the questions. Live and learn. I look forward to getting your package.
Stay safe Dave
You don't want to waste any opportunities. How do you turn it around? Remember you're applying for a snott nose rookie position not fire chief. If you try to use regular corporate job interivew skills it could bite you like it did the above candidates. There is a delicate balance here.
What have you done to prepare for the position?
In your oral boards everything you have done up to that day has prepared you for this opportunity. Too many candidates leave out important life experiences that could make a big difference.
While riding a bike on vacation the chain jumped off both sprockets. Couldnít call the car club and it was a long walk back. I rewound the video tape of my life to when I had a bike and quickly got the chain back on both sprockets, wiped off the grease with a handy wipe and peddled away.
On some departments they will ask tell us a little about yourself and what have you done to prepare for the position. We suggest you still break it down into two questions. One brief ice breaker tell us about yourself and then what have you done to prepare for the position.
Try this: This will probably be your longest answer. Start with your education and keep it in chronological order so you wonít forget anything.
Then, your life and professional experience in chronological order. Start your experience by rewinding the video of your life to your first and succeeding jobs in life; no matter if you got paid or how menial it seemed. Many have had paper routes, mowed lawns, worked for relatives or at Burger King. O.K., what did you learn? How you learned to work hard, show up on time, have responsibility, provide customer service and how to work as a team.
Many have told me theyíve been playing sports since they were 6 years old. Did you participate in sports in high school or college? Did you letter? Did your team advance to the regional or state finals? Isnít that working as a team? As a team member you had to stay in shape, have commitment and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of other team members and how you could cover in. Do any of these areas apply to the fire service? You bet! Every one of them. So any time you can relate your personal life experiences in answering an oral board question, you are telling the oral board that you not only know the answer to the question, you have already lived it!
End with those things you can tie your name to. Things where you were part of a team, spearheaded a group, took a project from inception to end or were part of a committee that established a procedure or skill. Include anything you volunteered for no matter when it happened. Once you start on this question you keep going until you finish your answer.
Itís critical to practice your answers with a hand-held voice recorder that goes everywhere your car keys go to work it out.
This is how it can play out on a promotional test but also applies to entry-level:
Tony was going for his first Captainís test. I asked Tony to begin his experience for his answer to what have you done to prepare for this position. Tonyís first job was working in a bicycle repair shop. He went through successive jobs and the rest on his experience. At the end of this question Tony told the panel that he spearheaded the establishment (attached his name) of bike paths and trails in the city where he was a firefighter. He also collected, repaired used bikes and gave them to those in need. He also collected donations from businesses to fund this program.
This type of presentation is referred to as a recall. Tony came full circle from his first job in life to using the experience years later to establish a community-wide bike program. Tony was promoted to captain his first time out.
It was that early life experience (without the handy wipes) that I recalled to get the chain back on the sprockets and back on the road.
Master the First Impression
I spoke to a group of volunteers who were mostly aspiring firefighters recently. As I was greeting several members before I started, I shook hands with a big strapping lad who had firefighter written all over him. He had that kind of firm handshake, smile and focused eye contact that can cause an oral board panel to want to hand him a badge.
A few moments later I turned to shake hands with another big guy. His handshake didnít carry the same message. It felt like a dead fish. The big problem was he didnít know. No one had told him. I had him go over and shake hands with the first guy. They worked on it for a few minutes and he returned with a more confident handshake.
The following is from Work Your Network, by Joe ďMr. NetworkĒ Pelayo
A UCLA study found that when 2 people meet for the first time they make 20 distinctions about each other in the first 20 seconds, then spend the next 20 minutes finding out whether or not they were right! The same study found that a handshake is worth an
hourís conversation between two people, because handshakes are thought
to be a judge of your character.
When shaking hands with a female rater donít wait for the high beams to come on in her eyes because of too much pressure. Just match the pressure in her handshake. At the end of the interview they will usually stand and shake hands again. Same eye contact while thanking (by rank if you know) them for the opportunity.
Use that handshake to make the right first impression.
You have to pass the psych test first time out!
Most candidates are more than surprised when I tell them up to 40% fail the psychological test given by many departments.
I received one phone call and two e-mails from relatives of a firefighter/medic candidate who failed a psych test before the candidate called asking "What can I do now?" He had been testing for 5 years and this was the first job offer. I asked him if he had prepared in advanced like every other step of the hiring process before he showed up. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard this, "Things were going so great I didn't think I needed it."
Imagine after all the education, experience and time preparing to get this job like the above candidate . . . and you're eliminated. Then no one will talk to you to find out what happened. I've talked to too many candidates who were devastated and didn't know what to do next. This is a critical part of the testing process you need to prepare for and pass the first time out.
You've jumped through all the flaming hoops and made it through the background check. Then, you're conditionally offered the job pending the medical, which includes a psychological test. You take the test, no big deal right? Then the phone stops ringing.
You are out of the hiring process. You are told that you didn't meet the profile. What profile?
What do you mean I didn't meet the profile? I've got training, experience, education, every degree, certificate, merit badge, and a paramedic certification. I've been a volunteer, paid member of another department for 10years, and lived and breathed this job. And, I don't meet the profile?
What's included in the psych test? There is a written test that sets up a profile of you. Then, there is an evaluation by a psychologist.
Written Test: The most common written portion of the psychological evaluation is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory interview test of up to 1000 questions. The aim here is not to pass the test but to go into the job fully prepared. Put your pride and natural defensiveness aside. They ask a few questions in several different ways. You want to answer questions "strongly for" or "strongly against" instead of being in the middle undecided. Answer questions to present yourself as a more social, interactive, team playing type of person, i.e., you would rather be in a conversation with others than reading a book alone.
You can get some insight on how the written test is scored HERE
Some written tests include an Ink Blot Test. You can find out more about this test HERE http://www.deltabravo.net/custody/rorschach.php
The Evaluation: This is where the wheels start coming off the wagon for too many candidates.
Before the interview, the psychologist will often have you take a separate personality test, fill out a personal family history, a biography and additional information forms.
The biggest error candidates make during the psychological evaluation is thinking there is a patient/doctor confidentiality even when the doctor has them sign a release that there is not. This is not your family doctor. Guess who's paying the bill?
What gets candidates in trouble here is they want this job so bad that they will say and do almost anything to get it.
Although I don't encourage candidates to be less than truthful, those candidates who are honest to a fault diminish their chances of passing the psychological interview! That's right. You folks want this job so bad you will tell the psychologist anything they want to know. Even stuff they didn't ask you. Once you start down this road of total honesty, creating trails where you don't have to, tossing out more information than was asked for thinking this guy is your friend is where you get into big trouble. Especially when the psychologist says, "Everyone has skeletons in their closet, this interview is not designed to eliminate you from the process", or "you don't want to be too squeaky clean." So you open up. Then the phone stops ringing and no one will talk to you. You are out of the process Mcfly. And, you don't know why.
So what should you do?
Only answer the question you're being asked. Before you volunteer information, think before you speak. If they want to know more they will ask. Don't appear to be closed but warm and cordial. Present your ideas clearly. Don't ramble or chat. Be articulate. This is how you're going to be in the field. Believe it or not this is part of the job interview. You are making an impression of who you are going to be as a firefighter.
Make sure you dress up and don't slouch. Be prepared to audition for the part of being a firefighter. Know your strong points. Be prepared to demonstrate you are a team player.
This from a new firefighter:
I had to take one for two departments. I tried to answer the questions as honestly as I could, while presenting myself as a very positive social person. Some of the "experts" out there say that you should be brutally honest on the test. Well 3 good guys I know did just that, and they did not pass either test. We lost 10 out of 25 guys on one test! In all honesty I might not have passed either if I hadn't prepared in advance. I feel that is a very dangerous test, and some of the advice these people are giving out is costing great candidates a job. Steve.
This from an in service firefighter: During the last hiring process 2 years ago the psychologist passed 10 people. Of those 10, 2 have quit, 2 have been fired, and 1 committed suicide. I wonder if he is worth what the city pays him to evaluate prospects? Have a nice weekend.
Thank God for Capt. Bob and Capt. Rob!
I've been involved/testing with the fire service in Southern California for 11 years and for every process that I go through, I always, always score low in the interview. I got the gold package for my birthday, talked to Captain Bob about what I was struggling with and right afterward, I got a miracle letter for THE best department there is in LA County;) and the nation! My dream department! After using the cd's and tape recorder I thought to myself, this is good, but I don't want there to be any reason I don't pass this one! So, I decided to get the private coaching with Captain Rob. I was amazed at how COMPLETELY HORRIBLE I had been sounding. Not only my answers, but just the way I talked! Needless to say, I got into the interview and the questions were VERY non-traditional and I had to fit all my experience and what I knew I wanted to talk about into my answers somehow. I got the interview results and I had my wife open them and she said, "you got a 95 and you are in band 1...that's good right?" I said, "stop joking with me, what's my score?". She said, "95. You made band one". I stopped the car and looked and she was right! I did well on an interview! Finally! The one for my dream department no less! I beat out guys who even worked for the department already in other positions! Fire personnel had always told me I was a very marketable guy, but in the oral boards I did not know how to present myself. Captain Bob and Captain Rob gave me the keys to unlock my potential! Thank you both for everything!