What worked for me!
So... I've been a regular on this site for a couple years and I finally got picked up by an awesome dept last fall. Since I've seen so many people post threads asking if they should take this path or that, I figured I would share my path and experiences since they finally proved to be successful. This may or may not be helpful for you but I learned a lot from these threads so I figured I'd take a few minutes to pay it back. I'll try to keep it a brief as possible :)
First off, I went to college straight out of high school. At this point I had never considered the fire service, I went to college because I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. Once I became interested in the fire service I went back to school (about a year after graduating with a BS from a state university) to learn about the career and improve my marketability. I simultaneously took fire science courses, so I could earn some certs, and prerequisites for paramedic program. I never finished fire science but I did get FF1, FF2, HazMat Ops, and Wildland FF2 before starting my paramedic program. I got hired just before finishing my paramedic degree and I plan on finishing it after probation. During fire science school I did an internship/ volunteered for a department in my area for some hands on experience (I highly reccomend this). I also volunteered in my community (I worked with the Red Cross organizing blood drives, Habitat for Humanity, and volunteered at a fire safetly museum).
Throughout all this I tested like a madman. THIS WAS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DID! I didn't wait until I finished school, or had work experience, I just took all the tests that I qualified for and could afford to travel to. Once I started earning certs it just opened up more departments for me to test with. I wasn't good at testing when I started, even with all my education (I was a chemistry major) but I continuously got better. By the time I had my resume padded with certs and fire experience I had already taken at LEAST a dozen tests, only one of which I landed an interview (I took roughly 25 tests before getting hired by the way). I did MANY mock interviews, both with the paid crews at the department I volunteered at as well as with willing crews from the departments I was testing at (you can get a lot if you are willing to ask!). These are incredibly uncomfortable to do but I learned a TON about myself and how to highlight aspects of myself that would be attractive to potential employers. THAT WAS PROBABLY THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT I DID!
That's really about it. I think the things on my resume that were most marketable were my education, my athletics (I played 4 years of college rugby in addition to all sorts of sports growing up), my intern/volunteer experience, my community involvement, and the fact that I learned how to package everything in an interview. Honestly though, I never felt like I had a great interview, not even the one I got hired from (I am an awkward interviewee) so don't let that discourage you. I can honestly say though that the reason I finally landed the dream job is that I was persistent as hell and I never considered failure an option, even after numerous rejection letters. Every failure in life is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and get better and that is what the hiring process, and even the job itself, is all about. Thank you again to all of you for your input along the way and please send me any questions you have, I love to help people achieve the dream. Cheers.
Thanks for sharing your story, and congrats on the hire! From what I can tell it was well deserved.
I got halfway through your post before I found something that didn't sound exactly like my story. Thanks for posting. It's always nice to hear success stories to keep those of us still working towards our dream motivated.
Congrats on getting picked up.