Question: Captain Smith, After going through your program and a coaching session with your son, I am currently in backgrounds with 2 departments in Southern California and on the lists of 4 others. The background investigators for those two departments told me that they will both have psychological evaluations and one will have a polygraph. I want to make sure that I am prepared for these last phases prior to hiring. Your son suggested I call you for advice.
Thanks, Randy

After you have jumped through all the flaming hoops you don’t want to be caught flat-footed for the remaining steps in the hiring process. It’s 3rd down and 2 yards to go for the badge. You want to convert. You want to convert every step of this process the first time through the line, or you could be thrown for a loss, thrown in the penalty box, out of the game, and trying to fight your way back in.

You can spin this anyway you want. But ask yourself if you would you show up without preparing for the written? Not in shape for the physical agility? Have you discovered you just can’t wing the oral? Then, why doesn’t it make since to prepare for the remaining portions of the hiring process, the background, psych, poly and medical?

Don’t be so naive to believe by the 4 inches between your ears you have an explanation that everything in your past will be overlooked, especially if it’s something you weren’t required to reveal in the first place. If you do, you might still believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Come on in said the spider to the fly. Don’t take the bait! It’s not the department but the background investigators and the psychologist that could take you out. These people are not your friends. They are experts being paid to eliminate you from the process. The deck is stacked against you before you show up.

I get the calls when the background has not gone right for too many candidates. The first words out of their mouth when I pick up the phone is usually, “What do I do now?” I ask them two questions. First, were you honest to a fault leaving not rock unturned? Did you volunteer information that you were not required to give? They usually answer yes to both. Than that’s probably why you failed. The defense rests.

A candidate just called and said the background investigator told him a poly would be given to verify his information. My first question, “Was it listed on the job announcement that there was going to be a poly? No. If it was not included in the job announcement and or they are going to give a poly to everyone else, that’s BS. It’s not uncommon for a background investigator or psychologist to say, “Will you submit to a poly to verify your answers? Or, a poly could or will be given at the end of the process.” Are they lying? Yep. Wait a minute, I thought everyone was not suppose to tell the truth here? I’m not aware of any test where the candidates were held hostage with the threat of a poly being given, when it was not included with the job announcement, and they had to take one. I know of candidates who were turned down and wanted to take a poly to prove they were telling the truth and they couldn’t get one because they would have to give it to everyone else.

They often say, I didn’t think what I told them was any big deal, but some of those little things that I really didn’t have to talk about amounted to causing me big problems in the process. As one candidate said, “Hey, I’m not a bad guy. But I volunteered a little something here and then there. By the time they got done with me, they made me look like Charles Manson!

I had a chance to work with a psychologist in preparing our Conquer the Psychological Interview Special Report. I couldn’t believe some of the answers candidates tossed out in their interview with the psychologist. When I asked the psychologist how did you get them to say that? He smiled and said, “We just asked them.” Wouldn’t you want to be prepared so you wouldn’t just blurt out something you were not required to say? Here is a segment of that report:

“Psychologists are given more power than they should,” says Robert Thomas Flint, Ph.D., who sometimes did re-evaluations of potential peace officers and firefighters who have failed psychological tests. Although he tends to agree 40-50% of the original decisions were valid, he finds that another 30-50% of the rejected candidates are acceptable and can handle the job.

The psychological test is changing the fire service. Sure there are some folks who have a lot of baggage and shouldn’t be hired. But most of the red-hot’s, the backbone of the fire service, can’t make it through the process. Surprisingly, the evaluations are based on the performance of those already in the fire service.

More and more agencies are using the psychological test in their hiring process. Psychologists are competing for this lucrative business and agencies feel they need this service to hire the right candidates. In one large department forty-percent of candidates were eliminated from the hiring process through the psychological tests. Fire administrations feel their hands are tied and get frustrated when they see that a high percentage of their superior candidates who were eliminated by their physiological test are being hired by other agencies. If the psych is so important why is it not used at all in Canada? Some departments who have been using he psych have stopped because of the candidates it was delivering.

Dr. Flint feels that the PhD has been watered down, i.e., many of graduates in the last ten years, and the psychologist too often paint by the numbers and disqualify a person because they might have an unusual background. These psychologists do not have an adequate background in the statistics and the research necessary to be fully competent in the use of tests with unusual populations. That is, they are trained in identifying problems in the general population but are less skilled in the identifying the strengths in special groups such as firefighters. They also tend to have difficulty incorporating unusual backgrounds into their reports. But, don’t a higher percentage of those with a burning desire for this job fall into these categories?

Much of the problem falls on the cities themselves for not having control of the guidelines that the psychologists are using. Left on their own, psychologists will use their own devises to decide what to do, and this is not always related to the department’s needs. If the guidelines are not well defined by the agency, then the psychologist might wash the candidate out for reasons not job relevant.

A large bay area city was a perfect example of this process. A member of personnel and a fire recruiter teamed up to upgrade the selection process and add the polygraph. Because of the cost of living this city was already pulling their hair out trying to recruit candidates, particularly medics. This new system only made the problem worst. Forty-two percent of the medic candidates and half the lateral candidates failed. Many of these candidates went on to pass other backgrounds, psych and yes, polys. In a conversation with the recruiter at an exhibition I said you sure are losing a lot of candidates. His reply with a snear was, not the right candidates. Well, with a new fire chief, personnel director and firefighter recruiter they are trying to put the pieces back together.

According to Dr. Flint, too much emphasis is placed on the paper and pencil test. He feels strongly that unusual test scores should be evaluated in the light of the candidate’s history. Very young candidates 21-25 often do not have enough history to refute problems suggested on the test. All candidates believe of course that they can handle the job, that they can meet any challenges, that they will hold up well at emergencies. The psychologist’s job is to determine, as closely as possible whether those beliefs are sound. To give someone the benefit of the doubt maybe endangering them or someone else.

If a candidate can demonstrate that he has overcome areas of conflict that the written test reveals and his early history demonstrates, then the test interpretation should reflect that fact. The paper score then should be thrown out, not the candidate.

Those who are critical about what we are saying here probably have never gone through our program and usually don’t have a clue what we do. I want candidates to be prepared for each step of the hiring process, where the land mines are and understand the ramifications of the information they present in the process.

You have spent all this time gaining education, experience and training to get this job. You finally get a shot at the badge. You get a conditional job offer. You’re ecstatic. You call family and friends. You meet with the background investigator. You think he’s your pal. You go for your psych. No big deal right? Then a letter arrives from the department withdrawing their job offer. You’re stunned! There has to be a mistake. You want to talk to someone. You had the explanation you knew they would accept. No one will talk to you. You’re out of the process. The reason? You walked in flat-footed not prepared for the remaining segments of the hiring process.

As one candidate wrote: As for Backgrounds; they tell you to be honest. But sometimes being honest can bite you in the ***. When a Background is being conducted the only obvious things they could find out are things like your driving, criminal and credit history. Don't be stupid and write down references that hate you. I've know some good people that should be fireman/cops but get disqualified for being to honest.

You’re a free agent. Make sure you prepare for the hiring process in a way that will best put you in a position for a badge.


"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

Fire "Captain Bob"

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