Getting Hired: Stories Get Firefighter Badges

Jan. 9, 2006
Your stories establish a natural bridge between you and the panel.

We encourage candidates to lace their answers with personal life experiences. Since no one else can tell a candidate's life experience stories they can't be placed in the mold of a profile. They become unique, fresh and convincing. In a recent fire academy half the recruits were candidates who went through our program. You couldn't tell one from the other in the oral board because they were using their own stuff. Not a profile robot "clone" of everyone else.

If you have all the education, experience and the burning desire to get that badge, you're not getting hired, having to cool your heels in another position waiting for that next opportunity (not a bad ideal), you have be asking yourself why?

You can talk all you want about what we do here, how you want it or think it should be, but the candidates you are reading about in our material are a lot like you. They simply got positive results by putting simple techniques into action. The big difference is they figured out how to maximize the points in their oral boards and are now riding big red and taking home a pay check.

Here's how they did it. Since oral board scores are calculated in hundredths of points (82.15, 87.63, 90.87, etc), the goal is to keep building on a few hundredths of points here on this question, a few hundredths there on that answer, gaining a few more hundredths with their signature personalized life experience stories at the appropriate time, delivering the all powerful "Nugget" answers that no one else can tell, and pulling away from the parrot salvo dropping clones.

Before the clone candidates realize what has happened, these candidates have added on extra points to their score placing them in a position to be invited to the chief's interview where they get a real shot at the badge. Just being 1 to 2 points out of the running can decide whether you will go forward in the hiring process or not.

The toughest thing for candidates to do in an oral is to be themselves on purpose. Your stories establish a natural bridge between you and the panel. When you're yourself, you become conversational because you are on your own turf. This alone can lower the stress and the butterflies. Every one has butterflies. The trick is to get all the butterflies to all fly in the same formation than can make the difference.

Stories are more than facts. If you can recreate the excitement, emotion, the color and magic to relive the actual event, you will capture the interest and a top score on that question. A big part of getting this job is convincing the oral board that you can do the job before you get it. Stories are convincing and can demonstrate your experience, even if they're not fire related.

One reason stories work effectively is because they go directly to the brain and entertain. They do not require the mental processing of more formal nonfiction writing. Stories have heart and ring true.

Collect illustrative stories as you are collecting facts, quotations and other information for your signature stories.

Practice those stories with a tape recorder. Condense them down to a couple of minutes or less. Don't go on a journey. The oral board is not packed for the trip. You won't have time and it's not appropriate to use a signature story for every answer. Tell the story. Make the point. Move on. Once you answer an oral board with a signature story, you can marry the rest of your answer with those clone answers you have been using. Try it and see the amazing difference.

"Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light."-Joseph Pulitzer, (1847-1911) American journalist.

I was coaching a candidate one day and the candidate was giving me those clone answers why he wanted to be a firefighter. I stopped him and had him rewind the videotape of his life to where he first got the spark to be a firefighter. He said, "Oh, I'm from South America. When I was growing up, we lived with my grandfather who was the fire chief of the city. I got to go with him and be exposed to the whole department."

I asked if he had ever told that story in any of his oral board interviews? He said, "No". Why not? I will bet you big money you are a clone candidate right now. But, I bet you also have some personal signature stories that could instantly change your interview scores.

Another Example:

I was doing private coaching session with a candidate. He was telling a story about being a federal firefighter in Yellowstone when it burned. The story was not too exciting the way he was telling it. I had to stop and ask, "It sounds like you were trapped?" He was. Now he tells that story and the hairs start standing up on the back of your neck. You're trapped with him. You can smell the smoke and see the embers dropping around you. Does this story make a difference? Please say yes.

Case in point. I just talked to a candidate who was dumping only clone answers on the question "Why do you want to be a firefighter?" Then he realized he could begin his answer with a signature story. He remembered a story he could use about a prank being played on him when he did a ride along with his brother. He couldn't believe the difference when he used this personalized signature story at his next oral board.

The story brought smiles and laughter from the panel members. Along with the calls they went on by the end of the day he knew this was the job that blended all his needs. He followed this story with his standard landmark clone answers. This was the first question on his oral. His answer made everyone more comfortable and the interview flowed a lot smoother than before.

Some say, "Captain Bob" how can you help so many candidates without making them into clones?" Good question. Simple answer. The real reason is nobody else can tell your story! Nobody! So the point here is not the question, but the answer. Start establishing your personalized stories. When you start lacing your answers with your personalized experiences is where you start to shorten that gap between you and that infamous badge.

"You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."

The proof is in the badges!

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

How would you like to get ahead of the curve with the cutting edge interview skills to get that badge? Then you want to sign up to receive Fire "Captain Bob's" exclusive information rich FREE e-mail FireZine Newsletter by clicking here.

About the Author

Bob Smith | Magazine Staff

Fire "Captain Bob" Smith has helped countless entry level and promotional candidates gain their badges. He is a retired 28-year Hayward, California Captain, speaker/author of the CD/DVD programs "Conquer the Job Interview," "It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat!," the books, "Becoming a Firefighter-The Complete Guide to Your Badge," "Fire Up Your Communication Skills" and "Eat Stress For Breakfast," which have been translated in 24 countries including South Korea, Latin America and China. He is a coach, publisher, author, and a rater on job interviews.

"Captain Bob" has gained experience from more than 175 oral boards. To date over 2,300 candidates have received their badges from his program. He uses simple tools to uncomplicate the process.

He incorporates his own experience gained from three successful start-up businesses, a 41-year marriage (29 years that were good according to his wife), education, and 20 of research. To learn more about his dynamic programs, services, newsletter and more than 250 pages of proven tips and free information visit his website at

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