When were You Going to Tell Us?

Aug. 6, 2007
If it doesn't come out of their mouth during the firefighter's oral interview, it didn't happen.

What have you left out?

We tell candidates just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz we're not going to give you anything you don't already have. We're just going to show you where it's at. You may be leaving important stuff out of your oral board presentations. The following are segments from our son Captain Rob's coaching sessions.

Two recent candidates left out they were Eagle Scouts. Is that important? Yea!

Although this was a firefighter in Kansas this candidate forgot to include in his oral interview that he grew up in the Las Vegas area and was testing to come back home to Vegas.

Like many, this candidate only mentioned that he was in the military. Which branch? Marines. We're you stationed overseas. Yep. Where? Okinawa and Japan. Did they prepare you with cultural diversity classes before you went to Japan? Yes. So you were taught and lived in a cultural diverse country. I guess. A lot better than just I was in the military. When were you going to tell us?

Another candidate mentioned he was in the military. What was your assignment? I was part of the ground crew for Marine One. Isn't that the President of the United States' helicopter? Yes. Did you have a security clearance? Yes, because I was around the President. Should I use that? When were you going to tell us?

This candidate only said he worked for a private company that provides fire protection for a private company. What do they do? Weapons research, development and testing. Have you been trained to handle emergency situations and suppression with rocket fuels and explosives? Yes. Do you have a security clearance? Yes. What security clearance do you have? I can't tell you. If he couldn't tell us, this is pretty big right? So, when were you going to tell us?

This candidate was asked, weren't you activated for Iraq? Oh, yea. Tell me the story. Well, I was at the firehouse at Columbia Fire College and the phone rings at 11:30 p.m. It was my crew chief from my Air force reserve unit with orders to report at 7:30 a.m. the next morning at Travis Air Force base. We flew out in a C5A transport and I spent the next year in country and did. I've now been in 27 countries. Did you learn about cultural diversity? Yes, let me count the ways. When were you going to tell us?

Did you play sports in high school? Yep. I've been playing sports since I was 6 years old. I played three sports in high school. Did you letter? Yes, in all three sports. Were you captain of the team? Yea, baseball. What did you learn? Commitment, being physically fit, working as a team, supervision, recognizing and using the strengths and weaknesses of the team members. Do any of these have any parallels to the fire service? Have you ever used these in an oral? Nope. Why not? They're golden. Who else can tell the story?

The candidates only mentioned he was a volunteer. After a few questions it was revealed he lived in the fire station while he was going to school and racked up 8,000 on duty hours. Important?

Too many candidates have been told by firefighters to only use EMS and fire stuff in their oral boards. They end up leaving out 30-40% of critical life experiences from volunteering and jobs they worked through out their life, including high school that can demonstrate skills and attributes that could separate them from the other candidates.

There are, however, things you shouldn't say

Even though you went into the mission field with your church you never know how this might play out with members of the panel when you bring up church or religion. All you have to do is offend just one panel member and it could affect your score enough to be out of the running. Consider just mentioning how you helped people when and where in culturally diverse parts of the world. You better be praying because your competition is.

Always allow plenty of time to get to your interview even if you have to arrive the day before. Talked to a candidate who left two hours before (usually a 45 minute drive) his interview and was caught in snarled traffic because of bad weather. He was only half way there by the time of his oral. Instead of considering if he had problems so were other candidates and they would probably accommodate him he turned around and went back home.

Another candidate was on his way to Denver from North Carolina for his oral board. When he went to change planes in Chicago found out the flight had been canceled because of bad weather. He called in a panic. Scene two we had him call Denver dispatch to find out there were other candidates who were delayed by bad weather too. They worked these candidates into their orals once they arrived.

From Seattle area: One question however, I have a few accomplishments that look really good on paper, but it seems like every time I say them in my tape recorder or in practice with my girlfriend they sound like I am bragging. Where can I fit these in, or should I at all.

High School Valedictorian
Full Ride academic scholarship to college
Academy - Most Inspirational
Academy - Most Inspirational, Top Recruit, Most Fit
Yada, yada, yada

Like I said I am not telling you these to brag, but I do think they say something about my work ethic and willingness to work with, and help others.

Reply: The reason they sound like you're bragging is you are bragging.

I know you want to drop those in but what would you think as a panel member hearing these rants of accolades? When I hear a candidate continue to boast like this I think teachers pet, can I do the erasers, kiss ass, yada, yada, yada, etc.

Yea, you can use one of these accolades but don't go to overkill.

When this candidate was asked if he had any questions for the panel he would reply, do you see any reason why I shouldn't get this job, (because a firefighter friend told him to say that)? Everyone becomes an expert when they get hired you know. This did not play well on the other side of the panel. This was one of many things this candidate was doing wrong after 10 years of testing. 

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 www.EatStress.com.

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