Firefighter Oral Exam Interview Tip #1

April 8, 2004
Many firefighter candidates do not take the time to completely answer the question they are asked in an oral interview.

Many firefighter candidates do not take the time to completely answer the question they are asked in an oral interview. They answer the question with enough information to receive a passing score, but not enough information to receive the best possible score. There is a way you can answer the question in a detailed way, without sounding like you are rambling on and on. This is why I say, "don't just answer the question, answer the question!

Let's look at a simple question that is asked at many entry-level interviews, "what is your greatest strength?" There really is not one right answer for that question. Any strength you think of can provide you with the highest possible score for that question, assuming you don't just answer the question, and that you answer the question! Now it is a good rule of thumb to have an answer that is unique to you and does not sound like a typical clone answer that the majority of candidates have used in their interview, prior to your sitting in the hot seat, but the subject of clone answers is another topic that will be discussed in another article.

Let's get back to the original question, "what is your greatest strength?" The immediate response that comes to your head is to tell the oral board that you are loyal. While being loyal can be considered to be a clone answer, the response itself would provide the candidate with a passing score. Notice I didn't say an above average or an excellent score for that question. I said a passing score. In school, C's and D's are passing. B's are above average and A's are excellent scores. When a fire department is interviewing hundreds if not thousands of candidates, who do you think gets the job offer, the candidate receiving the "passing score" or the candidate with the "excellent score?" I think the answer is obvious.

How do you make that answer of "I am loyal" into an "excellent score" you may wonder? Do I need to respond with another answer that doesn't sound like a clone answer? That is one way, but not the primary way. The primary way is to be a little more detailed in your response and to also provide an example.

Key point: every time you state something, such as I am dedicated, I am loyal, I am motivated, I get along well with others, always make sure you state an example to prove to the oral board why it is that you are dedicated, loyal, motivated, etc.

Now if you took the time and effort to answer that question with an answer of "my greatest strength would have to be that I am loyal. I have worked for the same employer for the last ten years. I have had numerous job opportunities I could have taken, many of which could have provided me more money and better benefits; however, because of my present employer's flexibility with my scheduling so I could obtain my fire technology degree and also take as many firefighter tests that I qualified for, I have felt an obligation to work there until I obtained the career of my dreams, one of being a firefighter. Their understanding of my wanting to become a firefighter while knowing that I was planning on eventually leaving their company was something that could have been looked upon very negatively by them. Because of their loyalty to me, I feel it is my duty and obligation to be loyal to them as well. Since firefighters are expected to be loyal to their department, community and fellow firefighters, I feel my greatest strength of being loyal is something that will be an asset to the (insert the name of the department you are testing for) Fire Department. "

Doesn't that answer sound better than just stating, "I am loyal," or "my greatest strength is that I am loyal?" Be careful with providing too much detail because it can come across as rambling, causing the oral board to miss your point and start wondering to themselves, "when does this story end," or "where is this story going?"

Providing an example helps make a clone answer turn into an answer that is more detailed, but more importantly, an answer that provides a detailed fact or reason why the oral panel should believe what you are saying. Providing an example will help turn a passing score for that question into an above average or excellent score. Everybody says things about themselves. However, not many candidates take the time to actually "put their money where their mouth is" and prove to the oral panel why they are what they say they are.

Anyone can throw words out there to sound impressive. The successful candidates also add some detail to those words and provide an example to every statement to help validate and provide credibility to what they are attempting to convey to the oral board. Think of the concept every time you are asked a question in an oral interview and you should start to see your scores increasing!

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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