The Six Steps to Answering an Oral Board Question

May 2, 2003
Firefighter candidates can use a tape recorder to evaluate their responses.

You should have a script that you have rehearsed with a tape recorder of anticipated questions by the time of your oral board. At the interview use these six simple steps in answering an oral board question:

1. Actively listen to the entire question: I have seen candidates stop listening when they think they already have the answer. They don't. Listen!

2. Make sure you understand the question: If not, have the question repeated or rephrased.

3. Pause and gather your thoughts: It might seem like an eternity, but pausing is an acceptable tactic to show interviewers you are paying attention. During the pause, you can figure out the root of what they are asking.

4. Ask the question or make the statement to clarify the question: The question might be, "You see your partner pick up something at an emergency scene, what are you going to do?" Taking the question down to its basic form, what is the issue? Stealing. Then, formulate a simple answer. For example, you might say, "I would ask, 'Is that yours?'" The board is going to tell you that he is taking it, but you already scored the points. After asking the question, you determine your partner is stealing, then what do you do? Since stealing is an ethical issue and he won't put it back, you might say, "Why don't we go the our supervisor?" Why? Stealing is against the law.

5. KISS. Keep it simple sweetie. Don't start a soap opera: Most candidates complicate the process. They intellectualize their answers, run past the question, decide an answer before hearing the entire question and fail to understand the process.

When my son, Rob, was interviewing for his entry-level position for a large department, he was asked, "You have just finished your interview and go outside and find a man down on the sidewalk. What would you do?" He answered, "I would go up and say, 'Buddy, are you all right?'" The raters threw Pens and Pencils in the air and said, "Someone finally got the answer right. For three days, job candidates were saying things like "Activate the 9-1-1 system" and "I know CPR."

6. Deliver the nugget answer with enthusiasm: Your personalized Nugget answer will set you apart from the clones.

A word to women. You have the advantage of bringing more feelings and emotions to your answers at an interview. Be careful though. I've had women at interviews start talking and it was like going on a journey. There seemed to be no final destination. Most men on the panel were not packed for the trip. This can't be like a conversation with your girl friend. You have about 20 minutes to give complete but concise answers.

Getting this job is a process. Here is a testimony how quickly it can happen:

Subject: Another success story

Dear Captain Bob,

I am writing to thank you again for your Entry Level Program. I sent you an e-mail after my first interview outlining how much your program had improved my presentation. At that time, I mentioned that decisions were not expected until July.

To my surprise, 8 days later I received a call from personnel. Could I attend a chief's oral next week!! I was 1 of 30 to be called in for 23 jobs.(The first interviews involved 900 candidates). My first thoughts were "stay on that winning pony"

After the chief's oral, the good news kept coming. I got the call 2 days later with a conditional offer of employment! The background and medicals were done the following week.

My most recent phone call came yesterday. I heard the words I have been working towards for six years- Congratulations, you have been accepted as a probationary fire fighter!! Uniform and equipment sizing is set for Saturday, can you attend?

I can't stress enough how much your program helped me. I will be sure to recommend you to anyone I can.

Thanks again!


It proves that, "Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!" Ask Brian

Fire "Captain Bob" Smith has coached countless entry-level and promotional candidates to get their badge. Over 2,000 candidates have received their badges from this program. He is a retired, 28-year veteran firefighter from Hayward, Calif. Captain Bob is a well-known speaker, author of the audio/video program "Conquer the Job Interview" and the books "Eat Stress For Breakfast" and "Fire Up Your Communication Skills." He is a member of the prestigious National Speakers Association. You can book him as a speaker or get a copy of his books and tapes by calling toll free at 888-238-3959. E-mail: [email protected] or Web site:

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

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!