Everything You’ve Done…

“Everything you’ve done up to this point in your life has led you here.”
Strangely enough…this is something that any new firefighter candidate needs to understand.  This sounds very “new age” or “zen-like”, but the truth is that this is practical thought and will become exceedingly important as you embark on your pursuit of capturing your career in firefighting.  Soon you will find yourself in an oral board interview, a lucky meeting with a real decision-maker, with someone who is close with a decision-maker, or attempting to explain yourself to a concerned loved one who wants to know why the hell you would ever pursue such a clearly dangerous career.
In one way or another, they will be saying to you:  “Tell me about yourself.”
In order to present the best “you” that you can be in that moment, you must know how you got here and why.  As a candidate, this will cause you to sound more prepared, thoughtful, and worthy of consideration for a position than the last 99 people who were asked the question and answered with some ham handed, “Well, my name is Totally Unprepared, and i’ve always wanted to be a firefighter because I want to help people.”  As a son, daughter, husband, father, mother, this will help you explain your calling in a matter that makes it clear to the ones you love and care for that you’ve thought this through, you know who you are, what you stand for, and that really, there is no other choice for you. In my own experience, being prepared for this allowed me to “become a man” in the eyes of a doubting and very concerned father and get a chief who made hiring decisions to literally pump his fist in the air and cheer in the oral board that led to my employment in the fire service.  (He’d suffered the indignity of literally over a thousand unprepared candidates and was so excited, he kind of lost it for a moment!)
Here’s how to prepare your response:
1.  Start by making a chronological list of all of the big memories throughout your life that stand out.  Great triumphs, great failures, school  events, times when you felt really great and not so great, and everything that seems or feels “big” to you.  These things should combine acheivements in very tangible ways (good grades, awards, etc.) with the not so tangibles like how you felt on a particular sporting team, your relationships with others, what you thought about something you saw, and the like.
2.  Take each one of these events and relate it to the fire service and what you imagine that means to it after each of these events.
3.  Imagine that you have less than five minutes to tell someone your life story and tell it to yourself.  (If you can video record yourself or do this in the mirror, it’ll be a huge bonus over time.)
4.  Imagine that you have less than two minutes and do the same thing.
5.  Imagine that you have less than one and repeat.
6.  After you feel like you’ve mastered the time requirements, write down an outline of what you’ve said about yourself for each.  Don’t write ANYTHING in a word for word fashion to be memorized.  Second only to “unprepared” is the “canned speech” because it comes off sounding like it just came out of one.  You need to leave room for your individuality, passion, and uniquely shaping experiences.
After doing this exercise for even a short period of time, you’ll notice a few really amazing things.  You will gain perspective on who you are and how you got to where you are today.  You will realize that it really all has led you “here” to that place where you absolutely MUST become a firefighting professional and that it really wouldn’t make sense to be anywhere else.  You will no “why” very specifically and will have the true conviction to answer questions about yourself and your choices thoughtfully.  You will be so much more prepared than the average candidate that you will end up with more help and support from people in the profession who are looking for a rare individual such as yourself to join us.  You will eventually end up with the career you dream about.
Oh yeah, and someday way down the road when you get a serious gut check…that little bit of that new age “self awareness” and “zen” will give you a way better chance of surviving it.
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2 Responses

  1. Paul Card Says:
    January 30th, 2011 at 9:44 PM

    Hey Josh-

    I’m glad it was helpful to you! Good luck on the board. That 4 hour drive is an excellent time to talk through possible questions/answers. Just keep answering and answering to yourself out loud. Check your email!

    Best of Luck and Preparation,


  2. Paul Card Says:
    January 30th, 2011 at 10:00 PM


    Your email isn’t accepting mail. I’ve sent a copy of a list of oral board questions to Capt. Craig in case he’s got another address for you. You’re also welcome to get my private email from him and i’ll send it to wherever works. Hope I can help some more.