Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski

I didn’t get hired? But I thought I had the best resume!

This is a problem many candidates “don’t get” today, and was something I didn’t get when I was testing to become a firefighter. When I was testing to become a firefighter in the early 1990’s – (come on, that wasn’t too long ago – and things really haven’t changed that much, at least in my area) – I tried too hard to have the “best resume.”

It didn’t dawn on me until I was actually hired, that “best resume” is very subjective and does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. What makes the best resume? The most education? The most fire experience? The most volunteer experience? The most fire and EMS related certificates? See where I’m going? There is no such thing. Instead, a fire department is hiring the “best fit” for their organization and their slightly unique culture.

Each fire department (no different than each police department, each governmental agency, each business, etc.), has its own culture and looks for slightly different traits in candidates it is looking to hire or promote. I know this may not make sense now before you’re hired, but it should after you get hired. Put four fire departments that all border each other next to each other and you’ll find slightly different cultures. Having a different culture is not good or bad, it is just the way it is.

So, how do I get hired then by the department I want to be hired at? Well, this can be tough because you may want to work for a certain department, but they may not want you. If they don’t want you, hopefully it is because they think you won’t be a good fit for their culture and their family, as opposed to illegal reasons including discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong, you have to have something on your resume, within yourself and your character, and in your background to make a department want to hire you. And, in many departments, you need to have certain minimum qualifications just to apply (EMT, paramedic, Firefighter 1, etc.) and compete with everyone else. Personally, I also like to see those that have some passion for the fire service and have shown a commitment to their future career by taking some time, energy and investment into preparing themselves for being a firefighter, whether it be getting their two year degree in fire technology, working as a volunteer firefighter, etc. However, those things won’t get you hired. You still need to sell yourself in the oral interview, which is still 100% of your final ranking in many departments.

You can have the “best resume” in the world (remember, there is no such thing, just trying to make a point) and never get a high score on the oral interview if you cannot sell yourself (how much or how little you may have to offer) to the department you’re applying to. Remember we’re not hiring a resume – we’re hiring a person, something that is trainable and has a positive attitude, not necessarily someone that has taken every class known or has every degree possible or has been a volunteer or paid firefighter for the last umpteen years. You can be a firefighter with the FDNY for 20 years, and have seen more fire than anyone else in the department you’re testing for, but if you can’t sell yourself to the department you’re applying for, you’re not going to get the job.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me in on a secret: you don’t choose your department – your department chooses you. You may actually get hired by a department that was not your first choice, but you were their first choice for whatever reason.

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