Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski

Oral Board Questions

As someone taking either an entry level or promotional level oral interview, there should be no “trick” or “surprise” questions if you have done your research/homework.

Meaning, there are many websites and books that have sample oral board questions that pretty much cover the majority of the types of questions you’ll be asked. You can’t prepare for every question word for word, but you can prepare for every type of question theme, if that makes sense.

I bring this up because I had a candidate email me the other day after an interview saying there was one question that totally caught them by surprise. My response was it shouldn’t have.

While there is no way you can expect every oral board question – word for word, but if you have prepared for the typical questions, then it shouldn’t be an issue to use that answer or parts of that answer you have prepared to answer the specific question being asked of you.

If you prepare for the following types of questions, you can’t go wrong:

– F.D. specific, city or region specific. Meaning, know as much as you can about the F.D. you’re testing for as well as the local region.

– Personal. Know everything about yourself (strengths, weaknesses, education, training, experience, career goals, vision, values, integrity, capabilities, etc.) to answer the questions about you, which more than likely will come up.

– Ethical and Legal related issues (stealing, lying, harassment, alcohol/drug use, cheating, etc.). Know where you stand, what the laws are, and where you need to go with problems encountered – up the chain of commmand).

– Diversity and Change related issues. Whether you agree with diversity or change doesn’t matter. What matters is you realize both concepts are here to stay and you need to be prepared for questions on how you will fit in, what you tolerate, what you accept, what you’re willing to do to improve the department, etc.

– Customer service related issues. Customer service is a huge buzzword today. Have a definition, be able to provide examples from your past, and be able to provide examples of how you will provide great customer service in the future.

– Playing nicely with others and interpersonal related issues. Face it, a large part of some F.D. supervisors and managers time is spent on personnel problems.

– Situational issues for any of the above related questions. Unless you just crawled out from being under a rock, you’ve more than likely experienced everything mentioned above at least once in your life – whether at home, at work, or at school. Start documenting experiences relating to ethical related issues, legal related issues, playing nicely with others issues, customer service issues, etc. Have a memory bank to draw from. Anyone can give a definition on customer service – but can you also add a situation where you gave “wow” customer service?

– Fire service/governmental related issues. Know the issues facing the world, the fire service, and government in general. So, when you’re asked what are the biggest problems facing the F.D. or the state today, you have some answers.

Lastly, unless you’re an expert at body language and reading people (very few are), don’t try to interpret how an oral board felt about your performance. Some of my best interviews (so I thought) were my worst, and some of my worst were my best. Moral of the story? Don’t try to read into how I think they’re taking the answers I’m providing because more than likely I’m going to be wrong….. What’s meant to be is meant to be, start preparing for your next interview and when the results come in the mail, they’ll tell the true story.

Just some general subject areas off the top of my head; there are obviously others that can be brought up, so if I missed anything, throw it out there.

The key is that if you properly prepare yourself for your next interview, there should be no surprises!
Steve Prziborowski
Battalion Chief

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One Response

  1. Robert Says:
    May 17th, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    Chief – I have a question for you. I have over fifteen years career experience as a Firefighter/Paramedic, and I find myself in a position where I have to look at testing for entry level positions (budgets/layoffs/etc..) My experience with the fire service is; “if you lie – you die” (and rightly so). So my question: Why do oral boards look for the “right answer” to a question and not what the real truth might be? If I get an order from an officer I know to incompetent, that is the wrong thing to do and might put me or my crew in harms way – or might not be in the best interest of mitigating whatever problem we are faced with. I’m not doing it – I will face the consequences, with the confidence that I kept everbodys safety in mind. That is just an example, I’m sure you know what I’m getting at. The orals are a fantasy world, where you are playing the game. More often than not you are asking canidates to say things that they really don’t believe in, just to supply the right answer. Why do we do this in the fire service – we look to see who can play the game the best – then once on the floor we want to see their true character and that they can stand-up to the challenges we face. Simply that they can do the job and hold their own (and – yes ‘play well with others’) – as this is key to firehouse survival. It has always bothered me the way the oral boards put guys in a position to give canned answers (and, try not to sound canned) – and if you tell the absolute truth to some of the questions – you will fail. If you have any time on the job, you have delt with firefighters you don’t see ‘eye-to-eye’ with and brothers who have been in less than desirable positions and you will step up to help your brother. In the oral senario you are expected to throw someone under the bus, typically with out enough info to make a real decision. I just don’t get it. Please enlighten me. Thank you.