My First Oral Board

I recently had my first oral board interview, and here I am going to tell about the experience; what it was like, and what I learned.

At this point in my pursuit of a fire service career I’ve taken only a handful of tests and only recently had my first panel interview.  I had assumed going into the interview that the panel would be made up of a variety of firefighters and senior officers from the department, but it turned out there wasn’t one.  They were all captains from neighboring districts and I suppose this provided for a less biased interview, but it didn’t make all that much difference to me.

To provide a little context, I’ll tell you that this was a small district with only two stations in California’s Central Valley.  It’s almost 4 hours from where I live so driving down for the written, then the physical test, then the oral board meant taking multiple days off work.  This being the case I really wanted to make it count.  200 applicants were accepted to take the written test, approximately 100 took the physical test and about 50 were invited to the oral boards.

One of the things I’ve been telling myself for the past two years is that I need to study and practice my interview questions.  This is one of so many things I need to do, but haven’t found the time or motivation.  Of course with the interview right in front of me, the need was suddenly much more immediate.  I got online and started reading various fire forums trying to figure out likely questions and good answers, but quickly realized I was not taking the right approach.  The truth is I knew from the start, the question are all  out there.  They’re all available; I just had to dig in and really take the time to conceive honest and real answers.  Using somebody else’s answers would only make me sound like two things: 1) Just like everybody else.  &  2) Insincere.

Still I felt like there were questions that required not only a true and genuine answer, but it had to be  the “right” answer too.  Some questions are tricky.  I’ll provide an example in a moment, but to prepare for these questions I got on the phone with the only two guys from my academy who had been given offers and talked about interviewing.  They helped me work my real and personal answers into cleaned up versions that interviewers would be looking for.

For example, one of the questions I was asked was along the lines of “If we hired you, what would your long term goals be?”   This question is direct set-up.  A true and genuine answer may include becoming an Engineer and eventually a Captain or even a Chief, but it’s not what you should say.   I started to answer with those aspirations as the question seems to encourage, but I realized as I was speaking that “Captain” or “Engineer” was the last thing they wanted to hear.  I quickly changed course and explained while those were nice long term fantasies, my real concern is learning my job as a firefighter.  My long term goal is to become the best firefighter I can.

I was lucky to figure this one out before I dug my hole too deep, but the point is there are genuine answers that are wrong only by perspective.  You need to view these questions and potential answers from the perspective of a hiring department.  The easiest way to do this is to visit local stations and talk to the Firefighters and Captains and even Chiefs.   Talk to anybody you can and learn what they do and don’t want to hear, but don’t feed them somebody else’s answers.

Take a look at this list of questions, come up with your answers to each (write them all down) and then review them with any firefighters you can.  Get their perspective.  They’ve been through it and they know.

I was even fortunate enough that on the drive to my interview, Craig Freeman of FireCareers actually called me.  I couldn’t believe my luck to see his name pop up on my phone as I was driving to this.   He was kind enough to spend time running through Q&A with me (thank you Craig!!), but while Craig may not be available to every single interviewee out there, most people in the fire service know what you’re going through and are happy to help.  Go to your local station with some ice cream and your list and you’ll walk away with more fine tuned answers and a clearer perspective on what those questions are really looking for.

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