Throughout my career, I have interviewed hundreds of people. Some candidates knock it out of the park, and others need a lot of work. Before you go to an interview, it is important to know why there is such a process. The interview process is used to get to know the candidates, their skills, and their education. Organizations need a skill set to provide a service, get work done, and represent them in a positive way. Above all, they need someone who works well with others and loyal to their mission. The interview is a suitable time for the candidate to learn more about the open position and the organization.
Most interview processes in the fire service are conducted using a panel of people who will ask you a series of questions so they can learn more about you. The panel may include the fire chief, human resources, other fire officers, or firefighters. It is important to know you will be rated by a wide range of people, not just one. I have witnessed the stress people go through prior to an interview wondering what questions to “prepare for.” What I have found is what they prepare for is never what is asked. So, to help all of you who have an interview coming in the future, I will list ten of the most common interview questions asked by fire departments and explain what they are intended to do.
1. Knowing that we have reviewed your application and resume, please take a few minutes to introduce yourself.
a. This question is the icebreaker. It allows you some time to speak in front of the group and tell them who you are so you can calm your nerves. This is a good time to tell them about the information within your resume and even an interesting fact. For example, your grandfather was a firefighter. Or you like the outdoors. You do not need to disclose any personal information.
2. Tell us why you wanted to apply for the position of firefighter with the ABC Fire Department.
a. This is a suitable time to tell them why you are applying. Most people say they “want to give back” or “to serve my community.” Although this is an acceptable answer, it is a common one. To stand out, really consider why you are applying for the position. Here is an example. I want to learn more about the community from those who know it best. I want to become a better person by challenging myself to learn new skills and talents and know I can do that here.
3. Please tell us how you deal with stress.
a. The role of a firefighter can be stressful, and it is important to learn how to deal with that. Do you work out? Talk with family and friends? Reflect? What they do not want to hear is, “I don’t know.” “I drink.” Consider how you deal with stressful situations in your life and let them know. They want to ensure you have the means to manage stress outside of the fire department.
4. Scenario: The Mayor of your city calls you and wants you to come to his house and fill up his swimming pool using the fire engine at your station. What do you do?
a. The answer IS NOT to fill up the pool. The mayor should not be calling you and there is a good chance this is not even allowed in your community. Fire apparatus is used during emergencies, not for recreation at the mayor’s house. However, there may be an ethical challenge here. Do you say no to the mayor? The best approach for you, the firefighter, is to level this up to someone of higher rank. What is ethics and how do you deal with ethical issues when called to your attention? This is the purpose of this question. We do not report to the mayor, we report to our chain of command and the entire City Council.
5. Scenario: You are told by your Captain to go get a ladder off the fire engine and bring it back so they can complete a task. While you are en route to get the ladder, the fire chief approaches you and tells you to grab a hand line and go to the rear of the house to fight a fire. What do you do?
a. The fire service uses a rank structure to manage the span of control of personnel. The captain is a first-line supervisor whom you are working for in a team. He ordered you to go get a ladder and is waiting for it to complete his task. The chief may not be aware that you are on an assignment, so he orders you to help him. So, what do you do? First, you let the chief know you are on an assignment for the captain. If he really needs you, contact the captain and let him know you are reassigned. You could also let the chief know you are assigned a task and can come back when you are done. In either case, the captain needs a ladder. Find a way to get it to him asap.
6. Do you like to work alone or with a team?
a. The fire service is team-driven. The purpose of this question is to learn how you work with others. Can you collaborate with a team? What teams have you been on in the past to show that is true? What do you like about working as a team member, or working alone?
7. Tell us about a challenging time you had and the process you used to overcome it.
a. I am amazed at how many people lock up during this question. If you have no answer, you either a) had no challenging times (doubtful)? b) You may shy away from dealing with challenging times?
b. Before you interview, consider a few challenging times you have had with other people or circumstances with which you were faced. How did you deal with it and what process have you used? Firefighters must process death, traumatic injury, and significant loss of property. All of those can be stressful and challenging for them.
8. This position will require you to respond to incidents during all hours of the day, and during all weather. Please tell us how you plan to manage your time to ensure you are available to meet the requirements of the fire department.
a. The role of the firefighter is 24/7 365. We cannot determine when or what call will come in needing a response. Because of that, you need to have a plan to manage your time. What hours are you available and how will this position fit into your personal and work life.
b. The fire department will require your time, especially during the first year when you will need to go to school. Stay focused on making the fire department a priority and working to ensure your family understands the commitment as well.
9. Please tell us what you do when you disagree with someone on your team.
a. This is all about conflict resolution. How do you deal with decisions that you do not like? What if your supervisor tells you to do something and you do not want to? The fire department has supervisors who are assigned duties. Whether you like it, or not, they need to get done. The concept of teamwork is to collaborate with each other to complete our mission.
b. Consider how you deal with conflict before the interview and prepare a good answer. Use words like, we will work together. We need to complete the mission, and sometimes we must do things we don’t want to do.
10. Do you have any questions for us?
a. Most people say, “No.” Wrong answer! This is your time to get the information you were wondering about or share information about yourself. If I am interviewing, this is my time to shine. "Although I do not have a question for you, I do want you to know that I am extremely excited about this position. I believe I would become a great asset to your department. I love to learn, work well with teams, and believe in the mission of the fire service. Working with this department would be my dream come true. " BANG! Boom! POW!
b. Use this time to your advantage, don’t give it away.
The interview process can be scary but if you are prepared, you should do well. The key to interviewing is to dress for success, make good eye contact, sit on the front edge of the seat, and have fun. It is okay to laugh and be you! Good luck.