Becoming a Firefighter: Preparing for the Oral Interview
Some fire departments require an oral interview; some do not. The first place to find out if the exam you will be taking has an oral interview segment is the examination announcement. If you will be asked to attend an oral interview, the examination announcement will outline what general areas it is designed to evaluate. A candidate's prior work experience, education, skills, career interests, community activities, training, goals and ambitions, and personal characteristics are some areas that may be listed. It is your obligation, as the candidate, to gather this information and review your life's highlights (school graduations, work history, awards, and personal achievements), keep them clearly in mind, and be ready to recount them, if need be, during the interview. It is also important to have basic knowledge about the firefighter job and the skills and abilities required. It is, therefore, important to prepare for the oral interview.
In summary, the oral interview can be viewed as a strategic conversation between the candidate and interviewers (usually three or more), who have been given the task of determining whether the candidate meets the standards for entry-level selection into the fire department and will be an asset to the organization.
Fomulating an Interview Strategy
When you take the time to prepare for the interview, you are also building up your self-confidence in the skills necessary to do well. One of the first things you should do is evaluate your personal characteristics and qualifications. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Personality traits such as honesty, enthusiasm, calmness under pressure, initiative, leadership, courage, motivation, personal appearance, loyalty, self-confidence, common sense, and the ability to work with others are just some of the personal attributes required by professional firefighters. Make no mistake about it: these characteristics will be evaluated in some way during your oral interview.
When answering questions during the interview, be sure to stress some of these essential attributes. State how you acquired and developed them through prior work and life experience, sacrifice, emulation of parents or teachers, or by education. Also consider the personal characteristics that you are weak in. Consider ways to change and grow in the areas that need improvement.
Next, review your prior work experience and background to determine what job skills you possess that are relevant to the career of a firefighter. If, for example, you are proficient in the use of tools and operating machinery, think about how these skills relate to firefighting. If appropriate during the interview, cite examples of how this knowledge and proficiency will make you a good firefighter. Recall what responsibilities you were entrusted with by your previous employers and what leadership qualities you have demonstrated at work or school, and, if appropriate, articulate these in a response to a question.
Formal education also plays an important role in who you are and how you portray yourself. Be aware of current events and have knowledge of world, national, and local news that you can use, if appropriate, while answering interview questions. Demonstrate that you are a multifaceted person with many interests. If you have attended, are attending, or have graduated from college, think about how the course curriculum relates to a career in firefighting.
Finally, evaluate why you want to be a firefighter. How does it meet your short-and long-term goals? What are the key aspects of the profession that stir your interest? Do the positives (challenge, excitement, salary, pension, helping people, and saving lives) outweigh the negatives (long hours, night work, danger, health issues)?
Be honest with yourself in thinking about and preparing for the interview. Then, you will be well prepared and able to handle it, leaving the interviewers with a positive impression of a candidate willing to learn and make the sacrifices necessary to serve the community.
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