Becoming a Firefighter: Preparing for the Oral Interview (page 3)
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.
Typical Questions Asked by Inteviewers
Listed below are a few of the typical questions and inquiries asked by interviewers during firefighter exam oral interviews.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Describe for us your three most important personal character traits.
- How would your friends describe your character?
- What is your greatest strength? Weakness?
- What is the most difficult decision you have made in your life?
- Why should we recruit you to be a firefighter?
- What are your qualifications for the job of firefighter?
- Why do you want to become a firefighter?
- Where do you envision yourself five years from now? Ten years?
- What do you know about our fire department?
- Tell us briefly about the job you are currently working at.
- What are the responsibilities you have at your current job?
- Are you happy in your current job? Why or why not?
- Who is the main person in your life that inspires you to be successful?
- Tell us about your formal education.
- What is the most important lesson you have learned in school?
- What is or was your major in college and why?
- What is your proudest/greatest achievement?
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- What was the last book you read?
- What magazines or journals do you subscribe to?
- What was the last movie you saw?
- What is your favorite television program?
- Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?
In general, the questions asked by the interviewers are designed to tell them whether you have the necessary mindset and personality traits to perform the job of a firefighter. Do you really want to be a firefighter or are you just exploring your options? Are you motivated enough to have researched information about the organization you wish to join? Can you talk intelligently about the fire service and the work that it performs? Do you have the ability to work well with others to reach the goals of the organization? Will you fit smoothly into the way of life of the fire department?
Practicing For the Interview
Start your preparation early. Write down the questions both in this section and the ones you have made up on index cards. Writing the questions down is the first step towards thinking about what you want to say. At first, review the answers to the questions silently. Later on, try answering the questions aloud in a quiet place. Don't try to memorize your responses. If you do, the answers you give on the day of the interview will come out phony and canned. Just try to remember the main points you wish to convey. The rest of the information you want to communicate will come out naturally based mainly on your preparation sessions.
Sit in a chair in front of a mirror to observe your appearance and hand mannerisms during the time you are answering the questions. Nonverbal communication plays a large role in how the interviewers perceive who you are and whether or not you should be hired. Watch your body language. Grimaces, frowns, and sad facial expressions should be avoided, as should nervous habits, such as touching your face, tapping your fingers on a table, or fidgeting with your tie or blouse. Use your hands and arms to emphasize words when appropriate, but refrain from using too many gestures, which can distract the interviewers from listening to what you are saying. Maintain eye contact with yourself while answering the questions. This practice will help you to concentrate on what you are saying and, during the actual interview, maintaining eye contact with the interviewers will show that you have self-confidence and poise.
Check your posture. Are you sitting up straight in your chair with your head up and erect? Avoid slouching, looking down at the floor, or acting too relaxed or too stiff. Try to sit slightly forward in your seat with your arms on your lap or atop the armrests of the chair. Don't cross your arms and don't cross your legs.
Start audio-taping and videotaping your responses. Play back the tapes and review how you sound and look. Are you speaking in a monotone? Try to vary your tone and pitch while speaking. Are you talking too quickly or too slowly? A candidate who speaks very fast will come across to the interviewers as being nervous and unsure. Speaking too slowly will make interviewers impatient. Is your voice loud enough to be heard clearly from a standard distance (across a table)? Avoid mumbling, slang, jargon, and using "time filler" terms such as "you know" and "ok." Evaluate your responses and make changes to improve your communication skills where needed.
Ask family members and friends to ask you the questions on your index cards. Have them give you feedback concerning what they thought was positive and negative about your responses. Try to have at least three or four different people listen to you. Multiple opinions will help you to focus in on what really needs to be maintained or improved for your oral interview. Eventually, have the participants act as role players in a mock or practice oral interview. These role-playing sessions will help you refine your oral interview skills and techniques.
Additionally, seek assistance in public speaking and oral presentation techniques by enrolling in a college or adult education course designed to help students overcome fears and inadequacies and learn how to speak clearly, intelligently, and with confidence.
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