Becoming a Firefighter: The Day of 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.
The Day of the Interview
- Rise and shine. Be sure you are properly groomed and wear clean conservative clothing (no gaudy jewelry, scuffed shoes, excessive cologne or perfume). Eat a light meal and drink plenty of fluids. Bring your index card questions with you for a final review and to keep your mind focused on your day's mission.
- Arrive early. Get to the interview session at least 30 minutes early. Allow extra time in case of heavy traffic or inexplicable mass transit delays. This will help you relax and focus on the job ahead. Walk around the block of the building you will enter to take the oral interview, taking deep breaths as a relaxing warm-up exercise for the main event.
- Lose the jitters. Remember, all the candidates taking the oral interview are in the same boat. Most, if not all, are feeling nervous like you. If, however, you have spent the appropriate amount of time practicing your verbal communication skills, there is no reason to be excessively anxious about the interview. Read some of your question index cards to help keep focused. Review just the main ideas you want to convey to the interviewers should they ask the question. Don't try to memorize replies.
- Present a good first impression. When called for the oral interview, enter the room with your back erect and greet the interviews with a smile, the appropriate salutation ("good morning" or "good afternoon"), and a hearty, firm handshake. You have prepared for this moment and now is the time to demonstrate the confidence that training can provide. Let the interviewers see what a superior firefighter candidate looks like. Maintain eye contact with your interviewers throughout the entire introductory greeting period.
- Listen. Follow the instructions given to you by the interviewers. Listen for information concerning where to sit, when the interview will begin, how long the interview will last, and any other particulars said prior to the start of the oral interview. Concentrate on the questions you are being asked before you reply. Don't interrupt the interviewer while he or she is asking a question and allow the interviewers to complete each question before you begin to reply. If a question is unclear, don't be afraid to ask for a clarification. Concentrate on the question asked, then answer it completely, using examples, if appropriate, to bolster your statements. Be careful, however, not to ramble on with extraneous information. When you feel that you have answered the question sufficiently, stop talking, and await the next one.
- Sell Yourself. During the interview emphasize your strengths and, if possible, avoid mentioning your weak points. Try to provide a positive outlook on your past personal relationships, employment, education, and hobbies. Exude confidence in who you are and what you have accomplished without being cocky. Maintain eye contact on the interviewer while he or she is asking you a question and throughout your reply. If asked at the end of the oral interview to summarize your thoughts, conclude with the reasons why you would make a good firefighter. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Reply in the manner you feel appropriate. Don't formulate responses trying to please the interviewers.
- Leave a good last impression. At the conclusion of your oral interview, stand up straight with an appearance of self-satisfaction for a job well done and thank the interviewers for their time. Wish each interviewer a "good day" and provide a strong parting handshake. Listen for any final instructions concerning score results, signing out, or protest protocols. Leave the room smartly without turning around to look back at the interviewers. Do not stay inside the building in order to talk to acquaintances who may also be taking an oral interview. Leave the building forthwith; the time to discuss the interview with others is when you are a reasonable distance away from the test site.
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