Being a firefighter includes rescuing kittens from trees on occasion, but most of the work is hard and requires self-motivation and self-discipline. Professional firefighters must pass written, oral and physical fitness exams to ensure they are mentally and physically fit to handle fires and emergency situations. When you are chosen to participate in the oral boards or have already held a position as a firefighter and are interviewing for another, give answers that separate you from the crowd.
Create Some Suspense
An interviewer will likely ask, "Why do you want to be a firefighter?" Your answer should reflect personal sentiments, values and goals you consider to be important. Stereotypical answers such as, "I enjoy public service" or "I want to help our community," will likely bore and frustrate oral-board interviewers, according to Captain Bob Miller at the Don McNea Fire School. Answer the question with a riveting story about how you first became interested in the profession or were impacted by a fire-related incident. Canned answers will likely drop your name to the bottom of the list.
Expect to answer questions about your experiences and accomplishments. The key is to answer with examples that are directly related to the job, so avoid comments about your family, hobbies, previous employers or goals that don't directly tie to being a firefighter. You might say "Last year, I received the Heroic Firefighter of the Year Award and it was the highlight of my career." Or, "I was the top performer in my training class and found it to be the most rewarding experience of my life so far."
Mother Hen Syndrome
Be prepared for the infamous "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?" question that often plagues job applicants. Oral review boards and fire station captains want employees who are dependable, capable, effective problem solvers ready to fight battles at a moment's notice. Focus on strengths that are most relevant to the job, such as your ability to quickly assess scenes, communicate with victims, relay information to other firefighters or emergency personnel, and physically intervene to help those in need. List one or two weaknesses that don't reflect poorly on your ability to manage emergency situations, such as your tendency to be brief on paperwork.
"What If?" Scenarios
The interviewer might ask behavioral interview questions to test how you would respond to unforeseen circumstances. Take a few seconds to process the question before answering. She might ask, "How would you decide which victim to aid first if multiple victims were involved?" or "What steps would you take to organize a team to remove debris that was trapping a victim?" Answer with methodical steps or problem-solving tips you currently apply or have been trained to apply in emergency situations. If you have experienced similar real-life events, explain how you successfully addressed them or helped a more experienced firefighter manage the situations.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.