In previous articles I have mentioned that you want to "know your audience", which means finding out as much as you can about the people who will be interviewing you. I would like to share a personal example to give you an idea of what this means and how it can help you in an interview.
During a pre-interview station visit I happened to walk by an open locker that had pictures of classic Mopar muscle cars on the door. Being a classic car buff myself, it caught my attention and I stopped and looked at the pictures. I also noticed the name tag on the door. My interview was a week or so later and when I walked in the interview room, there again I saw the name on one of the interviewers. A question came up and when I started to think about my response a personal story came to mind. It had to do with a time I drove with my son from San Francisco to Fresno to look at a classic muscle car that I wanted to buy, when we came across an accident scene on the freeway.
Even though the details of the car or even why I was driving to Fresno didn't have anything to do with the response to the question, I knew it would be a good idea to talk a little about it, because it was a 1970 Road Runner that I was going to look at. This was a detail I would have not even mentioned had I not known what I did about this Captain. His eyes lit up when I said I was going to look at a Road Runner. I established an immediate connection with him by mentioning this and showing my passion and knowledge of cars.
At the end of the my response the Captain asked, "Well?... What about the car? Did you buy it?" I then got more opportunity by telling him more details. This established not only an immediate connection, it also loosened up the panel as well as myself, gave me a chance to talk about something I was passionate about and showed that I have mechanical aptitude as well. All this because I had accidentally gotten to know a little bit about my audience by paying attention to the details on the open locker during a fire station visit.
Now, I don't recommend snooping around lockers, but there are some things you can often find out about your interviewers, when the department knows who's going to be on the panel, by asking other personnel questions such as; Are they in charge of any special programs with the department? What are they like as a supervisor or co-worker? Do they have any children, if so what ages? What city do they live in? What are they passionate about? What do you think they're looking for in a new hire?, etc. Having this kind of information can be helpful during the interview and help separate you from the rest of the herd.
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