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Avoiding the standard answers club

Practice your answers to these basic interview questions

By Michael Keefe

In my career, I've participated in more than 150 interviews with about 15 candidates per interview. This is approximately 2,250 candidates and, with each interview lasting about 30 minutes, this equals 67,500 minutes of listening to candidates tell me why I should hire them.

I have heard every imaginable answer to every possible question. Let me clarify that, I have heard every standard answer possible. I could go the rest of my life without hearing another candidate regurgitate the standard "I just want to help people" or "It's an exciting career" when asked why they want to be a firefighter. If this resonates with you, you are in the Standard Answer Club, and it's time to cancel your membership.

Here's a different concept: Make your answers your own. Go to your next interview and try it, I promise it will make a difference. But if you're going to break away from the standard answers, you first need to do some homework. In order to develop your own answers you first must do some soul searching to peel away the layers until you reach your personal truth.

A great place to start is, why do you want to be a firefighter? What is the real reason? Did something or someone inspire you? Did an event change your direction in life? Do you have a family member or mentor in the fire service? We (the interview panel) know it's an exciting career, we know you get to help people but we don't know your unique life experience that is driving you to this profession. Tell us about that.

Let's compare standard answers compared with personal answers.

  • Standard answers will not separate you from the others.
  • Standard answers require less thought than personal answers.
  • Standard answers do not allow the interview panel to get to know you.
  • Candidates who use standard answers often try to give the interview panel the answer they think we want to hear.
  • Standard answers are boring. We have heard them all before.
  • Standard answers are not what the interview panel is looking for.


  • Personal answers will separate you from the crowd. They're unique.
  • Personal answers are harder to develop, but much more powerful when delivered.
  • Personal answers allow the interview panel to get to know you.
  • Personal answers cannot be duplicated, they are yours alone.
  • Personal answers are easier to present, since they're based on your values or experience.

If you answer the questions truthfully, then your answer will always be correct. I recommend appropriate filtering of course, but as long as you remain "between the lines", your answer will always beat a standard one.

The time to develop your personal answers is long before your next interview. This process takes time. Try it with these common questions:

  • Why do you want to become a firefighter?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself to be a firefighter?
  • Tell us about your education, work experience and background that would make you a good candidate.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why do you want to work for the City of XYZ Fire Department?
  • Is there anything you would like to add? Closing statement.

I realize that this concept may be scary, but ask anyone who sits on an interview panel and they will agree it's time to cancel your membership to the Standard Answer Club.

Visit for more interview tips.

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