Game day readiness: Be their #1 draft pick after the oral interview

How to use your personal playbook in the weeks, days and hours before your interview – and then what to do when it’s over


Think of your big initial fire department interview as game day. What's your strategy? Have you practiced enough? How did you practice? How will you suit up and meet the opposing team? Who knows, if you’re smart about your preparation, you may find yourself the department’s No. 1 draft pick.

Whether you choose to absorb the tips below or come up with your own set, just make sure you develop some sort of playbook – and stick to it. But what exactly do we mean by a playbook?

The playbook is a checklist to make sure you stay focused before, during and after the interview. Use your playbook to remind you of the key facts and references to assist you along the way. Having a playbook will help you gain confidence and feel more prepared. [At the end of this article, download a copy of our oral interview tips to keep with you and share with others in the job search process.]

The playbook is a checklist to make sure you stay focused before, during and after the interview. Use your playbook to remind you of the key facts and references to assist you along the way. Having a playbook will help you gain confidence and feel more prepared.
The playbook is a checklist to make sure you stay focused before, during and after the interview. Use your playbook to remind you of the key facts and references to assist you along the way. Having a playbook will help you gain confidence and feel more prepared. (Photo/Getty Images)

Here are some suggestions for how to use your playbook in the weeks, days and hours before your interview – and then what to do when it’s over.

WEEKS LEADING UP TO THE INTERVIEW

In the weeks leading up to your interview, you’ll want to develop answers to some of the most common interview questions and add them to your playbook. Note: Do NOT memorize your answers. Rather, study your answers over time so you can respond effortlessly – because you know them – without sounding like a robot!

Key questions or requests to practice answering:

  • Tell me about yourself. (Monster.com offers tips for how to answer this question.)
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for the job of a firefighter?
  • What do you know about our department?
  • What is your 5-year plan from the day you get hired?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are two big issues the fire service is facing today, and why are these issues important to you?
  • Tell us a time you had a conflict with a coworker. What did you do to resolve the conflict and what was the outcome?
  • Are you on any other hiring lists?
  • What would you do if another agency called you for an interview?
  • What are the attributes of a firefighter, and which of these attributes are most important to you?
  • What do you bring to the table?
  • Why should we hire you?

DAYS LEADING UP TO THE INTERVIEW

There are several steps to tackle in the days leading up to the resume. Don’t leave these tasks until the big day.

  • Get your resume in order. Keep the resume to one page, and make sure it is clear and precise. Use 24-pound resume paper. Ivory and light grey are two neutral colors that work well on a professional resume. Note: Leave your references off your resume. If the department wants to move you forward in the process, they will ask for references.
  • Review your application and make sure you understand what the department is looking for in a candidate. (Did you make a copy of your application before submitting to the department? Yes, most applications are electronic or digital these days, but always maintain a copy for you.)
  • Double-down on your research of the department and the city. Google is great, but don’t stop there. Use every available resource to research the department. See if you can find the department’s strategic plan online; these documents serve as a wealth of information about the city and department. Also, reach out to any connections who work for the department. If you don’t know anyone, seek out fire academy instructors to answer some questions.
  • Prepare a 60-second “elevator pitch.” This is personal statement that should catch their attention from the start, “wow” your audience and “close” them with a lasting impression.
  • Write out and study at least five success stories to answer (e.g., “Tell me about a time when ..." or "Give me an example of a time when ..."). Monster.com offers useful tips for handling these behavioral interview questions.
  • Get permission from your references to use their names and contact information.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW – “THE GOLDEN HOUR”

In the final hours leading up to the interview, it’s important to ensure that you look professional. Check yourself in the mirror; part of your confidence will come from looking good. Take a deep breath and remember your playbook.

Make sure you have the following items with you:

  • Several copies of your resume on quality paper;
  • A copy of your references (separate paper);
  • A pad of paper on which to take notes, though notes are optional; and
  • Directions to the interview site.

ARRIVAL FOR THE INTERVIEW

Most people think so much about the interview itself, they forget to consider some simple, yet key tips for your interview arrival:

  • Arrive early. Make sure to enter the building 10 minutes before your appointment.
  • Review your prepared stories and answers.
  • Go to the restroom and check your appearance one last time.
  • Announce yourself to the receptionist in a professional manner.
  • Stand and greet your interviewer with a hearty – not bone-crushing – handshake.
  • Smile and maintain eye contact.
  • Follow directions and do exactly as you are told. Every department is different.

DURING THE INTERVIEW

Remember, you have one chance to make a lasting impression – and this is it. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Try to focus on the points you have prepared without sounding rehearsed or stiff.
  • Relax and enjoy the conversation.
  • Ask questions and listen – and learn to read between the lines to get at what the interviewer is really asking. For example, if I ask the question, "Why should we hire you?,’ many would answer with something like, "I am hard worker who will give you 110% and be a role model ….” But this question is really asking "What are you bringing to the table.”
  • At the conclusion of the interview, thank the interview panel, and note their names and ranks.
  • Ask the panel if there is anything you can do to make yourself a better candidate for the position.
  • Be humble and respectful at all times.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You just finished interviewing. It is a big weight off your chest. If you dwell too much on any one question (or multiple questions), you may find yourself getting worked up or stressing about something that you cannot control. I like to quickly write down some initial thoughts while the experience is still fresh in your mind.

When my head is clear, I am not around the testing area or others, I will go back and reflect on the entire experience. I may write down questions, answers, and basically anything I can recall to help me (or others) for the next interview. Remember, every interview is different. If one doesn’t go as well as planned, keep your head up and keep trying.

Many sites will note the need to send a thank you letter. This is always a nice gesture, but for most fire department interviews, usually not necessary.

You will typically get some feedback from the human resources office within a few days or few weeks, depending on how many people they are interviewing. Be patient. Hiring can be a slow-moving process, unless the department needs personnel immediately. You have practiced and performed. Now is time to wait for the “draft” and see where you will rank.

Follow these tips to help move your way to the top tier of the rankings. Download a copy to keep with you and share by filling out the form below. 

Keep a copy: Tips for the oral interview

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