Trending Topics

The firefighter job interview: How to stand out

Here’s how to be your best in the firefighter oral interview, plus 12 do’s and don’ts


The interview process involves situational questions, framed in a “What would you do if ...” manner.

Photo/Kris Blume

Fire departments are looking for three things when they interview a candidate for employment or promotion:

  1. What are your overall qualifications for the position?
  2. What is your general fitness and does it correspond to the job?
  3. What is your general appearance and the impression you made on the selection committee?

A candidate’s persona regarding these areas goes a long way during and after the interview process. More often than not, they can mean the difference between success and failure, especially when the selection is close.

After you make this initial impression, the process moves into an examination of traits specific to your life. These will certainly be identified in summation and carry most of the weight in the decision-making process.

Your personal characteristics move you from first impressions to projecting yourself accurately. This includes how well you are groomed and the manner in which you conduct yourself.

Next, there is the ease with which you move around the room and make eye contact with each member of the committee. Now all that’s left is a firm handshake and friendly smile to get you to your seat for the actual interview.

The real you

As you begin to discuss your life and answer questions, traits like self-expression, personality and a sense of maturity begin to reveal themselves. Are you confident in your presentation or just verbose? Do you have a sense of self-awareness that promotes keen judgments and good decision-making or are you full of reluctant behaviors resulting in a vague sense of who you are?

Remember, a great deal is revealed in 20 minutes, more than at any other time in your life, except maybe in an emergency.

Personality is important, but only if it is revealed openly. The only rule is to be you. Be honest but careful in revealing your likes and dislikes, and remember that less is more.

Stop talking when you are done. Wait for the next question with a sense of confidence, being at ease with who you are.

Come prepared

A little rehearsal can go a long way in putting you at ease; as your mind realizes you have an answer, your body will relax.

Prepare to discuss your experiences. These could include firefighting, academics, hobbies and past work history. Be specific but avoid the controversy of opinion.

For instance, you may say you like to fish, but commenting that fly fishing is the only true expression of the sport may alienate the two spin-casters in the room.

Preparing for the oral interview can go a long way in easing the stress of the actual interview. Know the fire department or details about the position you are applying for.

By doing a little research you can reference certain facts if they become appropriate to the conversation. When researching a department, look into its size, history, service area and culture.

Study the process

Read and study any significant events associated with the past and know the challenges it faces today. A terrible tragedy or a downsizing announcement linked to the job opening you are seeking would be critical to have in the back of your mind.

Rehearse enough to become comfortable with yourself. We are not naturally smooth and articulate, even if we think we are. Talking in front of a mirror, on tape or even mentally are good preparation tactics.

Study the interview process. There are many fine books, articles and websites devoted entirely to the interview process and how to promote a successful outcome. Use what works and discard what is not appropriate or simply does not feel right.

12 do’s and don’ts for your oral interview

Now, let’s review some basic do’s and don’ts the oral interview portion of the evaluation:

  1. Do not ask about morale, attitudes or behavior issues.
  2. Do not ask about salary, overtime or benefits.
  3. Do not bring anyone with you, even to the waiting area.
  4. Do not smoke or eat right before an interview.
  5. Do not wear strong cologne or perfume.
  6. Do not bring a cell phone or pager into the interview area.
  7. Do not go off on unrelated tangents.
  8. Do be neat and clean.
  9. Do bring a resume; present it only if asked.
  10. Do arrive early; take time to relax and think positively.
  11. Do sit up straight and speak clearly.
  12. Do think before answering any question.

One last note: Try to enjoy the interview process. Conduct yourself as if you have the job you are seeking. Your knowledge, interest and enthusiasm will be genuine because your desire is free from interference.

Jim Spell spent 33 years as a professional firefighter with Vail (Colorado) Fire & Emergency Services, the last 20 years as a captain. He helped create the first student/resident fire science program west of the continental divide, formed the first countywide hazmat response unit and was on the original Colorado Governor’s Safety Committee. As founder of HAZPRO Consulting, LLC, Spell advised businesses on subjects ranging from hazard analysis and safety response to personnel development and organization. His writing won six IAFF Media Awards. Many of Spell’s articles are available by podcast at His last book was titled “Boot Basics: A Firefighter’s Guide to the Service.” Spell passed away in April 2024 after a short battle with cancer. His last four articles detailed his cancer journey.