Panel Interview “Themes”
There are 17 main themes that are normally covered in panel interviews. If you can identify which “theme” a question belongs to, you can hit on the main necessary points and then relate it to the position you are attempting to promote to.
Theme 1: Opening Question / Your Capabilities
This is usually “Tell us how your education, training, and experience have prepared you for the position of___________.” Or they may ask “Do you have a prepared opening?” However it is asked, these are the key elements that need to be addressed:
o Your education: Degrees you hold like AS degrees, BS, Masters, etc.
o Your Training: Include important and RELEVANT training classes you have taken that will make you better at the position you are applying for.
o Your Experience: Give an overview of your fire service work history. Include when you started, and how you progressed. Also include any experience on special projects, committees or
mentoring you have participated in (like an acting captains role).
o Leadership Skills: Include your leadership style and philosophy. Let the raters know what they can expect from you as a leader and how you plan to positively influence people to WANT to follow your lead.
Theme 2: Your Strengths and Weaknesses
When asked about your strengths and weaknesses, here are some key points to consider:
o If asked both in the same question, start with your weakness and end with your strength (leave
them with something positive to think about)
o When addressing a weakness, be honest, but don’t list something that questions the credibility of you being able to do the job (for example, if you’re looking to promote to engineer, don’t say “My biggest weakness would have to be my driving skills” or if you’re going for captain, don’t say “My biggest weakness is dealing with conflict or having to discipline—I hate that.” List
something honest, but more benign. Don’t give canned corny answers like “My biggest weakness is I am too hard on myself and I work too hard.” Those types of answers make raters want to vomit.
o When addressing a weakness, let the panel know what you have done to overcome it!
Theme 3: Character Issues
This theme would be hit on when the panel asks you questions about honesty, integrity, your personal values, character, etc. Key points to consider here:
o Be able to define character and key values like honesty and integrity.
o Be able to define and articulate your own personal values and why they are important to you.
o Relate these values and character issues back to the position you are promoting to.
Theme 4: Leadership
This theme comes up when asked about your leadership style, your leadership philosophy, how you would define leadership, etc. Key points to consider here:
o Leadership is simply defined as the ability to influence others. You can either do it positively by getting people to WANT to follow, or you can use “positional leadership” and force people to
follow by putting a badge to their head (like a gun to the head).
o Be able to define and articulate your own leadership style and include key elements such as
mentoring, training, and coaching.
o Discuss the importance of accountability in leadership.
o Discuss the importance of collaborative leadership (yes, it’s autocratic on the fire ground under IC, but it can be collaborative back at the station).
Theme 5: Roles and Responsibilities
When asked about the roles and responsibilities of a company officer or chief officer, consider these key points:
o Start with big picture stuff.
o My number one role is to develop more effective leaders in the department.
o Mentoring, training, and coaching.
o Succession planning.
o Enforcing policy (company officer) or making policy (chief officer).
o Ensuring crew and public safety.
o Inspiring followers to buy in and participate in the mission, vision, and
goals of the organization.
o Making sure firefighters are living out the core values of the department
on a daily basis.
o Training crew.
o Helping stay within department budget.
o Then go to other day-to-day responsibilities of your position.
Theme 6: Mission, Vision, Values
This theme is hit on when you are asked questions about the mission statement, vision, core values, strategic plan, etc. Key points to consider:
o Know your department’s mission statement and be able to put it into your own words.
o Show an ability to articulate the core values of your department.
o Show a familiarity with the strategic plan of your department (if you have one).
o Be able to articulate how the mission, vision, and core values of the department relate to the roles and responsibilities of your position.
o Be able to articulate your own mission, vision, and goals.
Theme 7: Motivation / Teambuilding
This will come up in questions about how you go about motivating people, improving station morale, team building, collaborating, getting people to work together, etc. Key points to consider:
o Discuss the importance of knowing your crew (you can’t motivate and inspire people if you don’t know what drives them).
o Talk about the importance of providing an environment where people can be self-motivated.
o Talk about your ability to get people to work together towards common goals.
o Talk about the importance of empowering people to take ownership – this increases morale!
o Discuss the need to have a common vision as a team and the need to build a mutual atmosphere of trust and respect.
Theme 8: Chain of Command
This theme is hit on when you are asked questions about what you would do if you disagree with a policy, or you disagree with someone above you in the chain of command, or how you deal with a policy your crew disagrees with, or how you handle someone bad mouthing policy or chiefs. Some key points to address:
o Be honest- “It is unreasonable to think I will never disagree with a policy, management, or the
chief. The important thing is how I deal with those disagreements.”
o I go up the chain of command with my complaints.
o If I disagree with a policy, I go up the chain and try to understand it more and see if compromise can be made. Regardless of what happens, when I leave the room, I support the management team and I enforce the policy.
o I will not complain down or across the chain, which spreads cancer.
o I will hold my crew to the same standard.
o I will hold myself and others accountable to our core values which dictates that we handle our
disagreements with integrity (not talking behind each other’s backs).
o If someone in my crew is badmouthing anyone or policy, I would hold them accountable to a
higher standard and mentor them to use better leadership skills. If the behavior continued, I would use progressive discipline to correct these actions. If it is someone lateral or above me in the chain, I would try to positively influence them to change their behavior and remind them of our core values and the importance of using the chain of command. If the behavior continued, I would let their direct supervisor know this problem existed.
Theme 9: Conflict Resolution
This theme is hit on when you are asked questions about personal conflict, how to handle anger, what you would do with crew conflict, how you resolve conflicts, etc. Here are some key points you should be hitting on when answering conflict questions.
o I go directly to the person I have conflict with (I don’t talk behind their backs and spread cancer throughout the station—that hurts morale).
o I tell them my view and then objectively listen to their view.
o I try to come to some sort of compromise where all parties feel heard and validated.
o I keep the conflict private.
o I would encourage my crew to do the same.
Theme 10: Discipline Issues
This theme is usually brought up in scenario based questions regarding how you would handle a specific incident. It can also be brought up in regards to questions about progressive discipline, your department’s policies on discipline, your willingness to discipline, etc. Key elements when addressing this theme:
o Know your department’s progressive discipline policy.
o Know the key elements of the Firefighter Bill of Rights.
o Know when the Firefighter Bill of Rights is triggered (which is at punitive action, defined as a
written reprimand or greater).
o Know the difference between an investigation and an interrogation.
o Be able to discuss the process of discipline in your own department.
o Have a clear understanding of the liability it causes you and the department if you let policy
violations go without proper discipline.
o Articulate the importance of consistency, fairness, and respect in discipline.
o Discuss the importance of clear documentation.
Theme 11: Liability Issues
This theme surfaces when questions arise about sexual harassment, hostile environment, discrimination, or harassment. These key elements need to be addressed:
o Take complaints seriously and act immediately.
o Stop the behavior immediately.
o Investigate the incident / behavior.
o Document incident / behavior.
o Discuss with firefighter how their behavior affects others and morale in the station / department.
o Discuss the core values with the firefighter and how their actions are in direct violation of those core values.
o Be able to articulate your understanding of how incidents such as these bring a great liability on the department for a possible EEOC complaint.
o Discuss the importance of educating your crew on what is appropriate and within policy.
o Discuss the importance of setting the role model example of what is acceptable.
o Administer or recommend discipline as needed to correct behavior.
Theme 12: Performance Issues
This theme will come up when asked how you might handle a firefighter who is not performing well. You may also be asked how you would handle a lazy firefighter, or a probationary firefighter who is not doing well, or a veteran firefighter who is having rookies do his chores around the station, or what you would do with a burned out firefighter. Key elements to consider:
o Recognize the financial investment and time investment the department has put into the firefighter.
o Discuss how you want to develop the firefighter to their full potential and you will use your
positive leadership skills to mentor, train, and coach the firefighter to an outstanding level.
o Show that you will document deficiencies.
o Articulate your willingness to train or get the firefighter more training.
o Regarding a lazy or burned our firefighter: discuss the importance of getting that firefighter back in touch with the passion they once had for the job. Talk about the need to find things that may interest them and get them involved and motivated again. If all resources have been exhausted and the firefighter won’t change their behavior, show a willingness to use progressive discipline to change the behavior.
Theme 13: Budget Issues
You may be asked how you can help the department cut costs or stay within the budget. Key elements include:
o Think big picture first then discuss smaller budgetary issues.
o Discuss the importance of developing great leaders in the department—when you do that,
accountability goes up, people take ownership, people follow policy, and liability goes down.
o Enforcing policy is a key element—when people follow policy there are less injuries, less
lawsuits, and less costs to the department and city.
o Discuss the need to engage in creative problem solving to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to budget issues (like getting community groups to participate in fund raising to buy new equipment).
o Talk about the little ways you can help save the department money:
o Getting the crew to turn off lights, heat, air conditioning when not being used.
o Making sure equipment and tools are not left at the scene of a call.
o Making sure equipment is maintained so it breaks down less.
o Encouraging crew to stay in shape so there are less injuries and sick days.
o Cracking down on sick leave and overtime abuse.
o Curtailing waste in the station.
o Raising the level of awareness on how everyone can contribute to saving money for
Theme 14: Main Issues Facing the Fire Service or Your Department
You may be asked what the three main issues are facing the fire service. Or you might be asked what the main issues are facing your fire department. Key elements to consider:
o LISTEN to the question! Don’t tell the raters the issues facing your department if they ask you about issues facing the fire service as a whole.
o Be able to define and articulate some of the main issues facing your department (don’t name
people or details of “drama” issues that are unfolding—keep it general like “We are dealing with
some sexual harassment issues” or “We are dealing with integrity issues” or “We are dealing with consolidation issues,” etc.
o Be able to articulate and address some of the main issues facing the fire service today:
o Leadership development (all the way down to the front line).
o Generational differences
o Succession planning
o Having to do more with less
Theme 15: Why You Want to Promote
You may be asked why you want to promote, or why you should be selected over other candidates, or why you would be a good captain, BC, DC, etc. Key elements to consider:
o Never talk poorly about other candidates or attempt to speak to their qualifications—just talk
o HAVE SOME PASSION—if you are not passionate about promoting, how can you expect theraters to get excited about the prospect of you being the next captain, BC, DC, etc.?
o Talk about how you want to use your education, training, and experience to develop other leaders within the department.
o Talk about how you want to assist in the process of moving the department towards its mission, vision, and goals.
o Talk about your love for the job (if you don’t love it, don’t even think about promoting!).
o Be able to articulate why you would make a good captain, BC, DC, etc. Be sure to talk about your leadership abilities.
Theme 16: Technical Questions
You might be asked technical questions about the position like how you would handle an incident on the fire ground or at an emergency call. You may be asked technical questions about the engine or other pertinent aspects of the job as they relate to your position. You need to know as much technical information about the job as possible.
Theme 17: Policies and Procedures
You may get a question regarding the SOPs for your department and the policies and procedures. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the departments’ policies which may require reading through a lot of boring manuals! It wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the city policies as well.
You might be asked if you have anything you would like to add or if you have a closing statement. The answer is always yes! Key elements to consider:
o This should only be 30-45 seconds in length (unless you forgot to bring an important issue up in a prior question and you need to address it here).
o Your closing remarks or closing statement should be a re-cap of why you want to promote and why you would make a good captain, BC, DC, etc. It might sound something like this (of course you need to tailor this to fit YOU):
“I want to thank you for the opportunity to interview today and thank you for the time you have
committed to this process. My past years of experience coupled with my education and training have prepared me to be an effective leader as a _________ (captain, BC, DC, etc.). I love what I do and I look forward to using my passion, purpose, and leadership abilities to develop other effective leaders in our department. I would be honored to serve in the capacity of _________ (captain, BC, DC, etc.) as I help move this department towards its mission, vision, and goals.”