Preparation is the Key
When you're immersed in preparing for the written portion of a promotional test, it's like you've fallen off the end of the earth.
After going through all the policy and procedure manuals in the job announcement, and purchasing books, IFSTA manuals and anything remotely related to the test, your family can't remember who you are.
But after investing all this time and money for the written test that can be weighted as only 40 percent of the total score, most candidates do little or nothing preparing for the remaining 60 percent in the interview process.
Many candidates think that if they have it figured out in their head and have written it down, it is going to come out of their mouth the same way. It doesn’t!
Some do mock orals with their buddies who either have never been on an oral board (everyone is an expert) or it has been so long that they are out of touch with the process. And, these buddies often can't bring themselves to tell you how bad you really are or point out mistakes.
Over the last 32 years, I have been coaching entry-level and promotional candidates, most of whom had great credentials. They had degrees, certificates, training, and experience. Yet, they couldn't present the package. And, if you can’t present the package, you simply don't get the badge.
These people are shocked that candidates with fewer credentials and less seniority or guys they call the "car salesman" type get the badge they believed had their name on.
But you need to understand there is only one person keeping you from getting that badge — you! Even golf pros take lessons. So, you need to take the time and effort that is required to get the badge for the job of your dreams.
This is a great time for promotional opportunities. Up to 40 percent of the positions in the fire service are promotable. It’s the quickest way for you to improve the economic situation for you and your family for the rest of your career and far into retirement years.
The interview portion of the promotional is the most important. It can be as simple as an oral interview, and include a fire problem or a full-blown assessment center. The assessment center can be made up, but not limited to a combination of an in-and-out basket, fire problem, oral board, a presentation to a panel or group, peer counseling, conflict resolution, leaderless group discussion, or writing an essay.
The oral interview is like fantasyland. It is not like the real world. Your answers in the oral board might not be what you would do in real life. Don't try to intellectualize and bring heavy logic to this process. If you do, someone who better understands the rules in fantasyland will get the badge.
You need to be able to identify projects that have your name attached to them. A good example of this is Kevin, a person who I coached several years ago on his entry-level testing before supporting him as he prepared for his first captain’s test.
Kevin's oral board asked him if there were any projects or programs that carried his name. He asked the board to turn to his résumé, which was several pages into his file. This was a great way to have the board take a first or second look at his résumé.
While they were all looking at his résumé, he pointed out how he had developed and implemented a knox-box colored-coded key system citywide. All keys for elevators were red, front-door keys were blue, etc. Kevin's name was on a program to place tape-measuring wheels on every engine to calculate hose lays for all apartments and commercial buildings. He continued with a high-rise pack, the implementing of a department speakers bureau, and a new program for ride-alongs. The board members were impressed.
The written test can account for 30-50 percent of the total weight of the test. Getting a solid written score can give you a strong position going into the assessment center, but isn’t the be all and end all.
Many of the suggested books for the promotion written test have study guides available, and many of the questions on the test will be word for word right out of these study guides.
I took a written test for captain. The top written score was 135, while I got a score of 112. I thought I had failed as I was in second place; the guy in the number one slot was a book-smart person. But we caught up with him in the rest of the assessment center because he didn’t have good presentation skills, and he ended up third.
The following are possible questions you might encounter in your promotional process:
- What have you done to prepare for or what do you think qualifies you for the position?
- What is your five-year plan?
- What are three of your strengths? What is one of your weaknesses?
- What projects can you attach your name to?
- How do you resolve conflict?
- How do you reduce stress?
- How would you handle a disgruntled employee?
- What is the job of an officer?
Be prepared for scenarios related to ethical issues; drinking, drugs, stealing, etc.
Other questions that could come up include:
- How would you handle a sexual or racial harassment situation?
- Why would we choose you over the other candidates? Can you deliver a five-10 minute oral resume?
- Are you up on those issues that are affecting your agency?
You should also work on your personal signature stories than can relate to possible questions. Try to come up with personal accounts that relate to questions such as:
- What does customer service mean to you?
- What does cultural diversity mean to you?
- How do you administer discipline?
On your current one-page resume, make sure to include any acting time. And, practice, practice, practice your answers with a tape recorder! Remember, don't go on a journey with your answers; be concise but brief.
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