Lateral testing in the fire service

To succeed in making a lateral career move, be humble and have a plan

If you're applying for lateral position you have to go back to square one.

The biggest problem I've seen on oral boards when seasoned veterans take entry level or lateral tests is they can't place themselves in the position they are applying for: that of being a snotty nosed rookie. They try to hammer the oral board with their credentials thinking the board will just hand them the job. Their oral board skills are rusty and antiquated. It's hard for them to remember how it was to be a rookie.

There is a delicate balance here. Leave your time and rank in your locker. You must be humble, place yourself in the rookie position and build a natural bridge to present your education, experience and integrity to the oral board panel. Without this bridge, you're dead meat. This is not easy for many seasoned candidates. An attitude adjustment is needed. Attitude is a small thing that can make the big difference. Remember the position you're applying for a probie job.

The seasoned veteran candidate can roar past any of the other candidates if his attitude and game plan are in place.

Your goal in a lateral test is to convince the panel you're a good fit and match for their culture. They have to like you. You could be asked why you're leaving your current department. You don't want to bad mouth your current department. You can present that your current department has allowed you the education and experience so you can take this opportunity for the next step in your career.

Every job you've ever had you started at the bottom. You're planning on doing the same thing for this position. You have seen the things new rookies have done to fail. You know what not to do. You're coming over wanting to learn the job the right way.

The best oral board secret
The oral board gets you the job! Many applicants tell me they want this job so bad they will do almost anything ethically and morally to get it. Many are not using a simple tool that could tilt things in their favor.

A recent lateral candidate had such a monotone voice I asked if he knew? He said yea, but that's just my voice. I told him I didn't believe that for a second. What can I do about it? I've been testing where I can for four years, going to school and working as a federal firefighter.

In trying to get on his turf, I asked him during his coaching session what do you do with your time off? What are your interests, hobbies? What really rings your bell? Nothing seemed to work to break his monotone voice.

That was until a few days later I get a call from an energized candidate. I didn't recognize the voice. Yes, it was Mr. Monotone. He told me he didn't realize how bad it was until he listened to the recording of his coaching session. He said, "Man I sounded retarded. I can't believe how much stuff I left out. How many times I said 'Whatever' and other stupid pause fillers I didn't know I was using." The mystery of why this super- qualified candidate could not get hired was solved by him just listening to a recording of what the panel had been hearing for four years.

The real secret is that you need a hand held voice recorder that goes everywhere your car keys go to hear what the panel is going to hear coming out of your mouth.

Try this: Take 3X5 cards and write down your oral board questions. You can find our 30 Sample Oral Board Questions here. Practice your answers with a voice recorder. If you hear something you do not like when you play it back, turn over the 3X5 card and write it down. The next time you go after that question, turn over the card first and see what you don't want to say.
What Do I wear to a Lateral Interview?

Non-verbal statements
Understand you are applying for a snot-nose rookie position. You have no time or rank with the department you are testing for. So don't wear your military, volunteer, other department, dogcatcher or other uniform to your interview.

For some reason candidates have been convinced by themselves or others that wearing a uniform to their interview will some how separate them from the other candidates. It can but not in a way you were looking for. It often hits the panel that you are asking for more points.

The strongest non-verbal statement you can make to the oral board is what you wear. It is time to step up and make the investment. In the blink of an eye of those first few seconds referred to as the "Halo Effect", the panel is checking what you're wearing, eye contact, hand shake, choice of words, voice inflection and more.

Men: These are only suggestions. Do wear a wool suit in dark blue or gray. Pinstripes are fine, but avoid brown, black, or high fashion brightly colored suits. Black is a little too formal, more for dances, funerals and being a star in the movie Men in Black. If black is all you have, wear it.

Sport coats or blazers are out, so is polyester. Tie should be in a solid color such as navy, red, maroon, yellow stripe, or paisley print. Wear a white, off white, or pale blue long sleeved shirt in cotton or a cotton blend. Starch it no matter what the instructions say. No patterned shirts!

Don't wear casual or novelty watches, too much jewelry, monograms, religious, political, or fraternity affiliation accessories. Beards are out; mustaches are a gray area. When in doubt, shave it off. Don't wear cell phones or any other electronic leashes.

When my son was trying to become a firefighter I begged him to shave off his mustache. He said Dad this took me 26-years to grow and I'm not going to shave it off. He got hired. He got married and his wife made him shave it off. Go figure.

Women: Do wear a tailored business-like suit or dress with a jacket, not overly feminine. Choose suits in conservative solid colors such as gray, navy blue, black, beige, or camel with conservative hemlines. Natural fibers such as wool are your best bets.

Don't wear anything flamboyant, trendy, faddish, low-cut, too tight or short, or otherwise provocative. You are not trying to make a fashion statement, but trying to get a badge! No heavy perfume, ankle bracelet, stockings with patterns, lace, bold colors, or seams; sandals, very high heels, unusual colors, or casual styles. Ladies: hair up; no bangs falling into your eyes or face. Consider wearing a dress over slacks or a pantsuit.

Even though you're already a firefighter you will still have to go through every step in the hiring process. Backgrounds can be a sticky area. If there is a lateral test in your future you want to make sure you conduct your life as if you were still testing to get your first badge. One paramedic candidate was hired for his first job in Oregon. Now with his experience he was trying to come home to California where their families were. Although he had never smoked pot before he was hired, he had smoked the herb on a ski trip with his firefighter friends 3 years ago. That mistake cost him the position.

Many a lateral candidate has been DQ'd in background by their jealous neighbors and "friends" who see your expensive toys and days off. Oh, yea, we smoked pot together.

It's not uncommon for background investigators now to ask you what Internet web sites you have been on and the unsername and passwords. They will go in a check out what you have posted. A fire chief told me he had seen candidates who were in their last steps in their hiring process that were tanked by what they had posted on the Internet. Not pretty.

Many lateral candidates are concerned about taking tests and those agencies wanting to contact their current department. You can request that they not contact your current department only as the last step before a job offer.

Make sure you have a job offer in writing in your hot little hands before you leave your current department. If your department will let you take a leave of absence for up to a year, take it. If things don't turn out like you expected you have a home to go back to. One large department hired 19 laterals. Ten were let go in the academy. Wow! Imagine taking the job, being let go and there was nowhere to go.

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