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4 questions you'll get in a firefighter job interview

When you make it to the panel interview, how you answer these types of questions will influence their hiring decision


Unless you've been interviewed by a panel of officers before, you're probably wondering what you will be asked. Chances are any question you receive can fall into one of four categories.

The first category is who questions. A question I can almost guarantee you will get at some point during your interview (usually at the beginning) is something to the effect of, "So ______, what can you tell us about yourself?"

Who are you?
Sure, they've run a criminal background check and have probably talked to your references; they know the basics. But what they really want to know is, in your words, what kind of person you are, what makes you tick, how do you spend your time, what have you achieved, and what are you proud of.

This is important information for them to know. After all, they may be inviting you to be a part of their family. They want to know as much information as they possibly can before they offer you the job.

When answering a who question, it's important to be honest. This is a prime opportunity to let them hear your story, your achievements and your beliefs. This is where you will be able to tell them some sort of unique and memorable story about yourself.

What do you know?
The next category is the ‘what’ questions. If you are a lateral hire or have experience in the fire service, don't be surprised if they ask you some scenario-based questions. This is your time to shine.

A word of caution: There's a good chance that there are people on that panel who have been fighting fires longer than you've been alive. You're not going to blow them away with your knowledge, so keep it simple and show them that you are an intelligent, competent firefighter.

If you're a new firefighter, the panel is going to ask you questions geared more towards a different set of knowledge. They're going to ask you questions to get at do you know the basic duties and functions of the job. What do you know about the particular city or district to which you are applying, and do you know the number one responsibility of the fire department?

Do your research on the city before the interview. It may not ruin your chances at getting hired, but if you are asked a basic question about the jurisdiction and you don't know, it certainly won't look good for you.

Why are you here?
The third category is the why questions. Don't get me wrong, being a career firefighter comes with a lot of perks — great pay, lots of time off, pension, benefits and the list goes on. However, if this is your only reason for wanting to get into the fire service, the interview is not the time to bring that up.

A lot of candidates email me asking if their reasons for getting into the fire service are "good enough." As long as your reasons aren't illegal, immoral or an attempt to hurt anyone or anything — don't let anyone tell you your reasons aren't good enough or aren't the right reasons. We all arrived to this profession for different reasons and on different paths, and your reasons are exclusively yours.

An easier way to approach why questions is to think about what in the fire service initially attracted you to it.

For some people it's the constant change of never knowing what's going to happen that day. For others it's a specific event or person in their life that affected them so much that from that point on they knew the fire service was for them.

For me, I had a background in soccer and played in the pros for a couple years. When I stopped, I realized what I missed the most wasn't necessarily the game, but the camaraderie of being part of a team. The fire service was the closest thing that I knew of that matched what I was looking for.

How would you react?
Then comes the dreaded situational or how questions. These typically present some kind of moral, safety or ethical dilemma that leaves you wondering exactly how to answer the question.

Yes, there is a right way to answer these questions, and yes if you don't answer them correctly it will reflect very poorly for you.

As with the what questions, if you don't have any actual fire service experience they probably won't be asking you questions directly involving fire tactics. However, they will want to know that you are able to think through situations in a logical way, and make the right decision in a given situation.

If a fellow firefighter does something illegal or immoral would you look the other way and cover for them, or would you report it to the appropriate authority? You will undoubtedly receive questions along these lines at some point during your interview.

If you would like more information on how to answer interview questions download our free cheat sheet. This includes sample questions and principles to remember when practicing your answers. 

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