Book excerpt: 3 ways to prep for the firefighter interview

Repeat these three exercises as much as you need and as often as you can leading up to the interview

The following is a book excerpt from Mastering the Firefighter Interview, a practical guide to preparing for and passing the firefighter interview.

“What’s the best way to prepare for this interview?"

It’s a great question and one that I get all the time from candidates. I know of three ways that I’ve used that work really well, all for different reasons.

Before we get into specific techniques, I think it’s important to have an idea of how you’re going to answer specific types of questions. Now later in this book, we’ll get into the different questions you’ll be asked and what to include. In the meantime, grab a sheet of practice questions, and make notes or even an outline on what you want to say and include in your answer for each question.

It's important to have an idea of how you’re going to answer specific types of questions.
It's important to have an idea of how you’re going to answer specific types of questions. (Courtesy photo)

Number 1: Practice in the mirror.

Now I know that may sound strange, but this is a great exercise I and many others have used with great success.

The basic idea here is to grab a chair and sit directly in front of a mirror. A full length mirror is best, but if you don’t have one use the largest one you have.

Sit in front of the mirror with your practice sheet of questions, read them aloud and answer to yourself as if you were both the interviewer and the interviewee. Now I’ll warn you, at first this can be really awkward and you will feel ridiculous, but this exercise is important so you can watch your body language.

Like it or not, we’re all judged on our appearance and it is crucial that you get this right. Your body language says far more about you than the words that come out of your mouth.

It’s important to make sure your feet are flat on the floor and that you’re sitting up straight and look confident (even if you don’t feel confident). It’s also important that you’re certain you don't have any strange quirks or habits you didn’t realize. Watching yourself in a mirror as you answer will make these quirks and habits very apparent to you. Practice speaking without the quirks as often as possible so that when the interview comes you aren’t concentrating on them instead of the answer.

It’s also important that while you do this to time your answers. We’ll touch on that more a little later, but you want to try to keep your answers to no more than a couple minutes.

Number 2: Record yourself.

The only thing more uncomfortable than sitting alone in a room and talking to yourself in the mirror is doing that while recording yourself and listening to the recording.

I’m going to warn you ahead of time, you’re probably not going to like the sound of your own voice when it’s played back (I know I don’t), but try not to focus on it. Trust me, you don’t sound bad in real life.

What you want to focus on here is not just watching yourself in the mirror, but rather the words coming out of your mouth. You’ll be amazed how many filler words you use when you’re unsure of what to say.

The goal is to eliminate those filler words. These are the ‘uhh’, ‘umm’, ‘and uh’, ‘like’, ‘ya know’ or just plain old silence. These words are distracting and take away from what you are saying.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t use slang terms, and try your best to use proper grammar. You don’t have to be perfect but using the wrong words at the wrong time will not only take away from what you are trying to say, but it will make you sound uneducated.

Again, just like the last exercise try to keep the answers under two minutes, maximum.

Number 3: Do some mock interviews.

There are some out there that will tell you a mock interview must be done with someone that has experience as a firefighter on a hiring panel, that they’re the best person to do it, nobody else truly understands what a panel wants to hear except for them blah, blah, blah …

While it’s great and could be helpful to have someone with some fire experience conduct your mock interview it’s certainly not mandatory. After all, if you’re like me, I didn’t know anyone in the fire service before I got hired. It would have been really weird to ask a complete stranger to take some time out of their day to interview me.

The next best alternative to doing a mock interview is to find someone with some kind of hiring experience or knowledge.

For me, this was my mom. Before she retired, she managed a team of people that worked for her, and had a fair amount of experience in conducting interviews and looking for new candidates to hire.

Even though she had zero fire experience she knew what to look for in a qualified candidate, what raises red flags, and what would be an appropriate way to act during the interview.

Finally, if you don’t know anyone in the fire service and you don’t know anyone who has experience in conducting interviews ask a friend, relative, significant other or really anyone. The only prerequisite is that they take it serious.

Remember, this is all for your preparation. If they can’t be serious with you for 20-30 minutes to help you prepare, find someone else.

Now the key here to the mock interview is to take everything we learned and practiced in the first two exercises and put it all together. Proper posture, body language, smooth and concise answers, little to no filler words with each answer kept to no more than a couple minutes max. It is important for me to point out the need for you to look your interviewers in the eye, both while they are speaking and while you are answering. This practice indicates respect, professionalism and integrity.

The great part about the mock interview is that it now forces you to speak to another person and adds the element of having an audience. It’s even better if you know two or three people who will volunteer to interview you as would a panel. Just have them take turns asking you questions one at a time.

Repeat these three exercises as much as you need as often as you can leading up to the interview.

Also, make sure you familiarize yourself with some information pertaining to the city/district and department you are applying to. This can usually be found by doing a quick Google search. Good things to know would be:

1. Population
2. Size (square miles/kilometers)
3. Major landmarks
4. Major events
5. The mayor (and other significant city officials)
6. Local hospitals and medical control
7. Number of stations
8. Number of calls per year
9. Number of personnel on the department
10. Basic department capabilities

You don’t need to stress over this information, but at the very least be familiar with it.

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