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Stories Get Badges

Your success in a promotional assessment is all about presentation skills.

We encourage candidates in the assessment centers to lace their answers with personal life experiences.

A candidate’s life experience stories are unique, fresh and convincing — and can make all the difference.

Those who get positive results do so by putting simple techniques into action. They figured out how to maximize the points in their assessment centers and oral boards, and are now puffing their chests out with a new badge and taking home that raise that will go way into retirement.

They did it by lacing their answers to questions and segments of the assessment center with personal life signature stories that related to the topic to deliver the point.

Since scores are calculated in hundredths of points (82.15, 87.63, 90.87, etc), the goal is to keep building on a few hundredths of points here on this question, a few hundredths there on that answer with a signature story, and gaining a few more hundredths with their signature personalized life experience stories at the appropriate time.

The toughest thing for candidates to do in an oral is to be themselves. Your stories establish a natural bridge between you and the panel in segments of the assessment center. When you’re being yourself, you become conversational because you are on your own turf. This alone can lower the stress and the butterflies. Everyone has butterflies. The trick is to get all the butterflies to fly in the same formation, which can make all the difference.

The oral interview
According to retired Hayward, Calif., Battalion Chief Dennis O’Sullivan, “The oral interview gets you the job! This is where you putt for dollars. Understand one very important thing here. If I’m on your interview panel and you’re my kind of guy or gal, I will fill in some of the blanks to make up for your shortcomings. If you start off without establishing this natural bridge and being a know it all ass, I will never fill in any of your shortcomings. This is human nature.”

Stories can create this natural bridge because firefighters love firefighter stories. During the interview process, the raters are often doing a lot of writing. Time after time, candidates tell me when they start telling one of their signature stories, the raters will stop writing, look up, put down their pens and are taken on a journey with the story. This adds energy and builds candidate confidence.

Stories are more than facts. If you can recreate the excitement, emotion, the color and magic to relive the actual event, you will capture the interest and a top score on that question. A big part of getting this job is convincing the oral board that you can do the job before you get it. Stories are convincing evidence that can demonstrate your experience that you not only know the answer to a question, but you have already lived it!

One reason stories work effectively is because they go directly to the brain and entertain. They do not require the mental processing of more formal nonfiction writing. Stories have heart and ring true.

Collect illustrative stories from your career and life experiences as you’re collecting facts, quotations and other information for your signature stories.

Often you will be asked why you took the action you did. You can answer the question in a 1-2-3 approach. First, we have an SOP covering this issue. Two, this is why the SOP was established. Three, tell a story about how you have already experience this issue and how you handled it.

Practice those stories with a tape recorder. Condense them down to a couple of minutes or less. Don’t go on a journey — the oral board is not packed for the trip. You won’t have time and it’s not appropriate to use a signature story for every answer. Tell the story. Make the point. Move on. Once you answer an oral board with a signature story, you can marry the rest of your answer with those clone answers you have been using. Try it and see the amazing difference.

If in need of extra inspiration, our special report, “Conquer the Promotional Interview,” might spark a personal experience story you can use during your next test.

Start establishing your personalized stories. When you start lacing your answers with your personalized experiences, you start to shorten that gap between you and that infamous badge.

Remember, you can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.

Discuss this article at FireRescue1 Forums
Job interview expert ‘Captain Bob’ Smith presents ‘Conquer Promotional Interviews,’ a FireRescue1 exclusive column. Captain Bob shares his tips for passing oral boards, overcoming interview stress and getting promoted.