Don't be a Clone Firefighter Candidate!

29 April 2020
Capt. Bob Smith

Don't be a Clone Firefighter Candidate!

It's not the interview questions that are the problem in an interview, it's the answers!  Unfortunately, many candidates become and give clone answers. And the bigger problem is they don't know it.  I hate to say it, but often they are cloned in fire colleges and academies.  Clone answers can doom your oral board.

One of our officers was on an oral board for a big city.  Several boards interviewed a total of 965 candidates. His board interviewed 350 candidates over 10 days.  Imagine you were this officer and it is the fifth day of interviewing.  You have just come back from lunch where the city has wined and dined you.  You're tired and you know you have another five days of interviews ahead of you.

The next candidate is called in. The first question you ask is, "What sparked your interest and why do you want to be a firefighter?"  He proceeds to give you the same clone answers you have heard from almost every candidate for five days.  Public service, helping people, not the same thing every day, blah blah blah.  The magic 32 seconds that you need to hook up with the oral board has passed and you didn't hook them into listening to your stuff.  You have just scored yourself.  Trust me.  You can see the glaze come over the board's eyes. It's like a deer caught in the headlights. They are gone and they won't come back.

It's not that you can't use clone answers.  You can.  But first you need to deliver a signature story about you.  Not a clone answer of anyone else.  I haven't met a candidate yet that couldn't come up with signature stories. Signature stories demonstrate experience.  They also tell that you not only know the answer to a question, you've lived it. Firefighters love firefighter stories.  If you open up with a signature story, you instantly separate yourself from the other clone candidates.  Stories show the oral board who you really are.  You capture the board and take them on a journey with a story they have never heard. Isn't this making sense?

The toughest thing for a candidate to do in an oral is being themselves on purpose.  When you are yourself, you become conversational because you are on your own turf.  This alone can lower the stress and butterflies. Everyone has butterflies.  The trick is to get them to all fly in the same formation.

An oral board member told me they had a candidate who didn't answer all the questions the way they wanted him to do, but he had such great personal life experience in his answers (stories) they hired him anyway.  This is human nature.  If we like you.  If you're our type of guy or gal, we will fill in the gaps with your short falls and make it happen for you.  Stories help bridge that gap. Clone answers and clone candidates don't have a chance here.

Many younger candidates don't think they have any personalized experience.  They don't think working at Burger King and similar jobs have any value.  Well, what did you learn at Burger King?  How to be responsible, work hard, customer service, teamwork?  Do these things have any parallel to the fire service?  You bet!  Now, you have the beginning for a story.

Stories are more than facts.  If you can create the excitement, emotion and magic of 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 and can demonstrate your experience.  Even if they're not fire related.

Some will say, "Captain Bob" how can you help so many candidates without making them clones?"  Good question.  Simple answer.  The real reason is nobody else can tell your story!  Nobody!  When you start lacing your answers with personalized experiences is where you start to shorten that gap between you and that infamous badge.

Example:  I was doing private coaching with a candidate.  He was telling a story about being a federal firefighter in Yellowstone when it burned up.  The story was not too exciting the way he was telling it. I had to stop and ask, "It sounds like you were trapped?"  They were.  Now he tells that story and the hair starts standing up on the back of your neck.  You're trapped with him.  You can see the embers dropping around you. Does this story make a difference?  Please say yes.

So the point here is not the question, but the answer.  Start establishing your personalized stories.  Use your tape recorder to practice.  Condense them down.  Don't go on an endless journey.  The board is not packed for the trip.  Tell the story.  Make the point.  Move onto the next question.

We would like to thank Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  More information on his programs can be found here.