Watch Out for the Free Advice

06 August 2023
Capt. Bob Smith

Watch Out for the Free Advice

Well, it finally happened; after all these years of hearing things firefighter candidates have said in interviews, that some expert has told them was the right thing to do, I hear it firsthand. I was sitting in the office of the fire station where I was working; the engineer’s son had a friend testing for our department and he wanted him to talk to our firefighter, the newest guy on.

I’m sitting there, and from the other room I hear him recommend that this guy tell the board that he wants to be a firefighter because the pay is good and there are lots of days off. Now I’m waiting for them to laugh and tell him they’re kidding. It doesn’t happen. The engineer has been on for 26 years and hasn’t had an interview for 19 years. The new guy was a lateral medic and didn’t have much of an entry interview. So, I can see how this poor guy can be thinking, he’s in a fire station for the department he’s testing for, and he’s got a guy with many years on, and a guy who was the last one hired. He must be getting the straight scoop. He was getting the exact opposite. He had signed up for the “How to Fail an Oral Board” class, and he didn’t know it.

As I walked into the room, I couldn’t let this go, the new guy was telling him that a good weakness to share with the board is that you’re a perfectionist. Now I’ve worked around perfectionists and it’s no walk in the park, they think they don’t do anything right, and neither do you.

The candidate was Hispanic, and I asked him if he spoke Spanish. He told me he spoke a little and could understand a little more. I asked him if that might not be his weakness, that while he spoke some Spanish, it needed improvement. He bought some language tapes on the way home from the station, so he could demonstrate he was doing something to fix the problem.

Now I find myself arguing with the new guy about what the best response is to why you want to be a firefighter. His theory was the board really wants to know why you want to be a firefighter. Trust me on this one, We Don’t Care if you like the hours, pay, and status the job will bring you. You need to tailor your responses to match what the board is looking for, not what you feel, save that for your girlfriend. But you can take those things that motivated you to become a firefighter, and make a beautiful response to this question, and then it’s your story.

I worked with this same guy, the expert new guy, again the other day. I mentioned to him that I thought his responses were about the worst I’d heard. He said, “Yeah, I’ve always been lousy at oral interviews.” I asked him why he was giving advice and he said, “Well, everyone keeps sending people to me because I’m the new guy, so I figured I’d try to help.” I told him he was, if anything hurting their chances, not helping, and he agreed.

Know this. There are people out there who know they’re bad but will still give you advice because you asked.