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Firefighter Applicants - Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some commonly asked questions  that fire applicants have about the testing process.  The top entry-level  authors in the country (Capt Bob Smith, Steve Prziborowski, & Brent Collins  from Don McNea Fire School) have offered their insight to keep you motivated  through every step in the hiring process.  Click on any of the links below  to find out what advice our entry level experts have for you to give you that  ultimate edge over your competition.

Good luck !!!!

 

TOPICS

 

    41. Oral Board Skills:  Are you prepared?

I've been on over 100 oral boards. Believe me too many candidates fall short. They think they can wing it. They have firefighter friends that have given them mock orals. Their friends can't bring them selves to tell them how bad they are. You know other candidates who have all the answers. If they had all the answers, they would already have the badge in a city that paid well.

I know you have been number 3 in Seattle, in the top 5 at Ontario, made the cut on the CPS test, waiting for the next call from LA City, and tested in Portland, Chicago, Stockton, Dade County and passed the tough physical agility test in Phoenix to go onto the oral. If you're a medic, you had the advantage of taking more tests.

You have every degree, certificate and merit badge you can get. A volunteer, paramedic, education, and great experience. But you're still the brides maid. You don't have the badge. The guy you thought was the village idiot went through our program and has his chest all puffed out with a badge.

NO! You're probably not ready. You've been driving and flying all over the country collecting frequent flyer miles, putting careers on hold, ruining relationships, running out of money and hope, and haven't figured out that with all your education and experience . . . the rubber meets the road in the oral board. If you can't pass the Job Interview, You don't get the Job! This is where you putt for dollars. Even golf pros take lessons.

Haven't you been beat up enough yet? We would you like to work with you to turn things around? It's been said that when the student is ready to learn, the teacher appears. Are you at this point now? In the articles to follow, we want to help you shortened the learning curve to the closest point between you and the badge.

Ready? OK, here we go. Keep you hands and feet in side the ride at all times:

What are you actually doing going to an oral board? If you answered: selling yourself, making a good impression, and, yes, don't forget to ask for the job are good. But, what you're really doing is auditioning for the part to be a firefighter, engineer, inspector or officer. Just like the part in a play. Do you know your lines? Do you know your part? If you went down to a local college to audition for a part in the community play, you have to know your part and lines wouldn't you? Right? It's the same thing in an oral board. You have to know what you're going to say before you sit in the chair.

Does a Broadway play start on Broadway? Of course not. It starts in Iowa, Miami or Connecticut. They take it on the road to try it out, work out the script, refine and polish it up. If they create enough interest, sell enough tickets and get great reviews from the critics, they make it to the bright lights of Broadway. It's the same in getting ready for your oral boards. You have to take this puppy on the road to get ready for your oral boards. You have to get your script down. A script about you, not a clone of someone else. Then, you practice, practice, practice. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse until it becomes second nature to you. Once you do this it will be in your subconscious. That's where the magic takes place.

Some will say this will be "canned". No, it sure will be planned though. Success is where preparation meets opportunity. The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Here's how it works:

Dear Captain Bob, My name is Jason and I want to take this time to say, THANK YOU! I recently tested for the City of Denver. The written test was the first step in the process and over 2,100 people showed for the test. As I waited outside the building, I thought to myself, "Do I really have a chance at getting a job here. I have worked in the fire service for the past eight years (7 years as a military firefighter and 1 as a paid in NM).

This was going to be a challenge for myself. I received the results for the written and I passed. Come to find out 1,400 people failed that test. They took 757 people to the oral boards. I didn't fare so well in Colorado Springs oral boards last year. I ranked something like 173 out of 250. That's when I contacted you for advice. After being in the fire service for eight years, I thought I knew everything needed to be hired. Something went wrong and I wanted to know what it was. As you took the time to speak to me you noticed a few things wrong right off the bat. You pointed them out and I never even knew they existed.

I ordered your audio/video tapes right after our conversation. I studied them in and out, used a tape recorder, and practiced, practiced, practiced! I found out quickly what I didn't know. I went to the oral boards prepared. I as I walked in they stated 757 people were going through the boards. I tried to remain positive and just present my package. I was in and out of the interview shortly. I walked to the car and my wife asked how it went. I said, good but I'll find out in two weeks.

Yesterday, I went to the post office to get my mail and there was the letter from the City of Denver. I was too nervous to open it. Finally I decided it was time, my rank was 14th out of 757. I couldn't believe it 14th. WOW my total score on the board was 100.0000%. I ACED IT!!!!!! I immediately called my wife at work with the good news. She cried. So I want to say THANK YOU CAPT. BOB

    42. Should I use a tape recorder?

I received a call this morning from one of my candidates. He has made it to a few oral boards and one chief's oral without success.  In just a few moments I was aware of something critical. Then I asked him if he were using a tape recorder to practice? Like most people, he hemmed and hawed and finally said, "Well, no. But, I'm thinking about it."

Even though he bought the audio/video tape program that hammers and hammers the point home that you have to use a tape recorder and hear how you sound. He still didn't get the message. His answers were garbage. I don't get it. You folks want this job so bad you say you will do almost anything ethically and morally to get it. I guess that doesn't include using a tape recorder to get your timing, inflection, volume, where to cut out material, and find out if you really sound like Donald Duck. You need to get married to your hand-held tape recorder. You need to hear what the oral board is going to hear from you. It's the closest distance between you and the badge you're looking for!

This is usually a guy thing. Guys think about their answers in their head and write them down. Then they think their answers are going to come out of their mouths like magic in the oral. Trust me, after being on over 100 oral boards, they don't!

Let me tell you how critical this really is. If you're not using a tape recorder to practice, practice, practice, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and over learn your material until it becomes second nature to you, YOU MIGHT AS WELL NOT SHOW UP FOR THE INTERVIEW. YOU ARE WASTING THE ORAL BOARDS AND YOUR TIME! Seek out another career. Understand you still have to interview there too. The above San Diego candidate has already lost some great opportunities. Had he been faithfully using a tape recorder to prepare for his oral boards, he probably could have had a badge already.

Some will say, "Well, if I practice it too much it will sound canned." NO it won't! It sure will be planned though. Practice makes permanent. "Luck is where preparation meeting opportunity." One practice session with a tape recorder is worth 10 speaking out louds. After practicing, you will get to a point where your answers will get into your subconscious. That's where the magic begins. You can't be fooled.

Everyone has butterflies in an oral board. The trick is getting all the butterfly's to fly in the same formation that can make the difference. Practicing will remove up to 75% of the butterflies. You want the other 25% to carry you through the interview.

Be advised that your competition knows the value of using a tape recorder. They are catapulting past you if you're not using one too.

    43. What are the 5 nuggets for successful job interviews?

Simple Tools to Uncomplicate the Process

    1. The job interview is like auditioning for a play.  Do you meet the minimum requirements?  You must know your lines for the part.

    2. To learn your part, make an outline why you want this position, what you have done to prepare, why do you want to work for this agency, etc.  It must be about you; not a clone of someone else.

    3. The outline will become your script to audition for the part. Practice, rehearse, and over learn the part with a tape recorder until it becomes second nature to you.  This will help prevent stage fright.

    4. With tremendous enthusiasm, use your new role to capture the first 32 seconds of your audition.  This creates its own energy.  Use the six steps in answering the questions.

    5. Don't reiterate in your closing.  Use only the key points not already covered in your script.  Without being boring, tell the interviewers how you really want the job and with your qualifications hope to be considered for the position.  Make a cordial ending.  Then, shut up and get out the building.

     

    44. What are the 6 steps in answering an oral board question?

You should have a script that you have rehearsed with a tape recorder of anticipated questions by the time of your oral board. At the interview use these six simple steps in answering an oral board question:

1.  Actively listen to the entire question. I have seen candidates stop listening when they think they already have the answer. They don't. Listen!

2.  Make sure you understand the question. If not, have the question repeated or rephrased.

3.  Pause and gather your thoughts. It might seem like an eternity, but pausing is an acceptable tactic to show interviewers you are paying attention. During the pause, you can figure out the root of what they are asking.

4.  Ask the question or make the statement to clarify the question. The question might be, "You see your partner pick up something at an emergency scene, what are you going to do?" Taking the question down to its basic form, what is the issue? Stealing. Then, formulate a simple answer. For example, you might say, "I would ask, 'Is that yours?'" The board is going to tell you that he is taking it, but you already scored the points. After asking the question, you determine your partner is stealing, then what do you do? Since stealing is an ethical issue and he won't put it back, you might say, "Why don't we go the our supervisor?" Why? Stealing is against the law.

5.  KISS. Keep it simple sweetie. Don't start a soap opera. Most candidates complicate the process. They intellectualize their answers, run past the question, decide an answer before hearing the entire question and fail to understand the process.

When my son, Rob, was interviewing for his entry-level position for a large department, he was asked, "You have just finished your interview and go outside and find a man down on the sidewalk. What would you do?" He answered, "I would go up and say, 'Buddy, are you all right?'" The raters threw Pens and Pencils in the air and said, "Someone finally got the answer right. For three days, job candidates were saying things like "Activate the 9-1-1 system" and "I know CPR."

6.  Deliver the Nugget answer with enthusiasm! Your personalized Nugget answer will set you apart from the clones.

A word to women. You have the advantage of bringing more feelings and emotions to your answers at an interview. Be careful can't be like a conversation with your girl friend. You have about 20 minutes to give complete but concise answers. though. I've had women at interviews start talking and it was like going on a journey. There seemed to be no final destination. Most men on the panel were not packed for the trip.

Subject: Another success story

Dear Captain Bob,

I am writing to thank you again for your Oral Interview Program. I sent you an e-mail after my first interview outlining how much your program had improved my presentation. At that time, I mentioned that decisions were not expected until July. To my surprise, 8 days later I received a call from personnel.  Could I attend a chief's oral next week!! I was 1 of 30 to be called in for 23 jobs.(The first interviews involved 900 candidates). My first thoughts were "stay on that winning pony".  After the chief's oral, the good news kept coming. I got the call 2 days later with a conditional offer of employment! The background and medicals were done the following week.  My most recent phone call came yesterday. I heard the words I have been working towards for six years- Congratulations, you have been accepted as a probationary fire fighter!!  Uniform and equipment sizing is set for Saturday, can you attend?  I can't stress enough how much your program helped me. I will be sure to recommend you to anyone I can.

Thanks again!
Brian

    45. What do I wear to a job interview?

I had a candidate tell me he went to an interview wearing a tie, suspenders and no jacket. I asked him, "Who did you think you are, Larry King?" I asked him if they called him back for a chief's interview? No. The defense rests. McFly?

The strongest non-verbal statement you can make in the oral board is what you wear. It is time to step up and make the investment.

Men: Do wear a wool suit in dark blue or gray. Pinstripes are fine, but avoid brown, black, or high fashion brightly colored suits. Sport coats or blazers are out, so is polyester. Tie should be in a solid color such as navy, red, maroon, or yellow stripe, or paisley print. Wear a white or off white, or pale blue long sleeved shirt in cotton or a cotton blend. Starch it no matter what the instructions say. No patterned shirts!

Don't: wear casual or novelty watches, too much jewelry, monograms, religious, political, or fraternity affiliation accessories. Beards are out; mustaches are a gray area. When in doubt, shave it off.

Women: Do wear a tailored business-like suit or dress with a jacket not overly feminine. Choose suits in conservative solid colors such as gray, navy blue, black, beige, or camel with conservative hemlines. Natural fibers, such as wool or linen, are your best bets; most synthetic blends, not matter how attractive, give off a whiff of the bargain basement.

Always wear stockings in natural shades. Avoid dark colors with light colored shoes. Always carry a spare pair.

Don't: Wear anything flamboyant, trendy, faddish, low-cut, too tight or short, or otherwise provocative. You are not trying to make a fashion statement, but trying to get a badge! No heavy perfume, ankle bracelet, stockings with patterns, lace, bold colors, or seams; sandals, very high heels, unusual colors, or casual styles. Ladies: hair up; no bangs falling into your eyes or face.

Don't ever wear slacks, even pantsuits. I had a female who was a paramedic who had been trying for 5 years to get on the fire department. She just missed the cut at Contra Costa County. She was tired of being the bridesmaid. I asked her what she was going to wear.

She said she always wore a pants suit. I convinced her it was time to step up and make the investment. She showed up for coaching in a $650.00 tailored (Killer) wool suit.

I showed her in 10 minutes on the video the mistakes she was making in her presentations.

She called me two weeks later on her birthday, that she had received her notice that she nailed that job in Oakland. She now has the job of her dreams.

I've been coaching firefighter candidates for over 28years. You may have great credentials, but if you can't pass the job interview, you don't get the job.

    46. Stories make the point

Events like Detroit's Devils Night can be a great example how to use your personal life experiences in answering questions in an oral board. Although the following is from a promotional interview, it might spark a personal experience story you can use in your next oral.

Steve was going for his third engineer's test. Even though he had the knowledge and acting time experience, he hadn't made it high enough on the previous lists to get the badge. When asked questions, he would just give the standard technical answers. Everything changed when he stated caboosing signature stories as part of his answers.

Steve was a firefighter in Arizona. He had also been a firefighter in Detroit. You've heard of Devil's Night during Halloween? Steve had worked many a Devil's Night attacking a fire, picking up and moving to another fire. I asked him if he had ever used these stories in his answers during testing. He said, "No." I marvel why candidates have these great "Nugget" treasure stories that no one has ever heard. These stories can demonstrate their experience and they don't use them.

During his next engineers test, Steve was asked if he were fighting a fire and was given an order to pick up and move, how would he do it? He told the panel how he would do it technically and then took the panel on a Detroit Devil's Night recreating the magic, excitement of the actual events when he had to pick up and move all night. Steve couldn't believe the difference in his testing score. Firefighter's love firefighter stories. He was confident and conversational because he was on his own turf. His signature stories. His own experiences. Oh, by the way, Steve got the badge this time!

 

    47. Miracle oral board tool

Everyone has butterflies in an oral board. The trick is getting all the butterfly's to fly in the same formation. Practicing will remove up to 75% of the butterflies. You want the other 25% to carry you through the interview.

What tools can you use to practice and rehearse your oral board answers? Right, a video camera. You need to see how you look in action. But you are trapped with a video camera. Mirror? Sure standing in front of a mirror is good. But you are missing the most valuable tool of all. A hand held tape recorder.

I received a call from one of our candidates. He has made it to a few oral boards and one chiefs oral without success. He has been invited to the San Diego oral board and wanted to set up a private coaching session. In just a few moments I was aware of something critical. Then I asked him if he was using a tape recorder to practice? Like most people (99.7%), he himmed and hawwwed and finally said, "Well, no. But, I'm thinking about it."

Even though he bought our Entry Level audio/video tape program that hammers and hammers the point home that you have to use a tape recorder and hear how you sound. He still didn't get the message. His answers were garbage. Many applicants want this job so bad they will do almost anything ethically and morally to get it. I guess that doesn't include using a tape recorder to get your timing, inflection, volume, where to cut out material, get rid of the an's uh's and other pause fillers. Or to find out if you really sound like Donald Duck. You need to get married to your hand-held tape recorder. You need to hear what the oral board is going to hear out of your mouth. It's the closest distance between you and the badge you're looking for!

What is the first thing a candidate says when he hears his voice on a tape recorder? Yep. That's not me. Yes it is McFly. You need to get married to a hand held tape recorder and practice with it everywhere you go.

This is usually a guy thing. Guys think about their answers in their head and write them down. Then they think their answers are going to come out of their mouths like magic in the oral. Trust me, after being on over 100 oral boards, they don't! The brain and the mouth don't work that way.

Try this. Take some 3X5 cards and write down your oral board questions. Practice your answer with the tape recorder. If you hear something you do not like when you play it back, turn over the 3X5 card and write it down. The next time you go after that question, turn over the card first and see what you don't want to say.

Let me tell you how critical this really is. If you're not using a tape recorder to practice, practice, practice, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and over learn your material until it becomes second nature to you, YOU MIGHT AS WELL NOT SHOW UP FOR THE INTERVIEW. YOU ARE WASTING THE ORAL BOARDS AND YOUR TIME! Seek out another career. Understand you still have to interview there too. The above San Diego candidate has already lost some great opportunities. Had he been faithfully using a tape recorder to prepare for his oral boards, he probably could have had a badge already.

Some will say, "Well, if I practice it too much it will sound canned." NO it won't! It sure will be planned though. Practice makes permanent. "Luck is where preparation meeting opportunity." One practice session with a tape recorder is worth 10 speaking out louds. After practicing, you will get to a point where your answers will get into your subconscious. That's where the magic begins. You can't be fooled.

We think practicing with a tape recorder is so important; we will not do private coaching with a candidate if they aren't using one. It is a waste of our time and their money.

 

    48. What can I expect in the final interview?

 

I am scheduled for my final interview with the board of chiefs next week!

I'm not sure what to expect...my buddy on the job there says I shouldn't worry...I will do fine. Still, can't help to have a little anxiety! Don't know what they'll ask me and all that...

I will know for sure if I have the job after this interview, and could start the academy as soon as the 1st of August!

Any last minute words of advice??

Helpful insight

Even though this is for all of the marbles, don't panic now!

Questions: I am very excited, and very nervous at the same time. You see I just got the phone call for a Chief's oral. Just when I was starting to get familiar with the regular oral interview, it is now time to learn something new! They only gave me a day to prepare. Do you have any pieces of information that might help me? Will the structure be the same?

Should I be studying anything? The city? The organization? IFSTA? Or is this more of a get to know you type of interview? To see how you will fit in. Any advice you might have will help. Thanks for your efforts in helping make people's dreams come true! — Jeff

Many candidates start to panic when they are notified that they are going to a chief's oral. They think they have to reinvent themselves. Reinvent the wheel. WHOOAA! Understand what got you there. You are only going to the Chief's Oral because of the great stuff you already used in the first oral. You're riding the winning pony. Don't switch ponies. You're coming around the club house turn, you shoot out from the back of the pack, go to the whip, you're on the winning pony, you're friends and family are on their feet in the stands cheering you on and you ride her home for the badge.

Too many candidates switch ponies because "They said". I've never been able to find out who "They" are. If you do not continue to use the good stuff that got you this far, you could drop out of the race. This is a new arena. Candidates who are going to the chief's interview start talking to their friends. They convince them that they need to do something more. By the time of the interview, they're a wreck. It's not them going into the interview. A clone of someone else. The badges are often given to other candidates.

The chief's interview is open to any type of questioning. They are really trying to find out more about you. How you're going to be as a firefighter for the next 25+ years. Do you fit their culture? We like to hire candidates that are themselves on purpose in the interview. Someone who has a personality and is conversational. Are you that person in an interview?

Stan was going to our departments Chief's Oral. He made an appointment to come by our station. While there, he asked what more he could do to make it over the top. I told him he was riding the winning pony and not to switch during the home stretch. Three months later I was down at the training center where they were training new recruits. I saw a familiar face. I said, "Stan is that you?" He said, "Yes, I rode that winning pony all the way in!"

Saddle up and ride to glory.

 

    49. Buttoned

 Captain Bob,

I have a question in regards to the interview.  I am currently getting ready to graduate the Fire Academy on January 18, 2003.  The Academy is conducting mock interviews for the Cadets.  I was wondering going into the interview with a suit on, do I unbutton the jacket, leave the jacket buttoned, or remove the jacket and place it on the back of the chair?

I would appreciate it.

Reply:

Good question.  Never, ever take your jacket off, even if it is 120 degrees and the panel has theirs off. You are not Larry King.  How do you normally wear your jacket buttoned or not?  Do it that way.  You could go in with it buttoned and then unbutton your jacket after hand shakes but before you sit down.  But, you might forget in the excitement of the moment.  So, go in the way you would feel most comfortable.

This from Tom:

A while back, I had a hand crew test where the interviews were held within minutes after completion of the agility. The agency expected dripping wet and smelly candidates. I took along my suit and a few towels and I found a hose bib and washed up as best I could.

I put my suit on and went into my interview. As it turned out, the interview panel was most surprised that someone would wear a suit for a hand crew job. Needless to say, I got the job offer!

From time to time, I take classes held at various fire agencies. When those agencies are holding interviews and I am there taking a class, during breaks, I still see numerous candidates showing up in Levis, Dockers and shirts with no ties. No point in shooting yourself in the foot!  The moral of the story is ALWAYS wear a suit! Wear a suit for any interview, no matter what the title of the position, unless you have been instructed otherwise. Best wishes.

Then this from Tofu:

There's nothing quite like the look on a candidate's face when he enters the "holding pen" room where everyone waits to be called for their turn to interview, and realizes that he's the only one not wearing a suit.

Don't be that guy.

From Wingnut:

LOL!!  I was "that guy"!!  

I prepared so hard for my interview that I totally forgot to ask people what to wear.  I just assumed slacks and a dress shirt would work.  Wearing a suit never even crossed my mind!

Turns out, I was the only one in the waiting room not wearing a suit!!  Everyone else was so GQ that I felt like I was sitting in a room full of investment bankers.  I could tell everyone was looking at me like there was one less candidate to give them competition.  

To make matters worse, my interview was rocky, and one of the captains proceeded to grill me relentlessly, and guffawed at all my responses.    In the following two weeks I was convinced I failed.  But I got the call in the end!  I start soon.

I wouldn't recommend that to anyone.  It was definitely a psychological disadvantage to walk into a room full of slick candidates and then have to walk into the interview with an air of confidence.  It was even worse waiting for the results thinking that I blew it by not wearing a coat and tie.  

Reply from Captain Bob:

Candidates will tell me that I don't have a suit or the money to by a nice suit for my oral board.  My advice - rent one and look and feel like the professional you want to be.

From Anna:

Captain Bob,

You say women should wear a business suit, but not a pantsuit to their oral interviews. What's the difference? During some coaching for interviews with a very 'oral board successful' Captain friend of mine, I was told to never wear a dress to an interview because it makes women appear too feminine. So, I have always worn a black pantsuit to my interviews and people have always said that I have looked very professional. Is it hurting me? Thanks for your help!  Anita

Reply:

It's your choice, but I believe it's hurting you.  You want to use everything to your advantage.  When a women walks into an oral board wearing a smart business looking dress, it changes the dimension of the interview; trust me.

Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page. Good luck!!

50. 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 first hand. I was sitting in the office of the fire station were 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.

 

    51. What do I wear to the polygraph?
     

Tom had a hand crew test where the interviews were held within minutes after completion of the agility. The agency expected dripping wet and smelly candidates to interview. He took along a suit and a few towels and found a hose bib and washed up as best he could.

Tom put his suit on and went into the interview. As it turned out, the interview panel was surprised that someone would wear a suit for a hand crew job. Needless to say, he got the job offer!

Tom said, "From time to time, I take classes held at various fire agencies. When those agencies are holding interviews and I am taking a class, during breaks, I still see numerous candidates showing up in Levis, Dockers and shirts with no ties. No point in shooting yourself in the foot! The moral of the story is ALWAYS wear a suit!

Wear a suit for any interview, no matter what the title of the position, unless you have been instructed otherwise."

There's nothing quite like the look on a candidate's face when he enters the "holding pen" room where everyone waits to be called for their turn to interview, and realizes that he's the only one not wearing a suit.

Don't be that guy.

I was "that guy"!! I prepared so hard for my interview that I totally forgot to ask people what to wear. I just assumed slacks and a dress shirt would work. Wearing a suit never even crossed my mind!  Turns out, I was the only one in the waiting room not wearing a suit!! Everyone else was so GQ that I felt like I was sitting in a room full of investment bankers. I could tell everyone was looking at me like there was one less candidate to give him or her competition.

To make matters worse, my interview was rocky, and one of the captains proceeded to grill me relentlessly, and guffawed at all my responses. In the following two weeks I was convinced I failed. But I got the call in the end! I start soon.

I wouldn't recommend that to anyone. It was definitely a psychological disadvantage to walk into a room full of slick candidates and then have to walk into the interview with an air of confidence. It was even worse waiting for the results thinking that I blew it by not wearing a coat and tie.

Reply: Candidates will tell me that I don't have a suit or the money to by a nice suit for my oral board. My advice. Rent one and look and feel like the professional you want to be.

 "Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge , and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page. Good luck!!

Do not, repeat, DO NOT go to your polygraph without first getting the program from www.polygraph.com.

This program covers both poly and VSA.

 

 

    52. My Polygraph results were inconclusive

 

Inconclusive Results

Often candidates are eliminated through the poly with inconclusive results. Not that you failed, but it's the same as you did. Why is that? You didn't fail and you didn't pass? Your results were inconclusive. You still don't go forward in the hiring process. I think the problem again is candidates need to prepare for the poly the same as with any segment of the hiring process.

Randy had the same problem. He took the poly and the evaluator eliminated him with inconclusive results based on his use of pot within the last five years. He swore he had not. Yea, right you say, but that's his story.

So, Randy jumps on the Internet and found
www.polygraph.com and www.passapolygraph.com He educated himself on what to expect. He took a poly for another agency and passes with flying colors even that inconclusive area about pot. He's been a great firefighter and just got promoted to engineer.

 

Do not, repeat, DO NOT go to your polygraph without first getting the program from www.polygraph.com.

This program covers both poly and VSA.

 

    53. What do I do next after failing the polygraph test??

 

The first time I ever had contact and talked to Scott was 45 minutes after he got the call that he had failed his poly.  Needless to say he was devastated.  When I asked him what he had done to prepare for his polygraph he said he used the free information from some of the "experts" on this forum.  Using those guidelines he said he went in and spilled his guts, just like going to confession.

Just a few minutes into our conversation he realized that he had become too familiar with the evaluator, got chatty, volunteered too much beyond what was requested, was really nervous but thought everything was going just great.

Scott wrote:
The next test I take, I assure you, I will be better prepared.

I believe Scott is only referring to understanding the process better.  I'm a firm believer in preparing for every step in the hiring process before you get there.

According to Doug Williamson a 35-year veteran polygraph evaluator from
www.polygraph.com "It is a very serious mistake to believe that you will pass your polygraph or CVSA tests just because you are telling the truth - they are not "lie detectors".  Scientific research proves that simple nervousness will cause a truthful person to fail!"

I talked to Scott after he checked out polygraph.com.  He realized he had not been as prepared as he could have been before his polygraph.  If he had it to do over again he would have been better prepare in understanding the process before his evaluation and could have had a better opportunity of passing without compromising his truthfulness as others are referring to here.

Being prepared for every step of the hiring process before you show up will place you in a better position to end up wearing a badge than being caught flat footed wondering what happened when the career you have been intensely pursuing evaporates before you eyes.

 

I recently had a polygraph and it was the most stressful three hours I've had in a long time. I took Captain Bob's advice and learned about the polygraph and the process to be better prepared. We as candidates prepare for written, physical agility tests and interviews and making it to this stage of the hiring process is the exception. Why would a person not want to be as prepared as possible? I found the information I learned to be extremely beneficial and I was more at ease during the test than I would have been if I wasn't educated on the polygraph. I also feel that the person who administers the test has a lot to do with the results. I was lucky and had a competent operator. I would recommend to any candidate to learn as much as they could about the polygraph.
 

"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page. Good luck!!

 

Do not, repeat, DO NOT go to your polygraph without first getting the program from www.polygraph.com.

This program covers both poly and VSA.

 

    54. Are Polygraph Tests Lying to Us?

This article is from the Baltimore Sun. It should give you an insight to the polygraph dilemma:

Tests: Mixed reading of Lee's nuclear secret data, federal employee opposition to taking lie detectors 'reignite'
80-year-old controversy.

When physicist Wen Ho Lee first denied leaking U.S. nuclear secrets to the Chinese, authorities from
the Department of Energy in 1998 wired him to a polygraph to see if he was lying.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist passed.

But when a polygraph expert from the FBI looked at the same test results later, he concluded that Lee had not told the truth.

How could the same lie detector test lead investigators to exactly opposite conclusions?

The case of Lee, who eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of mishandling classified information, has left law enforcement experts trying to answer the same fundamental questions that have existed since the invention of the lie detector 80 years ago: Does the polygraph actually work? And is it fair?

"It's reignited this smoldering controversy," says Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. In an essay being published today in the journal Science, Aftergood argues that a new federal policy requiring nearly 20,000 employees of the national nuclear weapons laboratories to take lie detector tests is having undesirable effects.

The policy has lowered morale, Aftergood writes, and caused some of the nation's most gifted scientists to leave, and made it harder for the labs to recruit talented young researchers for the weapons programs. The use of the polygraph, he writes, "symbolizes the defeat of reason by the national security state."

Despite such criticisms, the use of the polygraph test is on the rise.

Congress banned private industry's use of lie detectors as a condition of employment in 1988, but they are routinely used for employee screening at the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and local police departments around the country. The percentage of law enforcement agencies using polygraphs for this purpose rose from 16 percent in 1962 to 62 percent in 1999, according to a survey by Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice.

There's also a growing market for polygraphs outside law enforcement. The American Polygraph Association, the largest polygraph accrediting and licensing organization in the country, reports that its membership has risen past 2,000 and is continuing to grow.

Private polygraph examiners handle everything from fishing tournaments to divorce cases. Winners of the annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, N.C., for example, must submit to a polygraph before collecting any prize money (to make sure they haven't stuffed rocks in the gut of their prize catch).

Lie detectors aren't designed to detect lies as much as the subtle physical changes that may occur when a person tells a lie. The word "polygraph" means "many writings," and that is what the polygraph machine produces: lots of squiggly lines on a scrolling piece of paper.

The test works like this: A subject is seated in a chair. Two rubber belts are wrapped around his chest and stomach to measure breathing patterns. A blood pressure cuff is wrapped around an arm. A metal plate attached to the fingers measures sweat gland activity.

The polygraph examiner then asks the person a series of questions. Some of the queries are "control" questions
unrelated to the matter under investigation but establish a base line of the person's blood pressure, respiration and perspiration. Other questions directly address the actions under scrutiny.

The examiner interprets the person's physiological response to each of the questions, as recorded on scrolling paper, to judge whether the person is lying. And thus the uncertainty about polygraph results: they are a matter of judgment.  "There's no red light or siren that comes on when the person lies," says Milton O. "Skip" Webb Jr., president of the American Polygraph Association.

The roots of the modern lie detector stretch back to antiquity. Like modern methods, early techniques to ferret
out lies often relied on the behavior exhibited by liars - sweaty palms, dry mouth, shifting gaze, racing pulse.

In China, for example, suspected liars were fed a handful of dry rice. If they could spit it out, the thinking went, they were telling the truth. If the rice stuck to their tongue, they must have something to hide.

The modern quest to detect liars using technology began with Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist who in
1895 published a book called "The Criminal Man" in which he described his efforts using an early instrument to
measure changes in blood pressure to determine whether several criminal suspects had lied.

In 1915, Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston picked up on these early studies and devised a primitive lie detector based on blood pressure. According to psychologist and polygraph historian David Lykken, it was Marston, a colorful P.T. Barnum-like character, who was among the first to realize the lie detector's commercial possibilities.

In 1938, Look magazine described how Marston sometimes used his lie detection techniques in marital counseling. He also showed up in full-page ads testifying to the close shave offered by Gillette razors: "New Facts about Shaving Revealed by Lie Detector!" (Using the pen name "Charles Moulton," Marston would also invent the comic strip character Wonder Woman, whose magic lasso could force those held to tell the truth. )

But John A. Larson, a Berkeley, Calif., police officer, is the person generally credited with inventing the modern polygraph machine. In 1921, Larson, who eventually became a doctor, devised an instrument that could
simultaneously record blood pressure, pulse and respiration. Later tinkerers improved upon Larson's design
by adding sensors to measure perspiration.

Over the years scientists have tried to determine whether the polygraph actually works. But accurate studies are hard to do. "The science is not solid," says Aftergood, in part because investigators can rarely learn independently whether a subject who passed a polygraph test was indeed telling the truth.

In some studies, volunteers are recruited to be pretend criminals and then subjected to a lie detector test. But the
results of such work, critics argue, don't mimic reality. "It's impossible to make the stakes as high in an experiment as they are in real life," says Aftergood.

Still, proponents of the polygraph argue the device is accurate in better than 90 percent of cases, and note that it's not uncommon for other types of test results to be open to interpretation.

"Your doctor can have you take a chest X-ray and say, 'I don't see anything.' Then he sends it over to a radiologist and the radiologist finds something the first doctor doesn't see," says Webb. "Happens all the time."

But enough guilty people have slipped past the polygraph to have given law enforcement officials pause. Most federal and state courts do not allow polygraph results to be entered as evidence.

CIA employee Aldrich Ames, for example, passed lie detector tests despite selling U.S. secrets to the Russians
for more than eight years. There's also a mini-industry of Internet sites and books such as "Deception Detection:
Winning the Polygraph Game" that purport to teach people how to beat the test.

"College students with 15 minutes of explanation can beat the lie detector," says David Lykken, a retired psychologist from the University of Minnesota. "Anybody who is working as a spy has been taught how to beat the polygraph." The advertised techniques range from curling one's toes to biting one's tongue during control questions to mislead the examiner.

Still, even critics of the polygraph acknowledge that it has led to admissions of guilt that they might not otherwise have gotten.

"The polygraph itself functions as a prop more than anything else," says Aftergood. "Yet, there are cases every year in which the prop works."

By Michael Stroh
Sun Staff
Originally published Nov 3 2000

    55. Getting Passed Over?

Captain Bob,

I was one month from being hired for a notable fire department in Washington when I received a letter stating the I was NOT recommended for hire. I had taken the medical, psych, and turned in the background packet. I had been interviewed by the background investigator, with the opportunity to answer any questions about my background. I had even been fitted for turnouts! I received the letter and have been struggling to find out why. Let me give you a little background with me and this department.

I worked on their city ambulance, in the fire station for over two years with NO disciplinary actions for misconduct. I work for them as an administration Reserve Firefighter, after I had already passed my Chief's interview. The Captain calling all my references was one of my Station Captains while I was on the ambulance. So when I was failed out you can imagine my shock. No one could give me any answers. H.R. told me to call the two-division chief's in charge of the hiring process. I called, left 3 messages with no response. I called the Captain that I had worked with and all he could say was that he could not say, on or off the record. Finally I called and left a message with THE Chief of the department. His representative called back and said that it was not my psych, nor my medical, and that something or a combination of things is why I was not recommended for hire. He said he could be specific. I want to know what recourse I have in finding out what it was that failed me. I don't want to keep running into the same wall with future departments. What do you recommend I do? The background was not that extensive. Just employment, friends/coworkers, old roommates, driving record (totally clean), nothing major. Any direction you could send me in the better. Thank you Kevin

Reply:

I'm sorry.  Unfortunately there is nothing you can do to reverse what has taken place when you are in background or on probation.  What ever the reason or reasons (you may really never find out) you did not meet the standards or culture of the department.  Having the opportunity to be around a department, on an ambulance or a volunteer, where they can get to know you does not always work in your favor.  I know some great volunteers who are still grasping onto the dream that they will still be hired.  But they have stayed too long at the fair and don't have a prayer of seeing a badge.  They would have been better off testing as an unknown walk on.  It's tough being a prophet in your own town.

You can become too familiar with the department and the personnel and unknowingly overstep the bounds.  If you have not already established a natural bridge to be accepted some firefighters, without you knowing it, will react by tanking you.  Yep, just like a bunch of old ladies.  You will never know what happened.

"No good deed goes unpunished."

New rookies can often make fatal errors in trying to be accepted or try to impress their fellow firefighters.  They forget they are snotty nose rookies. You need to keep your mouth shut, be cordial, friendly and humble. You have no time or opinion until you earn it. You can't force it. That will come with a lot of calls and a few fires.

As Captain Paul Lepore so accurately put it:

Even if he or she is successful in the academy setting their true colors will come out during the probationary period. The firefighters in the station have a unique way of weeding out those that may not belong.

My best advice is to take a step back, lick your wounds, take responsibility for what happened, regroup and try testing for other departments.  If you have been let go in probation or fired by a department, it will be difficult but not impossible to find a better fit; especially if you are a medic.

More:

Understand that the best way to get hired is to place yourself in a position where they can't go around you. If you have the attitude that the system is against you, that you are being passed over because of minority and women being hired, you are psyching yourself out.

If you have this attitude in your mind and your heart, it will be difficult to get hired. Because this will show in the oral board. It will show when your start to squirm during your answers on cultural diversity. Especially if there is a woman on your oral board panel. I've seen guys with great credentials get tanked here. Women have that sixth sense that can smell out a phony.

Haven't you noticed this in your relationships?

You can continue to piss and moan and focus on other reasons why you think you don't have the badge. In reality there is only one person keeping you from getting the badge . . . Believe it or not . . . It's you!

Stop looking in a magnifying glass at others' and start looking in the mirror at yourself.

Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page. Good luck!!

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