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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

56. Questions concerning strengths and weaknesses

 

First, I'm having some difficulty with the strengths/weaknesses question. I have come up with my strengths as being a very loyal person, very good integrity (I believe this is a HUGE character trait and live by it), a very hard working, dependable person that can bring a very positive attitude and work ethic to the department.

 

Now, for my weaknesses. I am by NO means a perfect person, I honestly do realize this, and it's not something I'm "psyching" myself up to think this way. But I'm at a jam for what to use as my low points. I have not had a very good driving past, however it is just that... a past. My last citation was just over 4 years ago, and I have not even been stopped much less ticketed since. I credit this to me deciding for myself, that this is crazy and I need to change my ways. Well I did that and it has definitely shown.  Would this be a good choice to say?

Another I can name is my credit history. It's not great. On the flip-side of this, I am not in debt very much. ($1500-$1700).  I know it's not petty cash, but I think it's a low amount to work at. I have also contacted a consolidation business to try and work out a plan with the companies to resolve all of it.  Good to use or no?

I have never smoked a cigarette, try any drug whatsoever, and have a drink very rarely. That's the lifestyle and choice that I have been brought up and have chosen to continue on that way.  Should I use this as a strong point?

I have written down in my notes, as maybe an answer to "why do you want to work at this dept?", that (at the risk of sounding clone-ish) this is my dream department... it is the only one that I have applied to since 2 weeks before finishing the fire academy.

This is without a doubt the department that I want to be a firefighter at. Keep in mind I have a little more to say to that question, this is just the point that I'm asking for some advice with. Is that something I should say? Should I just cross that out all together?

Another kind of broad question I have... rather then spelling out all of my answers that I have rehearsed, could someone shed some light on some of the more cliché answers (or clones as I have learned) that people tend to lose control of their interviews with? I don't think that I have used any in my answers; I would just like to see what some others' opinions are.

That's my big questions for now, I truly do appreciate the advice that you all take the time to give. It's a huge help when I'm trying to put together a "knock-out" interview.

Helpful insight

Now to my specific question(s)...

First, I'm having some difficulty with the strengths/weaknesses question. I have come up with my strengths as being a very loyal person, very good integrity (I believe this is a HUGE character trait and live by it), a very hard working, dependable person that can bring a very positive attitude and work ethic to the department.

Reply: Good

Now, for my weaknesses. I am by NO means a perfect person, I honestly do realize this, and it's not something I'm "psyching" myself up to think this way. But I'm at a jam for what to use as my low points. I have not had a very good driving past, however it is just that... a past. My last citation was just over 4 years ago, and I have not even been stopped much less ticketed since. I credit this to me deciding for myself, that this is crazy and I need to change my ways. Well I did that and it has definitely shown.  Would this be a good choice to say?
 

Reply: No. This would only open a can of worms.

Another I can name is my credit history. It's not great. On the flip-side of this, I am not in debt very much. ($1500-$1700).  I know it's not petty cash, but I think it's a low amount to work at. I have also contacted a consolidation business to try and work out a plan with the companies to resolve all of it.  Good to use or no?

Reply: Nope. Another can of worms. Oh, yea this is the guy we want to hire who can't handle his finances and is already under the care of a consolidation company.

I have never smoked a cigarette, try any drug whatsoever, and have a drink very rarely. That's the lifestyle and choice that I have been brought up and have chosen to continue on that way.  Should I use this as a strong point?

Reply: Why?
 

I have written down in my notes, as maybe an answer to "why do you want to work at this dept?", that (at the risk of sounding clone-ish) this is my dream department... it is the only one that I have applied to since 2 weeks before finishing the fire academy.

Reply: Clone
 

This is without a doubt the department that I want to be a firefighter at. Keep in mind I have a little more to say to that question, this is just the point that I'm asking for some advice with. Is that something I should say? Should I just cross that out all together?

Reply: Are you using a tape recorder to practice?
 

Another kind of broad question I have... rather then spelling out all of my answers that I have rehearsed, could someone shed some light on some of the more cliché answers (or clones as I have learned) that people tend to lose control of their interviews with? I don't think that I have used any in my answers; I would just like to see what some others' opinions are.

Reply: I'm not convinced that you're not already a clone like too many others. That's the problem. Most candidates don't realize it until it's too late.

 

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!!

    57. I have a Class C Misdemeanor Charge. What should I do?

I recently received a Class C Misdemeanor for Issuance of bad checks (2) that I used at the same place at the same time, the first check was for gas & the second was for a $1.10 Powerade I bought after I went back in. It was totally unintentional just some lack of balancing my checkbook on my part. To make a long story short these checks were dated back in Nov. 2003 and just recently I found out about them. I had two warrants out for my arrest. I went to the Municipal Court, paid in full so I could get the warrants off my record. After paying, they told me that this is considered a Class C Misdemeanor. Will this ruin my chances on a background? Has anybody been hired with this charge/conviction on their record before? I've worked so hard to get where I'm at and still working. I've completed my B.S. degree in Fire Management, 2 A.A.S. degrees, EMT-I (attending medic school), currently a fire instructor at a DoD Fire Academy and volunteering for a local Volunteer Fire Dept. I've learned my lesson and am also planning on attending a check balancing class; I just hope this doesn't hurt me later. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank You.

Answer:

While I understand bouncing a check now and then (everyone has done it, myself included), I find it hard to comprehend how you never knew about it.  The bank certainly would have sent you a letter. There is a $25 bounced check fee (X2). I think there may be more to the story.

I would respectfully suggest you rethink what happened. Background investigators are skeptical by nature. I have a feeling you will have a difficult time explaining how you never knew. There are too many checks and balances (no pun intended) to notify someone when a check has bounced.

As a business owner I can tell you that the business did not try to run your check through on only one occasion.

    58. What if I had a Domestic Violence Charge?

I have an issue that I am struggling with.  When I was 18, I pushed my live in girlfriend down resulting in me getting a misdemeanor Domestic Violence charge. This was 6 years ago.  Since then I was granted a 1203.4, dismissing my case.  

I am always forthcoming about this and I disclose it on every application.  It always comes up in my Captain's interview, although it has not affected me because during my captain's interviews, the captains always thank me for my complete honesty and candor, and I have even had captains tell me that they admire the fact that I have overcome that situation.  

Here's the problem.

I have made it to a chief's interview my last 6 testing processes, and I am not hired yet.

I am convinced it is because every time during my chief's interview this comes up.  Even though the chief(s) tell me this does not affect my chances of getting hired in any way, and again they tell me how much they appreciate my honesty and how they admire me,  GUESS WHAT, they don't hire me.  

Because I keep making the top 10 but not getting hired I am thinking of not disclosing the information on my applications, because, SUPPOSEDLY, a 1203.4 means you do not have to admit to a conviction.  

I have talked with a background investigator who told me that not disclosing such a fact regardless of a 1203.4 would result in my removal from the process and that honesty is OF COURSE always the best policy.  

SO, can anyone out there help me sort this out.  DO you really think I am not getting hired because I have a conviction?  I am just over reacting, and maybe I am close but it is just not my time?  Should I not disclose the conviction anymore and wait till a background, and HOPE and PRAY they don't consider this LIEING?  

Thank you to anyone who replies!

Answers:

You need to put it down because they will find it.  Even if you have something dismissed it will show up as a dismissal.  Check your record, and see how it shows up, it may not even be a problem.

That may not be the problem.  I have worked with people in the past that had something they thought was holding them back, and that was not necessarily the problem.  

The problem was two fold.  First they were doing well enough to get to the chief's, but not well enough to get past it.  Second, they were holding that problem in the back of their heads and it was affecting their performance.  Some of them felt a great need to discuss this problem at every turn, and while people respected their honesty, they were bringing it up when it wasn't appropriate.  For example, if you are in an interview and bring it into the discussion, it seems odd.  As long as you have disclosed it where you were supposed to, you needn't worry about any other part of the interview.  Usually things like that don't come to a head until the background interview.
 

Another Answer

Something to maybe take into consideration is this: Are you able to give a full circle explanation when discussing the situation?  Without knowing all the details of what played out after the incident ['this is what I did and they dismissed my case'] OR did you go enroll in anger management-type classes to help curb your anger outbursts?  Did you consider possibly going to speak at group settings [schools, help groups] regarding the topic at hand?

This is who I was, the event, the outcome, acknowledging your shortcoming, actually doing something about it [which shows you are accepting responsibility for your mistake and did something about it], and who you are/what you are doing now. That would be a full circle response into that unfortunate event.

Like Rob mentioned, it might not be the incident at all, but could be the " last straw " in a series of things in your background.

Lastly, is it possible to still hired after this event?  Yes.  Will it be easy?  No, but it is possible.  Distance will be your friend in this situation.  Hope this helps.

Another Helpful Answer

This can be a tough one.  It has been my experience with candidates that a domestic violence charge can be as tough as a DUI or worst.  No chief wants one of their sworn members bringing light on their department with this behavior.

What many candidates don't understand is if the police show up on a domestic violence incident someone is going to jail.  Once you've been arrested, even if the charge is dropped or expunged the arrest can still show up on your record and you have to explain it.

Where it can cause you big problems is in a psych test.  The psychologist would have some direct questions that if you can't answer, you're toast.
 

    59. Reckless driving citations

 

Well I have a question that hopefully someone here can answer. I want to get a reckless driving ticket off my record. Here are the details. I got the ticket my freshmen year in college, I was driving home for Christmas break at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. in the morning on I5 in California.  Anyone who's driven it knows the thing is for the most part a straight shot when you're in central California. And at that time in the morning, there's no one else on the road so I didn't realize how fast I was going because I wasn't passing everyone. I was just blasting the music to stay awake. How my Dodge Dakota pickup reached 102 mph, I don't know.  I just saw the red flashing lights behind me, looked down at my speed and was speechless. I apologized to the officer and begged, but he wouldn't write me up for anything less than 100+.  So at that speed (30 mph over the speed limit), it's reckless driving.  I paid the fine and did everything correctly with the court. Now I work at an ambulance company as an EMT, but I can't drive the ambulance because of that ticket.  I'm about three months shy of having a totally clean driving record for 4 years. That ticket is actually the only thing that is on my record at all.  Is there any way to get this ticket off my record? Can I go to a judge and argue my case?  The other reason to get it removed is that I'm looking to join a volunteer fire department and that ticket will most likely restrict me from any driving that I might otherwise have the potential to do there.

 

Helpful insight…

 

Life is all about accountability and taking responsibility for one's actions. We have all made mistakes. Lord knows I have made some HUGE ones. Where we lose credibility is when we do not accept responsibility for our actions.

I have cut and pasted a couple of your quotes below.

"I didn't realize how fast I was going because I wasn't passing everyone."
One can understand someone getting up to 80 or even 85 miles per hour. By the time the officer caught up to you and you looked at your speedometer you, by your own admission, stated you were going 103. Simply put; from the time it took for the officer to track you, light you up, you to realize he was behind you, and to look at your speedometer means that you traveled at this speed for a period of time.

"How my Dodge Dakota pickup reached 102 mph I don't know,"
I am confident that that old truck was rattling and shaking down the road. Again, it's hard to believe that you didn't know.

"Can I go to a judge and argue my case?"
What are you going to argue? Are you going to say that you didn't do it? Are you going to say the sentence was unfair? Or, are you going to say that this infraction is keeping you from something that YOU want?

I'm not passing judgment on your driving, rather the fact that you are not owning up to your actions.

We all make choices in life. In this case, your choice has come with consequences that are now affecting your career choice.

Society has much more respect for people who stand up and say they made a mistake. We have all done things that we would NEVER repeat, however, we are still accountable for our actions.

Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart are both recent examples of people who did not take responsibility for their actions.

Paul Lepore, Battalion Chief
Author

 

    60. Phone Messages

Many aspiring firefighters live together with their friends to cut down on expenses and help pay for their education (paramedic, etc.)

We recently conducted a prep class in which an opening occurred and we called the first person on the waiting list. The message on the phone was "you have reached the house of Tim, Jim and Steve, we are unable to answer the phone because we are sitting around drinking beer and doing shots of Crown royal. Leave your name and number and where we met you and how drunk we were when we met you." 

It might seem funny but, if that message was on the phone when a department called to bring you in for an oral interview or even a job offer what do you think the officer would do!!!  That also goes for cell phone messages.

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!!

 

    61. I am at a Loss of What to do Here

Q. I have been a volunteer firefighter for 3 years now. I only began seeking employment as a career firefighter 1 year ago so that I could finish my Bachelor's Degree.  I have never had any problem passing written and physical exams, but am getting eliminated after oral boards.  I am at a loss of what to do here. I feel that when I walk into the room, I am well prepared for my interview. Just recently though, I was thrown for a loop by a new oral board question I had never heard before.  It was a series of question but I only had 30 seconds to respond. After that, I was cut off and read the next question. These questions ranged from how do you feel about working for a female lieutenant, to tell us what you know about our department. I fear that I lost points here because I could not get everything I knew out of my mouth in 30 seconds.  I have studied everything about the departments that I am interviewing with, yet still seem to fall short to get called back for further testing. Can anyone give me some advice on what I need to do to improve myself in this area? I would really appreciate it,

A. You're not alone here.  Many tell me they felt like they have hit a wall and don't know what to do next.

This from oral board rater David White
Fire Captain/EMS Coordinator
Culver City Fire Department
 

I have sat as a rater on many, many oral boards.  Sometimes a candidate will have good answers but the answers don't seem to be sincere.  What I mean is that the answers don't seem to fit the candidate.  Raters will hear the same canned answers over and over again.  Sincerity (your words and feelings) is a dimension that though hard to quantify definitely comes into play when evaluated.  Do your answers jive with your demeanor and application/resume?

There will always be a question you were not expecting.  This is not deliberate - it just is. Know this from the start and don't be surprised when it happens.  All raters have seen a candidate that was surprised by a certain question go into a high speed wobble and never recover.  

If there are conditions to a question (30 seconds to answer a series) you are expected to meet them. You need to adapt.  Be flexible and adapt. The answers need to be brief enough to meet the time allotted.  If you don't then you will not score as well as those who did. Dave

As one candidate wrote:

I didn't realize how incredibly dead in the water I was until I realized that what I thought was unique in my oral boards was truly another fine example of a clone candidate.  

Sadly, I know that there are thousands of other candidates shooting themselves in the foot, being difficult on themselves, telling themselves that they aren't cut out for the job because they've tested so many places and keep getting low on the list...or not getting on the list at all.  

I FINALLY figured it out and got a job in a busy, full-time mid western town.  All of my dreams have instantly come true. Paul

The secret is to personalize your answers so they represent you not a canned clone answer of someone else that's not you.

A. I'm assuming you are practicing with a tape recorder as Rob suggested.

It is unusual to have a format of answering a series of questions in 30 seconds.  But if you had your base line of answers down you could easily condense the high points down to 30 seconds.  What too many candidates do is try to answer the questions with a blue print when we just need a sketch. Try to give us a dump truck when we just need a trailer.

Yes, you can plan on being asked curve ball questions.  It's sad to see candidates die a slow
death when this happens.  Often, it's a question you already have an answer for but it is disguised in one of a hundred different ways.  Being able to remove the disguise, know what the question relates to, delivering your answer and a personalized life experience story of how you have already lived it.

You should seriously consider getting a coaching session.  More on coaching here  

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!!

 

    62. Creating Trails

I can't believe what many candidates reveal! Candidates often call me after going to an oral board, doing background checks or psychological interviews. They are concerned by some information have given. Often it is related to something from their past.

My first question is who besides you knows this? Who could they contact that could tell them this information? The usual answer is no one. This is my point.

Why do so many candidates create a trail that could open a can of worms keeping them from getting the job of their dreams? Especially if the department is not giving a polygraph test. Many feel they have to be honest to a fault to get this job. Candidates tell me, "They were hammering so hard I felt I had to give them something." Please spare me this part. Think twice before creating a trail that probably no one can find. Especially if it doesn't make any difference.

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!!

Volunteering Information

A doctor who interviews a candidate that is open, honest, forthcoming, has common since, and answers all questions probably considers them as O.K. But, many candidates want this job so bad that they will do almost anything to get it. I have been told what candidates have said during their interviews. I've asked, "How did you get these people to say that?" The answer was, we just asked them and they volunteered the information. Before you volunteer information, think before you speak. Present your ideas clearly. Don't ramble or chat. Be articulate. This is how you're going to be in the field. Believe it or not this is part of the job interview. You are making an impression of who you are going to be as a firefighter. Make sure you dress up and don't slouch. Be prepared to audition for the part of being a firefighter. Know your strong points. Be prepared to demonstrate you are a team player.

One of our candidates was going to a chiefs oral. He knew one of the questions was going to be, "Is there anything we should know about?" He wanted to say something about being eliminated from hiring by another department, because his polygraph was questionable about previous marijuana use. My question was, "What do you think your chances are of being considered by this department it you said that?" Not good was the reply.

My advice was this was not the time to bring something like that up. If anytime, it would be in the background check. Don't create a trail that might not be found. He didn't bring it up. It never came up with the background investigator. A polygraph was not given. I saw him receive his badge. This candidate was hired again by the department he really wanted to work for even after taking another polygraph. I witnessed that badge pinning too. The defense rests!

The following is from the 1832 badge in our program:

Hi Capt. Bob. I just wanted to let you know that I purchased your video some time back prior to Testing for a Colorado Fire Department. On August 8,1999, I started the fire academy. I was one of 14 people out of 541 who tested. I think a lot of what helped me was the tapes I got from you. I have tested all over the country during the past 5 years and always came close but never got the "call ". I went in to the interview with a lot more confidence than in the past, and it worked! Well. Thanks again. Steve

Captain Bob's reply:

Half of the 14 candidates in that hiring were our candidates. How did they do it without all sounding like clones? We taught them to use their personal life experience!

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!!

 

    63. Getting Down to the Short Strokes

I get a sinking feeling and my heart goes out to those who call and say, what can I do now after they get eliminated once they get a conditional job offer.    My question is why didn't you call me before you went on to the next step? Often the answer is well things were going so good I didn't think I needed any help.

One of those calls came from Scott asking if he had failed the poly would another department be able to find out about it?  Why do you ask?  Well, I got this call last week if I could come in the next day for the poly.  Sure I could.  Then things didn't go so well.  Like what? Well, I copped to some things that did not have to and shouldn't have (Often, it can be what you say before or after you're hooked up to the poly that can take you out). I asked him why he didn't call me when he found out he was going in the next day?  Well, things happened so fast, I didn't have time.  I told him, you have enough time to call me now.

Just because you got a job offer doesn't mean you will get the badge!  There are a lot of land mines that you need to prepare for when you get down to the short strokes after getting a conditional job offer.  The badge is there.  There is only one person that's going to keep you from getting it.  It's you!  Take it one step at a time.

It's more difficult to try and fight your way back in than being prepared before you take the next step for the psych interview, background, polygraph, and medical to gain a badge.

Bill had a job offer from the same department as Scott above.  He called expecting an offer concerned about an investigation on a previous job that could cause him problems.  We talked it out.  Bottom line, he had a letter from the police department that he had been cleared after the investigation.  He still had to put it down on the background investigation.  That was landmine hurdle number one.

Bill called concerned as he left his poly.  Even though he had been cleared the poly showed a strong reaction in this area.  I asked him if he had brought the file on this situation with him?  He forgot, but could get it faxed in 15 minutes.  He went back in to show the poly investigator once he had the file.  The investigator told him his file had gone on to HR.

I asked Bill if he knew who his contact was in HR?  Yea.  He tried to call her.  No answer.  Do you know where she is?  Not really.  But I think it's in the same building where I took the poly because it's the same phone prefix number.  I could hear a voice in the background.  I asked Bill if he had brought his wife Janice.  Yes, Janice drove up with me.  OK, take the file and your wife in and find your contact.  I heard Janice in the background say, "I'm not dressed right.  I'm wearing a sweat shirt."  No worry.  Just get in there. 

Thirty-minutes later Bill called.  They had gone into HR and asked for his contact. When Kathy came to the counter, she already knew what had happened.  Bill presented the file.  Then like magic it was like old home week between the HR contact Kathy and his wife Janice.  He couldn't believe it.  I told him that's why I wanted Janice to go in with you.  You know how it is.  Your wife or friend goes to the ladies room.  Time passes. When she comes out all the ladies who were in the bathroom are now friends.

Kathy told him, "We'll get back to you." At 4:00 p.m., Bill called.  Kathy called to invite him to the psych the next morning.   I replied, "Yes, yes, yes! You dodged a bullet."  He said, I still don't know if I passed the poly.  Bill, they wouldn't be sending you on to the psych if you hadn't passed the poly!  Be prepared though that this incident where you had been investigated will be on the front burner.  Practice your answer with a tape recorder until it comes out sounding right.  If the psychologist wants to expand the questioning on this issue, just be the broken record repeating your original answer.

Friday, 2:00 p.m. Bill called saying you were right, that issue was brought up.  When I gave my reply to the incident the second time, the psychologist had a long pause and then moved on to the next question.  I asked Bill how long the interview was with the psychologist?  Fifteen minutes.  Anything other big issues stump you?  No.  Well, Bill, it's my experience with an interview that short you passed.  Welcome to the fire service.

Friday, 4:30 p.m.  The phone rings.  It's Bill.  Hey, I've just been invited to an orientation with my wife next week.  What does that mean?  It means you better start packing and looking for a place to live. Enjoy your weekend. 

This is just one story. Four more candidates who went through our program, were also helped through this departments hiring maze were at the orientation will Bill.  I had placed some that were further along in this process with those who were behind them to give them a little more heads up on what to expect. Each with a different story, but they all made it. They were all EMT's that were hired to be paramedic interns.  They're all in medic school now.

I love what I do.

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!!

    64. Have You Ever?

Captain Smith, After going through your program and a coaching session with your son, I am currently in backgrounds with 2 departments in Southern California and on the lists of 4 others.  The background investigators for those two departments told me that they will both have psychological evaluations and one will have a polygraph.  I want to make sure that I am prepared for these last phases prior to hiring.  Your son suggested I call you for advice.
Thanks,  Randy

After you have jumped through all the flaming hoops you don't want to be caught flat-footed for the remaining steps in the hiring process.  It's 3rd down and 2 yards to go for the badge.  You want to convert.  You want to convert every step of this process the first time through the line, or you could be thrown for a loss, thrown in the penalty box, out of the game, and trying to fight your way back in.

You can spin this anyway you want.  But ask yourself if you would you show up without preparing for the written? Not in shape for the physical agility?  Have you discovered you just can't wing the oral? Then, why doesn't it make since to prepare for the remaining portions of the hiring process, the background, psych, poly and medical?

Don't be so naive to believe by the 4 inches between your ears you have an explanation that everything in your past will be overlooked, especially if it's something you weren't required to reveal in the first place.  If you do, you might still believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.   Come on in said the spider to the fly. Don't take the bait!  It's not the department but the background investigators and the psychologist that could take you out.  These people are not your friends.  They are experts being paid to eliminate you from the process.  The deck is stacked against you before you show up.

I get the calls when the background has not gone right for too many candidates.  The first words out of their mouth when I pick up the phone is usually, "What do I do now?"  I ask them two questions.  First, were you honest to a fault leaving not rock unturned?  Did you volunteer information that you were not required to give?  They usually answer yes to both.  Than that's probably why you failed.  The defense rests.

A candidate just called and said the background investigator told him a poly would be given to verify his information. My first question, "Was it listed on the job announcement that there was going to be a poly?  No.  If it was not included in the job announcement and or they are going to give a poly to everyone else, that's BS.  It's not uncommon for a background investigator or psychologist to say, "Will you submit to a poly to verify your answers?  Or, a poly could or will be given at the end of the process."  Are they ying?  Yep.  Wait a minute, I thought everyone was not suppose to tell the truth here?  I'm not aware of any test where the candidates were held hostage with the threat of a poly being given, when it was not included with the job announcement, and they had to take one.  I know of candidates who were turned down and wanted to take a poly to prove they were telling the truth and they couldn't get one because they would have to give it to everyone else.

They often say, I didn't think what I told them was any big deal, but some of those little things that I really didn't have to talk about amounted to causing me big problems in the process. As one candidate said,  "Hey, I'm not a bad guy.  But I volunteered a little something here and then there.  By the time they got done with me, they made me look like Charles Manson! " 

I had a chance to work with a psychologist in preparing our Conquer the Psychological Interview Special Report.  I couldn't believe some of the answers candidates tossed out in their interview with the psychologist.  When I asked the psychologist how did you get them to say that? He smiled and said, "We just asked them."  Wouldn't you want to be prepared so you wouldn't just blurt out something you were not required to say?  Here is a segment of that report:

"Psychologists are given more power than they should," says Robert Thomas Flint, Ph.D., who sometimes did re-evaluations of potential peace officers and firefighters who have failed psychological tests.  Although he tends to agree 40-50% of the original decisions were valid, he finds that another 30-50% of the rejected candidates are acceptable and can handle the job.  

The psychological test is changing the fire service.  Sure there are some folks who have a lot of baggage and shouldn't be hired.  But most of the red-hot's, the backbone of the fire service, can't make it through the process.  Surprisingly, the evaluations are based on the performance of those already in the fire service.

More and more agencies are using the psychological test in their hiring process.  Psychologists are competing for this lucrative business and agencies feel they need this service to hire the right candidates.  In one large department forty-percent of candidates were eliminated from the hiring process through the psychological tests.  Fire administrations feel their hands are tied and get frustrated when they see that a high percentage of their superior candidates who were eliminated by their physiological test are being hired by other agencies.  If the psych is so important why is it not used at all in Canada?  Some departments who have been using he psych have stopped because of the candidates it was delivering.

Dr. Flint feels that the PhD has been watered down, i.e., many of graduates in the last ten years, and the psychologist too often paint by the numbers and disqualify a person because they might have an unusual background.  These psychologists do not have an adequate background in the statistics and the research necessary to be fully competent in the use of tests with unusual populations.  That is, they are trained in identifying problems in the general population but are less skilled in the identifying the strengths in special groups such as firefighters.  They also tend to have difficulty incorporating unusual backgrounds into their reports.  But, don't a higher percentage of those with a burning desire for this job fall into these categories?  

Much of the problem falls on the cities themselves for not having control of the guidelines that the psychologists are using.  Left on their own, psychologists will use their own devises to decide what to do, and this is not always related to the department's needs.  If the guidelines are not well defined by the agency, then the psychologist might wash the candidate out for reasons not job relevant.

A large bay area city was a perfect example of this process.  A member of personnel and a fire recruiter teamed up to upgrade the selection process and add the polygraph.  Because of the cost of living this city was already pulling their hair out trying to recruit candidates, particularly medics. This new system only made the problem worst.  Forty-two percent of the medic candidates and half the lateral candidates failed.  Many of these candidates went on to pass other backgrounds, psych and yes, polys.  In a conversation with the recruiter at an exhibition I said you sure are losing a lot of candidates.  His reply with a sneer was, not the right candidates.  Well, with a new fire chief, personnel director and firefighter recruiter they are trying to put the pieces back together.

According to Dr. Flint, too much emphasis is placed on the paper and pencil test.  He feels strongly that unusual test scores should be evaluated in the light of the candidate's history.  Very young candidates 21-25 often do not have enough history to refute problems suggested on the test.  All candidates believe of course that they can handle the job, that they can meet any challenges, that they will hold up well at emergencies.  The psychologist's job is to determine, as closely as possible whether those beliefs are sound.  To give someone the benefit of the doubt maybe endangering them or someone else.

If a candidate can demonstrate that he has overcome areas of conflict that the written test reveals and his early history demonstrates, then the test interpretation should reflect that fact.  The paper score then should be thrown out, not the candidate.

Those who are critical about what we are saying here probably have never gone through our program and usually don't have a clue what we do. I want candidates to be prepared for each step of the hiring process, where the land mines are and understand the ramifications of the information they present in the process.

You have spent all this time gaining education, experience and training to get this job.  You finally get a shot at the badge.  You get a conditional job offer.  You're ecstatic.  You call family and friends. You meet with the background investigator.  You think he's your pal. You go for your psych.  No big deal right?  Then a letter arrives from the department withdrawing their job offer.  You're stunned!  There has to be a mistake.  You want to talk to someone.  You had the explanation you knew they would accept.  No one will talk to you.  You're out of the process.  The reason? You walked in flat-footed not prepared for the remaining segments of the hiring process.

As one candidate wrote:  As for Backgrounds; they tell you to be honest. But sometimes being honest can bite you in the ass. When a Background is being conducted the only obvious things they could find out are things like your driving, criminal and credit history. Don't be stupid and write down references that hate you. I've known some good people that should be fireman/cops but get disqualified for being too honest.

You're a free agent.  Make sure you prepare for the hiring process in a way that will best put you in a position for a badge.

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!!

 

    65. Can you follow directions?

I have a friend who just coordinated a testing process for a department in Orange County. They were amazed at the amount of applications they received. The way they were able to cut the number in half was to specify on their job flyer that they wanted proof of driver's license, EMT card etc. The directions instructed the candidates to put them in a certain order.

Roughly one half of the applicants could not follow directions and were eliminated from the process. While candidates complained, the directions were very clear.

Ironically, two departments in Orange County followed the same template. What a simple, yet effective way to get the numbers down to a manageable level.

In our profession it is important that candidates be able to follow directions. This is a simple exercise in being able to do what you are instructed to do.

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!!

    66 Got Facebook?  Be  Careful!

This is a good reminder to  all - current and future fire service personnel, to be very mindful about what  they post on such internet social sites or websites. If you have a  picture of yourself in department uniform or with a
department patch or logo  (basically something that ties you to the department via a picture), don't be  surprised if your department attempts to regulate the photos. I don't think  we've even seen the beginning of such regulation or even problems occurring  because of such posts. Yes - a few folks will ruin it for the majority. I heard of a  situation recently where two separate firefighters (separate situations) placed  photos of themselves or others in department uniforms (logo showing) on their  social networking pages - and the pictures DID NOT represent the department in a  positive way. Now, the hammer has come down and all members are required to sign  a new policy stating they won't post the department logo or represent themselves  as a department member in photos.  The sad part is there is a great opportunity to post positive  pictures, such as personnel on a strike team assignment, personnel training or  just posing around the fire station. However, thanks to the actions of a few,  the majority will suffer. The sad part is when you hear stories of the  individuals not really getting what the big deal is and saying the department  can't regulate what they do.  Well, they can and they do - especially when it comes to  representing and upholding the good name of the fire department.  The sad part is that many folks do not have a built in "edit  feature" and cannot distinguish between appropriate and not appropriate; they  let their emotions get in the way of any rational thinking.

For folks  who are attempting to get hired, this is really a wake-up call to take the time  to have an objective person look at what you've posted on such websites to see  if it meets the reasonable person standard, or the fire
chief standard (picture  yourself as a fire chief - would you proud to find this future firefighter  portraying themselves on their website in this specific fashion, whatever it  is???).  Now for those that think fire departments should only punish those  who cause problems, and let people do what they want, realize that isn't easy as  it sounds. Yes, I agree we shouldn't have policies to regulate every waking hour  of the day.  However, in my experience across the country, I've seen or heard  about numerous personnel problems that were going to lead to some form of  discipline, but were thrown out or reduced because some attorneys or union  officials have told the fire department administration "you don't have a policy  stating that my client cannot do that." Good Lord - there is no possible way to  have a policy for every possible situation - that would be crazy.

But, in today's lawsuit happy world, that's what fire  department administrations get stuck having to do - create policies to try and  address things that may occur, especially those that have possible negative  consequences for the department in the way of public relations, law suits, etc.

Just some thoughts as this will become a huge issue; remember  - it's ok to
remain under the radar......

Steve Prziborowski
Battalion Chief
www.chabotfire.com

www.code3firetraining.com


 

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