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Standard Questions They Ask at a Firefighting Interview

by Ralph Heibutzki, studioD

A successful job interview is an important step in becoming a firefighter. With 100 or more applicants potentially competing for a single opening, your answers must convince the interview panel that you're the best candidate for the job. The interview panel's questions measure how well you think on your feet, and -- more critically -- whether you'll be a good fit with the department you want to serve. Failure to make a good case in these areas can sink your candidacy.

Tell Us About Yourself

This question offers the chance to share your background, interests and personal experiences. It also gives the interview panel a chance to connect with you personally to determine whether you are a good fit for the department. In an article for "FireLink" magazine, Battalion Chief Paul Lepore of the Long Beach (Calif.) Fire Department said fire departments are most likely to hire people with similar goals, interests and values. Your answer will give panelists an idea of how well you stack up in those areas. While it is important to be honest when describing yourself, you should also familiarize yourself with the cultures of different fire departments so you will know which ones might make the best fit.

What Are Your Weaknesses?

Every fire department candidate can expect a question along these lines. The best response is to offer an honest weakness that doesn't affect your ability to do the job, according to a column by Tony Vitale, founder of the FireRecruit.com website. As an example, Vitale cited a firefighting candidate who described carrying a length of rope to help him improve his knot-tying skills, which had been a weakness. This kind of honesty works better than evading the question, or throwing out a generic response like, "I work too hard."

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

An interview panel has two basic rationales for asking this question. First, it's important to determine whether an applicant has given much thought to his career progression. Second, an interviewer wants confirmation that you're a good long-term fit with the department. The ideal answer will focus on a specific career goal, and how you might achieve it. The How To Become A Firefighter In USA website recommends saying something like, "In the next five years I would like to see myself having developed an expertise in fire and rescue. I want to stand out from my peers and demonstrate my passion for my work. I also hope to be promoted so that I may serve as an example for others.” Failure to respond, or take the question seriously, will count against you.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Applicants looking to get hired by a new department will likely have to spend some time explaining why they want to make the move. If your past job turned out to be less than fulfilling, the best response is to characterize it as a learning experience, and say you're ready to take on a new challenge. Ill-prepared applicants will either duck the question or badmouth the previous boss, which will likely eliminate them from consideration.

Why Do You Want to be a Firefighter?

Firefighting is a dangerous job that doesn't automatically ensure great pay, so it's only natural that the panel will question your motivations. For best results, Lepore suggests writing down the factors that prompted your interest in firefighting. Well-prepared candidates can demonstrate enthusiasm for the job without lapsing into cliches. For example, Lepore mentions his desire to be part of a team dedicated to solving problems in the community. It's important to show the panel how you fit its profile of a firefighter.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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