Fire Service Interview Podcast – Learn How To Dominate The Interview Process
Fire Service Interview
Firerecruitmentaustralia.com, become a firefighter without wasting years of your life, time, money, and effort on things that won’t work. Get the facts and what works. You’re listening to the Fire Recruitment Australia podcast with your host, Brent C.
Hi there! It’s Brent C from firerecruitmentaustralia.com, with a podcast episode on how to become a firefighter without wasting years of your life, time, money, and effort on things that don’t work. Each week we’ll be covering a topic that you may need to get some more skills in order to improve your chances of becoming a firefighter. We’ll cover theory and also real-life case studies of how people have overcome those issues through using what we teach.
In today’s episode, we’re going to be covering the fire service interview, which is generally a behavioral-based interview, and we’ll be covering the fundamentals of the fire service interview– the pitfalls that our coaches see time and time again and the common issues that keep popping up. Also, cover a case study on one of our clients and, if you stick around to the end, I’m going to have a special offer for those people listening to our podcast.
All right, so today we’re lucky enough to have Leah Lambert, who’s one of our best coaches. She’s been working with us for the past three years helping turn peoples dreams in to reality. Leah has thirteen years’ specialised experience in the HR and recruitment sector and she’s also been working with us for the past three years– seen some really successful results. Leah, thanks very much for coming on the show.
Thank you for having me, Brent.
No, not at all. It’s great to have you on. I’m just going to ask you what are the common pitfalls that you see time and time again with applicants applying for the fire service or any service for that matter?
Yeah, I think there are some common mistakes that people make– not just people trying to get into the fire service, but across the board. First of all, the questions that are asked by the panel, at the fire services, it’s a really difficult interview and I work with people across all industries. This is one of the toughest interviews that people have– that our clients have. I think the first thing is understanding the difference between the types of questions that will be asked. We tend to characterise them into general questions. First of all, there are questions like — tell us about your strengths, tell us about your weaknesses, what are your transferable skills, that type of thing.
Yeah, the general, across-the-board sort of questions.
That’s right. Then, they can also ask situational questions such as: what would you do if you noticed that one of your colleagues was not behaving as they normally would at work and they appear to be under stress or what would you do if there was a conflict in your team? That’s more of what we call a ‘situational’.
It’s not something that you have to have demonstrated, you don’t have to have an example of it, it’s something that they’re asking you what you would do in that situation, is that correct?
Exactly, exactly. The third type, which are the dreaded behavioural questions that everyone hates. And these questions are to test a particular competency. That competency might be communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, etcetera. The fire services tend to test a number of these competencies in their panel interview. These behavioural questions, they expect you to answer those questions using the STAR format, which is a particular structure. We work with a candidate to ease them through, to help them understand what that really means.
Yeah, and there’d be a correct way to use that format, and an incorrect way. I’d imagine some people probably think they know how to use it and others do. Would that be correct?
Very much so. It’s really understanding what that competency is that they’re testing and what detail you need to get in your example to show that you meet that competency. We do see a lot of clients that come in and say, “Look, I’m no star,” I’m fine with that but when you get into those nitty-gritty, you find that they really don’t understand it as well as they need to.
Yeah, which can be very disappointing for people when they get the letter or whatever it is to say, “Sorry, not this time,” when they thought they had it in the bag I could imagine.
That is correct, yes. I guess some of the other things we see, people don’t really listen carefully enough to the question, and in particular the behavioral question. Sometimes it’s really hard to identify what competency they’re actually testing. For example, say a question about communication, they could ask you, “Tell us about a time when you had to adapt your communication style,” but that one’s pretty obvious, that it’s a question about communication, but if they can phrase it in a different way, like they can say, “Tell us about a time when you were misunderstood and what you did.” Okay?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. It’s about being able to soak the question in enough to see what they’re actually getting at.
That’s right. In my view, I think that really, you need to practice reading lots of different behavior questions so that you can quickly identify what they’re getting at.
For sure. Would you agree on the fact that the more you’re exposed to this sort of situation, the more comfortable you get which allows you to listen to the question more fully?
Yes. If you’ve practiced a lot, you’re used to reading these questions and you know exactly … Usually, if you’ve read enough of them, you know that all these types of questions with full communication, or teamwork, and you can quickly work out what example, and in these pressure interviews, you need to know what example you’re going to use straight away.
Yeah. I think a lot of people might fall under the trap of just rehearing specific answers for specific questions when in my mind it seems like you need to get to a point where you’re so comfortable with what you have done and achieved in your life that you can pick out a better example depending on the way the question’s asked. Would that be true too?
Yeah, that’s right, and that might mean you have several examples. For teamwork for instance, they might ask about your experience working in an effective team but they could also ask about your experience working in an ineffective team. If you’ve only got one example for working, a positive example, then you’re going to be put on the spot.
Yeah, which doesn’t tend to work out that well with what I’ve heard and seen. I can agree with that for sure.
Another one, I guess we think the hydro questions that are asked often by the fire services, they can be double or triple- barreled questions. For example, they might say, “Can you tell us about a team when you had experience interacting with our diverse community, what did you learn from this, and how would you apply it to the fire services?” There’s three parts to that question. Again, if you haven’t practiced answering those types of questions, that can really throw someone in the interview.
For sure, and I think you have to be able to understand that there is three questions in there and that can only come through practice and good guidance.
That’s right, and really thinking about every example you use, how they’re designed to what you’ve learned from that and how you’re going to apply it back.
Yeah, for sure.
Another key thing is people not really understanding that it’s a very competitive process and they need to sell themselves.
That is something I was going to touch on. I’ve done some stats over the past, I don’t know, seven years, and your opportunity to get a position with one of these services goes anywhere from half a percent to twenty five percent. It’s vast, but you need to, just say there’s four hundred people in the final interview pool, there’s some real competition there. It’s about what you’ve done to prepare and to be able to show the panel what makes you a better applicant over the four hundred people.
That’s right. I think that’s really understanding the role of the organization thoroughly and understanding what your strengths are, what the transferable skills are that you have, and your personal attributes, part of your personality which are the things that you’re born with. It’s understanding the difference between all of those as well. We often start off working with the candidate to help them understand the difference between understanding strengths and weaknesses but also understanding the skills that they’ve got and the attributes that they bring.
And how to communicate them effectively.
That’s right. As you know Brent, guys that go to get into the fire service come from all different backgrounds. Some are from office jobs, some are trading, some got their own businesses, they’ve all got transferable skills to bring, but it’s really understanding what they are and being able to articulate those.
Absolutely. I really think that what you said about the competitiveness of the industry is so important because one guy that does no preparation is barely got any chance at all really when you look at it compared to someone in a similar shoes that understands that they need to do preparation and gets the help to make sure that they’re up in that top five or ten percent so they’ve at least got a chance.
Yeah. I mean, I think even if you’ve got a job that you think you’ve got such transferable skills that you’re going to just wing it and get in, I just don’t think that’s going to happen in this process anymore.
There is the odd unicorn but it is just yet, you know what I mean? There’s the very odd person that their skill is being able to sell themselves but in general most people find it really hard to talk about themselves, let alone sell themselves. We’re talking about a system where you need to be able to learn how to do it if you can’t already. I’ve seen literally a hundred people that would be excellent for the job but they just haven’t learnt or invested in themselves in learning how to talk and sell that across to the panel that makes a decision. Let’s be honest, this is the biggest exposure you will get to the recruitment panel throughout the whole process.
I think a lot of that comes down to also how you organize your responses and how you structure your answers because unstructured answers you’re not going to get your point across. If you worked at structure in your responses so that you can really articulate what you can bring and what you can offer them, then you’ve got a much better chance and we work with the candidates that you send through to help them structure their responses to the general questions and the situational and the behavioral questions.
Yeah. I think all of that work is excellent for a number of reasons because they’ve got the structured answers and they’ve looked into their past and figured out what their skills are and all that sort of stuff, but it also allows them to be a bit more relaxed and show their personality, which I believe adds a good percentage towards how the panel feels about you as an applicant.
That’s right. You have to practice a lot so you know your responses and examples you’re going to use really well so you can just be yourself and a little bit more natural.
I think people read that and it’s positive anyway towards your application. I was wondering if you might be able to share a bit of a case study with us of a recent person and their problem when they came to you as far as applying to the fire service?
Yes, there was a guy that you sent through to us, I’m trying to think when it was, probably earlier this year. He had a job that had all the transferable skills, he worked at height, he worked in confined spaces, he’s managed teams, he’s done lots of extracurricular activities that also involved all of those things. He got through all the other parts but he’s been trying to get in for a couple of years and the feedback he got from the interviews was that he didn’t provide enough detail so his STAR example for his behavioral questions, that he talked too quickly, and didn’t sell himself.
Imagine that, like two years of his life, basically because of not learning this process so much. That’s a fear impact, isn’t it?
Yeah, I guess you know the process more than I do Brent, but even just the whole fitness component and keeping that fitness up, your life’s on hold, I guess, until you know whether you’re going to get in or not. He came to me earlier this year and we worked on first of all structuring his answers, and really brainstorming the best example that he could use for his competency STAR example. Sometimes he had two or three and we talked through each one and worked out which one was the best and which one was going to give him enough depth to his answer. I think he came back a second time and then we did a mock interview closer to the actual interview which is an hour session where I fire questions at him for forty minutes then spend twenty minutes giving him feedback for each one-
Yeah, put him under the heat, get him familiar with the sort of feeling he’s going to be exposed to in the actual interview scenario.
That’s right. When he left after that mock interview he was so prepared, I thought, “If he doesn’t get in I think I’ll have to quit my job,” but he did get in which was a fantastic result and he’s absolutely stoked. I think he couldn’t quite believe it himself, literally, I think he worked for months on those response and practiced with his wife at home, practiced with a friend in HR. He basically treated that like a full-time job getting himself ready for that interview. We were thrilled, then he got in.
That’s sort of why I do this because it feels great when you do hear from the guys that you’ve helped and how happy they are. You sort of changed his life in a way, to be honest. There’s nothing that you put that amount of time into, call it three years, without any guaranteed outcome and hearing a positive outcome like that, it’s just fantastic.
He actually really liked his current job but he really wanted to do something that would apply those skills and do something that was more meaningful that was more community based. He’s absolutely thrilled to get that call and say that he’d been selected. Very rewarding.
What do you reckon the lessons are out of that for this guy?
Well, I think first of all, really thinking about what examples are going to be the best examples and really spending time knocking those out. I also think just that practice, practicing aloud is so important. It’s not just thinking about what sort of answers you’re going to give but it’s practicing them aloud over and over again until you know it inside out.
One of the things I got out of it as a lesson is his continual investment in himself as far as he said he’s treating it like a full-time job has paid off by he’s committed to it and he’s invested the time and he’s invested the resources in coming and getting the help, that is a big lesson to me, that that is the way to go about it to become successful. It is that competitive. You need to look at it as an investment in yourself because those skills that he’s got now, that ain’t just gonna fly out the window, because he’s got his job. He’ll go for promotional interviews and stuff as he progresses through the ranks.
That’s right, from now on, he knows what he needs to do when he’s going for an important interview. He just knew the organization inside out, he’d done so much research, he’d spoken to so many people but he also knew over that time, really knew himself well also, where his strengths were, where his potential weaknesses were. I think it’s really important to be self-aware and really know what you’ve got to work on.
Yeah, for sure. No one’s going to give that to you, you have to do the work and make the investment in yourself to find that out. It sticks with you for your life and that’s what I really liked about learning about interviews.
That’s pretty much it, I think they’re the key things and I think, as you said, everything that we’ve talked about at the start, investing that time and the effort and hopefully you’ll see the reward.
I couldn’t agree more. Just to wrap this up and let you get back to business, I like to finish off the episode with some action steps or takeaways for the people listening so that they can go away from this and actually get to work on a specific area that we’ve spoken about. Have you got some for us?
Yeah, first of all, I’d say research whichever organization you’re interviewing for thoroughly. You need to know the role and the organization inside out. Obviously there’s a lot of questions that they also ask about your understanding of the role and what’s expected of you, but it is a bit troubling. Secondly, research all the likely interview questions that you’re likely to be asked and start getting a portfolio or a folder together of all those different types of questions so that you feel you can pretty much answer anything that’s thrown at you.
Yeah, we keep a library of them on our online portal for our members. I’ve been building it for like seven years and I think it’s one of the most valuable things that you can do. I couldn’t agree more with that point.
I guess another key thing is stay really clear on your motivation for joining and being able to articulate that. I often meet people who’ve come along and when they talk about their motivation, it kind of sounds like they just decided the other day they might like to join. When you dig a bit deeper, you find that maybe it’s something they’ve been thinking of since they were a teenager and they’ve got family who are already in the service. You’ve really got to get that across.
I see that nearly daily. You ask them, it’s in there, it’s inside, but unless they’ve spent the time to sit down and really have a think about it, flesh it out, communicating that is not something that they’re ready to do. That’s a really good takeaway as well.
Being really clear on the difference between your skills and your personal attributes and your strengths, I think that’s important, understanding the behavioral questions, and the STAR method you need to use. I just don’t think it would be possible to get through these interviews unless you are really on top of that.
Yeah, for sure, I agree. The more I sort of see and get to know about it, a lot of the time that takes a bit of qualified guidance and feedback on where you’re at at the time, really important.
I think the final one is just practice, practice your answers aloud to whoever will listen. I’m not talking about, I’ve seen some people who’ve come in about four days before the interview, I think you need to start practicing about four months before the interview or as soon as you know about it anyhow.
Yeah, absolutely. You can’t just walk up a week before and expect to get this all in the bag, it’s more of a long term process.
I’m glad we’re on the same page.
Look Leah, I really appreciate you coming on today and sharing a heap of valuable knowledge with us. If anybody wants to get coached by Leah or her team and me for that matter, it’s part of our membership coaching program which you can find over at firerecruitmentaustralia.com.au or you can book individual sessions through fireserviceinterview.com. I hope you’ve enjoyed the episode, it’s been really valuable, thanks again Leah.
Thank you for having me and I should say that also we have lots of other coaches around the country that do this, it’s not just me. There’s three of us in Melbourne alone and there’s others in Sydney and all the other states. We love doing the work, the guys that you send through to us, so yeah, we’re very grateful to be part of this today.
Thanks again Leah, thanks very much for your time, really appreciate it.
I’ll speak to you soon.
Bye, thank you! At the start of the episode I said I’d have a special deal for you. What it is, if you go to firerecruitmentaustralia.com, I will give you my interview decoder FREE, I am also offering a BONUS coaching call with me inside Membership , this offer will only be available for a limited time. If the interview is an area you want to improve on, this is a really good opportunity to go over there, get the whole course, get the coaching, get access to the question library that I talked about earlier and the video practice software that I’ve got in there. You’ve also got access to a question builder so that you can work on your questions in there, it’s a really good resource. Great opportunity, it’s firerecruitmentaustralia.com.
I’m Brent C, this is a podcast episode from firerecruitaustralia.com. Thanks for listening in, and I’ll talk to you soon.
You’re listening to the Fire Recruitment Australia podcast with Brent C, visit firerecruitmentaustralia.com.
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