The Oral Board Interview

Each department handles hiring a little differently.

The process usually includes some or all of the following:

The Oral board interviews are the first round of interviews and usually after the written test (and sometimes after the CPAT). However, each department has their way of doing things.

In preparation for Oral board interviews, I had gotten a lot of good advice from firefighters and captains across several different departments, and they all had very similar elements, and very similar questions.

Both oral boards that I took part in were brief interviews with multiple personnel.

Department A took me into a room and sat me in front of a Captain and a paramedic. They asked me three questions and I had six minutes to address them. Neither interviewer gave me much feedback so I was unsure how well I was doing. However, the point is not to “work the room”, but to be real. That’s what they are looking for. (more on this later) After the six minutes, I was taken to a second room, with a chief, and another paramedic and did the same drill, and then a third with a captain and a paramedic, same drill again. All told, the entire process lasted 20 minutes. None of the interviewers gave me much feedback. It was a whirlwind, and before I knew it I was out on the street walking to my car wondering “what just happened??”.

Department B took me into a conference room and sat me in front of 3 staff members, 2 captains and a paramedic. They had given me the 5-6 questions when I walked into the lobby and I had 10 minutes to look them over before my interview began. Once the interview began, it was also a whirlwind and seemed to be over in no time. At the end they asked if I had any questions. I actually had a littany of them and they seemed to like that. My logic was “this is going to be a long-term relationship, I need to know just as much about the department as they know about me.” I think they appreciated my approach.

Both sets of interviews had some common themes, such as the interview being brief, and the interviewers not giving much feedback. I believe the point here is to give a general impression of each candidate to help narrow the scoring as you progress through the process.

I think the most important key to successful oral boards is to be yourself. If you walk in there and try to be who you think they want you to be, it will be obvious that you are acting. They don’t want someone who is going to play a part. They want a genuine person that will be a great team player.

So, with all of that being said, here are a few tips that I was given to help with oral boards:

  • Know as much as you can about the department ahead of time and make it clear that you’ve done your homework on them. This should include the organization, the history, how many personnel, what programs they offer, and current events in the department.
  • “Put yourself in the seat”. Be confident that you will be selected, but dont come across as cocky.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Actively listen to the questions.
  • Pause before you answer to collect your thoughts.
  • Your answers should be honest, but be as unique as you can be.
  • They are interviewing many people. How will you stand out?
  • Be prepared to sell yourself at length. Talk about your accomplishments and your service to your community.
  • Be ready to talk about your education, your experiences, and anything you have mentioned on your application.
  • If the question is about something negative, what did you learn from the situation?
  • Be prepared to talk to the core values of the fire service: teamwork, ethics, integrity, sincerity etc.
  • Reharse your answers and practice with a live interviewer. If possible, record yourself to watch for fidgeting and fillers (uh… um… ah…)
  • Greet all of the panel members and shake hands and make eye contact.
  • Remember chain of command, and try to solve problems at the lowest level possible.
  • Do not leave the room without convincing the panel how passionate and serious you are about this opportunity.
  • Try to give the panel a real feel for who you are, what your personality is like, and what’s important to you.
  • If you’re going to mention your community service, be prepared to talk about it.
  • Don’t be afraid to make it a conversation between you and the panel. Let yourself shine through. You can be nervous, but be functional. (Your practice will help)
  • Practice will go a long way. Guaranteed you will sit down and your mind will go blank. This is where practice comes in. Once you get rolling you will warm up some.

Sample questions
I suggest you take these sample questions and write out answers to them and practice them. Make each answer unique and show who you really are.

  • What do you know about this department and why do you want to work here?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Name a time you were given a task contrary to what you thought was right.
  • Do you like to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Is it ok for a company to look at social media or is it an invasion of privacy?
  • Name a time you failed and what you did to overcome your failure.
  • What was a difficult decision you made in the last year?
  • Name a time you had a disagreement with a co-worker
  • What are your goals in the fire service?
  • What qualities do you possess tha twould make you a good firefighter?
  • What would fellow employees say about you?
  • What’s the difference between a leader and a follower?
  • You will be expected to do various chores around the station.
  • How do you feel about this?
  • Tell us about yourself
  • How would you embrace the neighborhood around your station?
  • What are the pros and cons of being a firefighter?

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6 thoughts on “The Oral Board Interview”

  1. Thank you for the article! I was wondering in the “Tell us about yourself question?” Should I mention I’m married. I heard on a DVD I bought that might upset someone on the panel. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Bryan, I would definitely mention it! They want to know that they are speaking to a well rounded, grounded individual. Everything I’ve read and every Captain and Chief I’ve talked to about it say they don’t want people whose entire lives are the job.

  2. Thanks for this article I’m in a similar boat. 36, family, career, and making a switch to the fire service. I have what it takes and have spent many hours preparing for my oral interview. It’s difficult because the last big department interview I was so nervous I felt frozen. This article hit the nail on the head. I’m still playing with the tell me about yourself question but I believe I have it narrowed down to 4 main objectives I would d like to cover. Congrats I hope to be joining the brother and sisterhood by 4/2020!

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