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I used to sit on the sidelines and watch discussions that centered on the interview portion of the hiring process for firefighters and wonder what was so problematic.


After-all; at my last three jobs, I was hired based upon the strength of my resume. There was no grueling grilling; just a few questions for clarification.


But now, I can say that I am not fond of job interviews and it is for one, simple reason: I don’t do well at them.


As my title indicates; during this phase of the hiring process, you are asked by the “interviewer” to reach inside and to share experiences that might translate to a synergy between you and the person who will ultimately decide if you are hired.


And it is here that the process differs from that of a firefighter.


A firefighter has a better than average chance at interview, because they are being interviewed by someone who is familiar with the job requirements. You can’t BS your way through an interview.


But in my experiences in the private sector, you might get a Human Resources assistant, manager, vice-president, a combination of the three, a plant manager or the guy who cleans the toilets. I have been interviewed by one and also by as many as five at one time. You just never know what to expect. The problem is that they all lack the intimate knowledge to understand good risk management. They just know that they are having too many accidents and insurance premiums are too high and the owner wants to see it improved. So; they all go off of a “cheat sheet” of questions that Fred Pryor or Zig Ziglar handed out to them at the last seminar.


I have been employed as a risk manager by the same company for the past ten years. I have benefitted greatly from this relationship, because we provide third party support to a manufacturing client. It is no exaggeration when I say that I have touched every aspect of a risk management environment. It has literally put me at the top of my game.


Unfortunately, our client is moving their assembly operation to a southern state and I have elected NOT to move, so I am conducting a job search in an area where I have lived my entire 58 years.


As my first step towards my job search, I spent $2300 to complete a certification program in my chosen field that I felt would add strength to my resume. I felt that having this certification would at least get me in the door of companies requiring as a minimum, a college degree. It is interesting to note that most companies who want a college degree don’t necessarily want the degree to be in safety and health. I guess that employers equate a college degree with one’s intelligence level.


Then, I updated my cover letter and resume with the help of a job coach from the local college.


Understanding the velocity and reach of social media, I registered with and I was already a member of LinkedIn.


To date, I have answered six ads for a safety-related position and have interviewed for two of them.


Here is where you should buckle up, because this is where my rant will begin.


I mentioned earlier that I am 58 years old. I have been a practicing member of the ASSE since 1997. I have taken numerous continuing education courses to stay current in the ever-changing world of risk management.


When you couple my real world experience with my formal safety education, I am confident that I can enhance any company’s safety performance.


But, apparently, I struggle to clearly articulate that during my interviews.


In my first interview, we talked for one hour about general topics. I scored well enough to schedule a second interview with them, but for the second interview, they wanted me to take a profile test and to prepare a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation on developing and implementing a strategic plan to improve their safety program. I would present this plan to the company president, vice-president and human resources manager.


So that you understand my dilemma; they wanted a 10-minute fix for their failing safety program.


Well, I spent a week packing as much power and detail that I could into a 10-minute presentation. I re-wrote it three times, tweaked it, rehearsed it, timed it, tweaked it some more, until I thought I had the perfect 10-minute strategic plan. I even printed off copies of the slide presentation, in case there was an equipment failure.


I gave them copies of the slides at the beginning of my interview. I presented, answered all of their questions, spoke privately with the company president and walked out of there believing that I had nailed it.


On Monday of the following week, I received an email-a frickin’ EMAIL-telling me that they “went in a different direction”. Yeah; they hired someone a lot cheaper than me to implement MY strategic plan! I won’t make that mistake again!


I have been taught to “dress” for the interview. I believe that, unless the prospective employer states it, you should wear dress slacks and a tie. Shoes should be polished. In my mind; first impressions are still important.


My next interview was a bomb from the beginning. How do I know? First; I was dressed in my very best dress slacks, white shirt with a killer Jerry Garcia tie and I was met by a guy in a uniform shirt and blue jeans. It may have been casual dress day, but he also seemed very impatient, didn’t allow me to finish the application (“that’s OK; just sign it” he said) and he wanted to know in 500 words or less how I would save the world.


Did I mention that I hate interviews? Did I mention that my contempt for them starts to come out in my replies to some of the questions?


Here’s my problem: most companies deal with safety at a philosophical or abstract level; that is, until the number of accidents and injuries start to add up. They will want to put blame on the “safety coordinator” or blame the fact that they don’t have a safety coordinator. In their mind, they thought that safety was everyone’s responsibility and therefore; everyone would be safe.


In addition, many companies believe that requiring employees to remove finger rings and to wear safety glasses in their facilities is all they need, but they won’t say anything to the “higher ups” if they don’t follow these two, simple rules. And if the wife/girlfriend of an employee wants to walk into the plant unescorted wearing a tank top, shorts and flip flops; what’s the big deal, right?


Where was I?


Oh yeah; my hatred for interviews.


I think that part of the reason is that there are all of those questions and I start hearing this voice in my head. I will hear it tell me what I would REALLY like to say and then the other voice telling me what I SHOULD say. Ah; the classic struggle of good vs. evil.


I don’t like answering hypothetical questions, although I don’t mind asking them!


The reason that I don’t like them is because I use an “adaptive” approach to providing a safety solution.


If you are serious about getting to a root cause (s) of your problem (s), then there is certain information that you must share with me, so that I can take my past experience, weigh it against accepted safety norms and then, adapt it to your current situation.


No; it seems that many companies want to treat risk issues like it’s a plumbing problem, but instead of hiring a plumber, they hire someone who will be the only person working to resolve safety issues. This type of mentality puts you years away from establishing a “culture” of safety.


Companies fail to recognize the many pieces to the puzzle and though they can’t tell you how they got into the mess, they will micro-manage and resist your efforts to get them out of the mess.


In other words; they aren’t serious about creating a safety culture. They just want their insurance company and OSHA off of their backs.


The fire service taught me many skills that I use every day of my life. It strengthened my courage and self-confidence; maybe to my detriment. The fire service also taught me to look closely at origins and causes. It not only taught me about the human condition, but human behavior. That is to say; if you can train people to run into a burning building, you can certainly teach people on how to run out of that same building.


So, I guess I’ll know when I interview with a company that is serious about their risk control programs…


They’ll hire ME!




The views and opinions expressed are those of the author, Art Goodrich, who also writes under the name ChiefReason.  They do not reflect the views and opinions of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. Articles written by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form.

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Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on May 19, 2011 at 10:38am

-Having sat on both sides of the interview table I can agree with you that many, many people find interviews uncomfortable at best. Some do well and a few are nervous wrecks. 

-I have always viewed the interview process, again with perspective from both sides, as nothing more than a conversation and I really believe people get worked up over nothing. How many of us have no trouble striking up a polite conversation with a complete stranger in an elevator or a hallway or even on the street or in a park? Yet, put on a suite and tie and everyones pucker factor goes through the roof. 

-The reality of the matter is that many interview panels have already made up their mind about hiring someone prior to the interview which is generally viewed as a formality.

-I will disagree that firefighters have an easier time than private sector folks during the interview process and based on the blog I will assume you've never participated in the process.

-Contrary to most misconceptions, the interview process for firefighters usually involves more formality and more legal issues than the private sector.

-The interview process typically involves two stages, the first of which is a formal interview with predesignated questions so as to be fir to all candidates. The panel for a professional fire department consist of only one department member as there is no prior experience required of the candidate. The remaining panel members are made up of a human resources representative, a city legal representative and today there is usually a member of the EEOC represented. None of these people know or care anything about firefighting or the Fire Dept. They are simply there to gage candidate response, poise; a professional demeanor and insure impartiality.  

-The second interview is also a formal interview that is conducted by the Fire Chief in a one on one session. It is in this phase that those with prior experience will shine, and in which I believe you were alluding to the fact that you cannot BS this portion. This is the phase that more closely resemble the private sector. 

-"Easier for firefighters" is not something that comes to mind when I think of the interview process that I have participated in.

-The firefighter interview process is just one testing hurdle in a battery of rigorous tests and evaluations for such a vital and prestigious position within the community. 

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