interview weakness

Interview Question: What is your greatest weakness?

interview weaknessQ: What are two of your greatest weaknesses?


The dreaded weakness question has been known to take down the best candidate. You will have to be prepared for this one or you are doomed to stare blankly at the interviewer or worse yet, state that you have no weakness. I employ a strategy here that will leave the panel awestruck and not even remember that you gave them a specific weakness. In this scenario it is important to give the interviewer insight into what you understand about your weakness. Often times a candidate will deal only with the surface of a question when the panel really wants insight into what you understand about yourself. It is important to understand four things about a weakness. First, realize you have a weakness. Second, know how your weakness affects you. Next, how does my weakness affect others? Lastly, what am I doing to correct my weakness? Preface your answer with this understanding and watch the jaws drop on the panel. Trust me, the panel realizes that everyone has weaknesses. Give the interviewer insight into the way you understand and approach weaknesses and you will set yourself apart from the other candidates.


In preparation for this interview I knew I would get a question like this. I must say that no other question I prepared for caused me to really look at myself like this one did. I believe that we all have weakness and that is inevitable. However, more importantly there are four things that I need to know about my weakness. First, I must realize I have a weakness. Second, how does my weakness affect me? Third, how does my weakness affect others around me? Finally, what am I doing to correct my weakness? In this profession we work in teams and weakness in one member will affect the others. This is why it is critical that we continue to evaluate ourselves for weakness and then form a plan to improve. For example at one time I had a habit of trying to work on multiple projects at one time. What I found was that the work that I would put forth would not always be my best work or I would not get things done on time. Realizing this fact and how it affected those that were depending on me getting my work done well and on time I adopted a couple of new procedures. First, I told myself that I would no longer work on multiple projects at the same time if at all possible. Instead, I would work on one project with singular passionate focus until completion. Next, I started placing my projects in an action plan to keep me on track and on time. Since these changes I have noticed that I do good, quality work, and it is always done on time. Another example of a weakness would have to be my ability to speak a foreign language. In my education and development leading up to me sitting before you today I have learned much about pharmacy technician career and medical topics. It was not until recently that I realized I had neglected a key skill. I was working a shift and we had a Spanish-speaking patient come into the pharmacy. The language barrier made it difficult to communicate adequately with the patient. I decided right after that call that I would begin to develop the ability to speak Spanish. I purchased Rosetta Stone and have been working my way through the program. I have a long way to go but I understand that the ability to speak Spanish can greatly improve me and my team’s service. Finally, math used to be a weakness of mine, particularly when it came to the PTCB test.  However I studied intensively for the math section using a PTCB Practice Test and aced the calculations portion of the PTCB.

interview fire department

Interview Question: What do you know about our department?

interview fire departmentQ: What do you know about our department? Why do want to work for this department?

The Strategy

Houston we have lift off. You hear this question and you instantly light up because you have prepared well for this. The key here is preparation. If you are willing to put some time into researching the department you want to work for you will rise above the rest. You will need to glean information from some readily available sources. Sources that others may not even think to look at. When you look at the panel and tell them that one of the reasons you want to work for them is that they are building a new training tower in the next fiscal year, eyebrows will raise. Below I have listed several sources you should scour for information on:

  • Fire department annual report
  • Fire department budget documents
  • Fire department web site
  • City web site and specifically citywide initiatives.
  • Fire department 5 year plan

These documents are chock full of information that you can bring into your interview. The fact that you took the time to research the department shows the panel that you are diligent, intelligent, and full of passion. The information you should look for is listed below:

  • Fire Chief name
  • Asst. Chief name
  • Number of line personnel
  • Number of volunteers
  • Number of stations
  • Size of district
  • Mission statement
  • Core values
  • Unique hazards in the city
  • Opportunities to specialize. Swift water team, Haz-Mat, Fire investigation….
  • Number of calls for service last year
  • Upcoming projects spelled out in budget or 5 year plan
  • Citywide initiatives such as sustainability.


To be perfectly honest with all of you I have researched this department extensively because to not do so would be disrespectful. I know that the Fire Chief is Chief Smith and the assistant is Chief Haligan. I understand that you have 55 paid and 30 volunteer firefighters that staff 6 stations. I saw that you have a very large service district of 750 square miles. I read your mission statement and core values found on your web site. I could continue to rattle off facts but let me tell you why I really want to work for your department. Your department has a dynamic set of core values that we can all rally behind and a mission statement that is clear. Looking at the city I see that you have a unique set of hazards that include a major university, high tech industry, and a nuclear reactor. In your annual report I saw that there were opportunities to specialize in areas such as Special Rescue Team, Haz-Mat, and Fire Investigation Team. In your budget documents you indicated that you plan on building a new training facility within the next 5 years. Most importantly, I did a ride along and had a chance to meet many of the professionals that work here. I found the group to be family oriented, passionate about the job, and more than happy to mentor. After all of this I can truly say that this is the place for me and I am honored to be considered. Thank you. Make sure to nail the firefighter civil service exam using our firefighter practice test as well.  Can’t hurt.

firefighter workout

Interview Question: What Have You Done To Prepare For This Position?

firefighter workoutQ: What have you done to prepare for this position?


This is a big one. You will need to show passion and humility. If you are not careful you will come off as arrogant. This is your chance to showcase your education and certifications. This is a place where you can really separate yourself from the others. This is the question where you will present an article that no other candidate will have. You will present your written action plan (example below). An example of an action plan is below. You need to tell the panel that goals are only goals if you write them down in the form of a plan. You could tell them that if you don’t write them down they are just ideas. Now lead them down your personal journey. Hand out your action plan and take them through it. This will show the panel something they are used to seeing. In the fire service we use action plans and this will impress them. You don’t need to go through it piece by piece but just highlight some of the areas that are most important. I like to read the objective to start and impress upon them that you have been pursuing this goal with diligence and persistence. Another strategy you could employ is to break this question down into parts because when you categorize your answers it makes them easier to recall. For example when they ask you, “what you have done to prepare?” you could lead into the answer with a statement like this: I understand that this job is physically, mentally, and spiritually challenging therefore I have diligently prepared myself in each of these areas. Now you would address each area with specifics such as: Physical:

  • Workout to gain strength and endurance
  • Mention that heart attacks are a leading cause of firefighter deaths and you want to avoid being a statistic.
  • You exercise to reduce stress


  • Talk about all the education you have received to date
  • Verbalize that in fire/EMS we must continue to learn daily because it is a dynamic field.
  • Give examples of how you have continued to educate yourself after your formal education. Examples would be: Conferences you have attended, books you have read, mentors you have gone to, trade journals you read


  • If applicable, mention you are well grounded in your faith
  • This can be another stress reliever.

Perhaps the best strategy is to mix the two. When you get to the mental portion of the second strategy you could bring in the action plan.


This is the most important thing I have ever prepared for and as I began to prepare I quickly realized that I was going to have to prepare on multiple levels. I took a hard look at myself and saw that I was going to have to prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually if I was going to be successful as a firefighter. Physically I began to exercise to gain strength and endurance, both critical for the type of work required of a firefighter. Also, I am keenly aware that heart attacks are the leading cause of firefighter deaths each year and I would like to avoid being a statistic. Preparing mentally was a large portion of my preparation. It was so large in fact that I decided to write down specific goals and objectives with timelines so that I could stay on track. I formalized my goals in writing in the form of an action plan and I posted the plan in a place where I would be forced to see it on a daily basis to motivate me. (This is where you would present the plan to the panel). In fact, I have brought the plan with me. (Take the panel through the highlights of your education, conferences you attended, and mentor opportunities you took advantage of). Lastly, I am well grounded in my faith. In the fire service we are public servants. Being grounded in my faith allows me to stay humble and have an attitude of a servant. Also, my faith allows me to always have a community of friends that I can talk with when I find myself under stress. Thank you.

tell me about yourself interview

Interview Question: Tell Us About Yourself

tell me about yourself interviewQuestion: Tell Us About Yourself.


There is one key and one key only on this one. DO NOT VOMIT. That is, do not regurgitate your entire interview in question one. This question is designed to get you warmed up and put you at ease. You will have the rest of the interview to impress the panel and sell yourself. This answer needs to be brief with a good mix of personal and professional content included. Let the panel know how you got here sitting in front of them today. Limit the answer to approximately 1-2 minutes. Your last sentence should be something like, “I look forward to expanding on the things that brought me here today and I am excited for the opportunity to compete for this position”.

I was mentoring a young man for a job with a fire department that had some unique education that I thought would catch the attention of the panel right of the bat. He had completed a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Cal Poly. After that he traveled to Oregon State where he pursued and completed a Master’s in Biochemistry. It was only after he began to pursue a PHD that he realized he had no desire to look into a microscope for the rest of his life. During his education at OSU he had began to volunteer at the local fire department. Soon he found that his calling was with the fire department and he made a 180 degree turn and began to pursue his goal of becoming a professional firefigther. This is a great story and I knew that the advanced education would immediately catch the attention of the panel and leave them with a good impression. I knew that no other candidate would have such a back ground and that would set him apart early. His story indicates that he is a great student who will have no trouble learning. His story indicates that he is mature and able to complete things that he starts.
You need to bring those things that make you unique into every question but if you have a chance to do it in the opening question then do it. Some things that make you unique are:

  • Education background
  • Places you lived
  • Places you worked
  • Mentors you had. Your father was the Fire Chief of a department.


Thank You. I am Joey Haligan. I grew up in the San Francisco bay area with my parents and two brothers. I completed my primary and secondary education and was active in many sports and extracurricular activities. After high school I attended Cal Poly where I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Bio Chemistry. Realizing that I needed an advanced degree to work in my chosen field I traveled to Oregon State University where I completed a Master’s degree in Bio Chemistry. It was during my time at OSU that I began to volunteer with my local fire department. I fell in love with the job right away. I was overwhelmed with the pride I felt as I served. I was faced with the choice of pursuing my PHD in Bio Chemistry or doing a complete 180-degree turn and pursuing a career as a paramedic/firefighter. The choice was easy. This choice set in to motion a plan for more education. I pursued this new goal with fervor because now it was my true passion. This passion has set me here before you today. I look forward to expanding upon the things that brought me here today, and I am excited to compete for this position. Thank You.

Preparing for the Interview: Self Examination

Before you can begin to formulate answers to interview questions you must understand who you are. Not many people spend the time to sit down and think about who they are, let alone write it down. Take some time to answer the questions below. The information you write down about yourself will begin to help you formulate job-winning answers to the toughest interview questions. Knowing who you are and what you have to offer is your first step toward success.

  • List the reasons you want to pursue a career in this field.
  • What things have you done to prepare for a career in this field?
  • List the reasons why someone would hire you.
  • List any projects you have been involved with.
  • List leadership roles you have held.
  • List some of your weaknesses.
  • List some of your strengths.
  • Give a situation where you persuaded someone to do something or see your point of view
  • List any split second decisions you have made and think about the results.
  • List bad decisions you have made and what you learned from them.
  • List your greatest accomplishments
  • List some ways that you relieve stress
  • List times that you demonstrated initiative.
  • List experience you have working with the public.
  • List the qualities that you posses that make you suited for this job.
  • What would you say in closing to the panel?

Think about how you would handle the following situations:

  • Your partner picks up a wallet during overhaul operations and puts it into his pocket.
  • You receive conflicting orders from two different managers.
  • Your superior gives you an order that you know is unsafe and may result in serious injury.

Be able to define the following words:

  • Diversity
  • Integrity
  • Customer service
  • Ethics
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork

Happy Interview Technique: Humility

News flash!! You are not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Big deal, you took a NASM practice test. Yawn… you completed a paramedic practice test, paramedic training and are now certified. ZZZZZZZZ… you attended this conference and that conference. Get over yourself, so did every other candidate. Also, do not forget that the interviewer in front of you did all the same things often times before you were born, so do not bother trying to impress them with all your “experience”. The things listed above are all good, and yes, the interviewer should know about those things. However, the interviewer is looking for a much more important character trait during your interview. The trait the panel is looking for is humility.

The dictionary defines humility as, Lacking Pretense; not believing you are superior to others; meekness; modest; not boastful. I put it another way. You need to get your QC. That is, your quiet confidence. Quiet Confidence means that you are competent but not arrogant.  Arrogance is an attitude and employers realize that attitudes are very hard to change once they are set. It is just easier to not hire someone with the wrong attitude vs. hiring them and trying to change them. During your interview you will have many chances to display this character trait. The questions listed below are common questions you will get that will test your ability to be humble:

  • What have you done to prepare for this position?
  • What makes you better than the rest of the candidates?
  • List some of your strengths.
  • List some of your weaknesses.
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • What leadership positions have you held?
  • How do you define customer service?
  • What does diversity mean to you?

In a later post we will discuss strategies to tackle the above questions with Quiet Confidence. The way you are perceived by the interviewer is everything. All that matters is what the interviewer perceives. Whether it’s true or not, perception is reality. Humility is all about you. If you are not humble now, I suggest you start today and change your attitude. Here are three rules that I live by that help to keep me humble. First, I do not think more highly of myself than I ought to. Second, I refuse to be offended.  Lastly, treat others like you want to be treated. If you do those three things you are on your way to developing humility.  A religious quote states, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” Your honor is landing that job. Before you walk into that interview, get your attitude in check, and good things will come your way.

articulate interview

HAPPY Interview Technique: Articulate

articulate interviewTo set yourself apart and land that job you are going to have to be articulate. The way that you articulate verbally and nonverbally can make a profound impact on the audience you are speaking to. You will need to master some simple techniques so that you will present yourself as a confident, intelligent, well-spoken candidate, that has a clear vision for his/her future. In the following pages we will discuss how the words you use to describe yourself can leave the panel with a memorable impression about you. We will discuss how you need to get a handle on your bum’s and your um’s to be a successful candidate. Finally I will discuss the importance of articulating your vision.
Use the question, “what are your strengths”, as an opportunity to demonstrate that you are articulate.
Sitting through hundreds of interviews over the last several years one thing became very clear to me. Many of the candidates use the same words to describe themselves. After a while it almost becomes a distraction and one thing is for sure, I am unable to remember one candidate from another. The drill would go something like this, “So Mr. Smith give us one of your strengths”. At this point the candidate would describe himself or herself in a very typical way. We would hear hard working, team player, or “I just care too much.” Those are all good things but they are almost clique and every other candidate will say something very similar, if not the same thing. The interviewer will be left with nothing to remember you by. This is one of those golden opportunities to wow the group or at least wake them up. The way you speak does leave the impression of intelligence on the panel. I suggest that you employ a simple tool that we all used in high school to change it up a bit. Use the thesaurus. The thesaurus is a tool that takes any word and gives you another option for the same word. You can purchase a thesaurus or find one online. I suggest you make a list of qualities that you posses, that you would consider strengths, and then type them into the thesaurus. Some examples are below:

  • Hard working: Diligent
  • Good attitude: Optimistic
  • Solve problems: Critical thinker

A good vocabulary leaves the panel feeling that you are educated and well read. If you do not have a great vocabulary you are going to have to fake it a bit. Here are some other words you can use to describe yourself that can set you apart:
• Judgment
• Ingenuity
• Practical intelligence
• Perspective
• Perseverance
• Honesty
• Loyalty
• Discretion
• Humility
• Prudence
• Passion
• Hope

I could go on and on but I trust you can make your own list. You can find lists on-line or a favorite habit of mine is to take notes as I read books.

Clean up your bums and extinguish your um’s
We all do it. We stall and invariably we stall the panel with about 500 um’s. You do not notice it yourself but trust me the panel is driven to distraction by it. As you um your way through the interview the panel begins to fidget uncomfortably and that becomes what you are remembered for. This is not good. There is no simple solution to cleaning up your um’s it is just a practical step that you must tackle. First, I am fond of saying experience is a function of frequency. The frequency I speak of here is practice. You must practice being interviewed. Being interviewed is not natural for us and we have no formal training to fall back on. You must seek out the experience by subjecting yourself to mock interviews. You have to force yourself to become comfortable in the interview setting. Have friends and family interview you and have them critique your performance. Better yet, have someone interview you who is experienced at giving interviews because they can give you meaningful feedback. The more you practice the more comfortable you will become in the interview setting and many of your um’s will disappear. The few um’s that remain will come from questions that stump you. The key here is use a technique I like to call a reflective pause. When stumped do not feel the need to begin talking, take a deep breath, scan the audience and pause. Often times the interviewer will appreciate that fact that you are thoughtful with your answer. The pause will feel like an eternity to you but remember you are on hyperdrive right now because you are in the hotseat. To the interviewer your brief pause is just that… brief. Use the reflective pause to extinguish your um’s.

Cleaning up your bums is much easier and for the most part it is common sense. Your bums have to do with the clothes you wear and the way you groom yourself. It has to do with the way you sit in the interview. It has to do with the way you greet and close with the panel. Get some manners you slob. First, you must dress the part. I recommend a nice solid color suit for males and a pants suit for women. Just a shirt and tie is not enough in my opinion, because if you are the only one who dresses down you will stand out for the wrong reason. Also, don’t get flashy here. The goal is to look professional and confident. Dressing professional will also have the effect of making you feel more confident. Please do not forget to wear nice dress shoes and matching socks. This is attention to detail and this is who we are looking for in our line of work. Obviously, be well shaven and comb your hair in a conservative manner. Remember, we do not care about your personal style here. We care about what the 80-year-old grandmother is going to think when she sees you coming at her in her time of need. Dress for success and you will impress the panel and look and feel confident.

As you enter and see the panel for the first time it can be a terrifying moment that can set the tone for your entire interview. You have an opportunity in these moments to put yourself at ease and impress the panel. A bum just strolls in looking at the ground and plops down in the chair. The panel instantly can see that pressure is already getting to you. Polish this up and you will surely stand out. As you enter the room, walk tall with your head up. Walk at a comfortable pace and do not rush. Make eye contact with someone on the panel and greet them. Usually this will be the first person that speaks but if nobody speaks, pick a person on the end and greet them. The greeting should be a simple sir or ma’am with a slight head nod. Don’t be afraid to smile here also. Feel free to greet people with their rank, however, make sure you know the rank before you say it. It is just safer to use sir or ma’am. After you greet the first person, move on down. When the greeting is complete, have a seat in your chair. A little time taken to greet the panel at the beginning will set you at ease and give the panel the impression that you are confident.

Be careful how you sit. You are feeling great now that you have greeted the interviewer and things are already going in your favor. This is not all that complicated but you would be surprised to know that many people mess this up. Ok, what should you do? You should approach the chair and place any materials you brought with you on the table in front of the chair. Pull the chair out and have a seat. Adjust the seat forward toward the table. You should sit upright. I have seen many candidates slump or slouch and it just makes them look sloppy and nervous. Fold your hands in your lap and keep them there unless you must use them to emphasize a point you are making. Do not get carried away with hand gestures because this can become distracting. Also, do not fidget with things that are in front of you on the table. Don’t spin your pencil or tap you finger. Do not play with your papers. In some interviews the panel will place things on the table in front of you just to see if you will play with them. The point with all of this is that you need to be attentive to the interviewer and pay them respect by looking interested in being there. You’re now in the game and ready for the first question.

When the questions begin to come, remember to make eye contact with the questioner. Be very careful to make eye contact with everyone in that room. Clean up your bum’s and your um’s and you will be on your way to success.

Interview Prepare

HAPPY Interview Technique: Prepared

Interview PrepareA successful candidate will be prepared before walking into the interview. Preparation is mandatory, no surprise to you I am sure. However, if you prepare in several key areas you will stand out from the rest. You will need to know yourself, know the position, and then practice, practice, practice.

Know Yourself

  • Take Who Am I Self Assessment
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Get stupid stuff of Facebook

If you want to impress the interviewer you will need to have a grasp on what makes you a good candidate. You need to know you. Take some time to fill out the Who Am I Self Assessment in this report and begin to understand whom you are and how you got to this interview. If you will have any chance at impressing the panel you will need to be able to articulate your vision and that starts with knowing who you are. Answering the questions in the Self Assessment will allow you to begin to understand how to answer common interview questions you will surely face.

Lastly, get stupid stuff off Facebook. This is self-explanatory. Just understand that many employers are now checking your Facebook page to get a gauge on your character. The best advice is to clean up your page or deactivate it.

Know the Position
• Mission of the company
• Core Values
• Annual report (if available)
• Position expectations and workload

When the interviewer asks you why you want to work for them and you list off new programs or approaches that they have in the works, their ears will perk up.  The point I am making to you is there are many items that are easily accessible to the public that most candidates do not avail themselves of. Much information can be gleaned from these pieces of information and it shows that you really put in some research time. At my company we want people who want to join our team not just collect a paycheck.  Take the time to learn about the position you are applying for.

Practice, practice, practice
This means you need to find your voice. Practice how you will answer interview questions. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with your best buddy. Practice into a microphone and listen to the recording as you drive. Lastly, practice with someone with expertise on the subject of interviews. These people will be honest with you about what works and how you present yourself.  Leave your pride at the door.

Interview with Passion

HAPPY Interview Technique: Passion

Interview with PassionWhen you walk in to face the interviewer and you begin to answer questions you will need to be passionate to set yourself apart. Let’s just take a minute to remember that this is your dream. You have spent countless hours preparing for this moment. It seems as if your entire life has come down to this interview. How about you act like it?

I have interviewed hundreds of people and have I myself have been interviewed many times. I will tell you that the candidates that are passionate absolutely stand out. When I say passionate I am saying that you are fervent in your pursuit of this position. You have been passionately preparing yourself for this process and it shows in how you are answering the interview questions. I can see that you have wanted this so much that you have studied my department and know it intimately. I see that you have been passionate about this goal for some time because you have presented me with an action plan that shows me your three-year journey to get you where you are today. I see that you are dressed for success and have squashed your um’s. Indeed you are firing on all cylinders. However, if you forget to speak with passion you just might put the panel to sleep.

It is critical that when answering questions you show some energy. When you believe in something you will present your case with passion. When answering interview questions passion shows that you believe what you are saying and it is part of whom you are. On the other hand, a passionless answer tells the panel that your answer is canned and you are just trying to get hired. You will need to practice your answers and find the spots where you can add some fervor. These places are different for everybody because we are all passionate about different things so it is very important that you take some time to be introspective and find your passion.

Sometimes nerves will make you come across as passionless. It may be a good exercise to mention that you may have come across as passionless today, but you want the panel to understand you’ve been diligent in your pursuit of this goal for several years now, and as you stand on the cusp of success it is just a little overwhelming. Inform the panel that your passion will extend throughout your career in the fire service as you seek to be a positive role model.

Bottom line is you need passion. The beautiful thing is that if you spend the time to prepare you will naturally be infused with passion because you will be confident. Your trepidation will disappear and you will passionately spell out the case for why this department should hire you.

And the final step in the H.A.P.P.Y. interview technique…Yardstick

HAPPY Interview Technique: Yardstick

You walked through that door and you pulled it off. You were humble, articulate, prepared, and passionate. You have now become the yardstick that all the other candidates will be measured against. You have become the #1 candidate!

The job of a yardstick is to measure. You have become this yardstick. When I’m doing interviews we always have a way to score the candidate on a variety of areas. Often times it is a score of 1-10 on each question. Often times at the end of the score sheet, there is a place for comments. It is in the comments section where an interviewer will put their thoughts or gut feelings. The interviewer will often make note if they thought that a particular candidate was the best candidate so far. This is the key. After each candidate the panel discusses their interview. It is in this time that the best candidates are identified. After that candidate is identified all other candidates are measured against their performance. This is where you come in. If you walk into that interview and you are H.A.P.P.Y., then all other candidates will be measured against you, and the best they can hope for is a second place ranking.

Become the yardstick and you will set yourself apart and land that dream-job.