interview integrity

Interview Question: How do you define integrity?

interview integrityInterview Question: How do you define integrity?

The Strategy

You need to make this question your own. Everyone has a set of values that guide their behavior, so it is necessary that you know what those are going into your interview. You need to know what your core values are so take some time to write some down and think on them before your interview. I like to talk about how I have a set of core values that I live by each and every day. To have integrity you need to live by your core values on a consistent basis. One thing you need to know is that some fire departments have a set of core values and most have a mission statement. This is an example of how and organization can exercise integrity. It is important to note that a set of core values at an organization is a set of values that everyone can agree upon and rally behind. Make sure you research your department and know the core values and the mission statement. It is important to note that the public is very trusting of us. They let us walk into their homes without any hesitation. We must always be mindful of our responsibility to have the highest integrity. We must never betray the public’s trust.


Integrity is having a set of core values that you live by on a consistent, daily basis. I have a set of values that remind me to stay humble, treat others like I want to be treated, and I refuse to be offended. I try to consistently model this and it is part of who I am. I understand that your department also has a set of core values. This is exceptional because it is a set of values that the entire organization can agree upon and rally behind. The core values remind us of whom we are in this organization. They remind me of how I need to conduct myself when walking into the homes of a trusting public or into a local business to conduct a fire inspection. If selected to become part of your organization I will continue to live a life of integrity on and off duty. Thank you.

interview success

Interview Question: How do you define success?

interview successQ: How do you define success?

The Strategy

This question can be a trap. You must not come across as arrogant. Avoid statements like, “I usually succeed in everything that I do”.   Or “I passed the massage practice test on my first try.”  Stay away from saying things like, “Failure is not an option for me”. You need to understand that there are different types of success. You have personal success and you have organizational success. The important thing to remember is that both types of success take support players to make it successful. I inform the panel that personal success is fulfilling however with organizational success you find a greater fulfillment because it takes a team to pull it off. I mention that success to me is how well I am influencing others toward greatness. This attitude is invaluable in an organization such as a fire department. Your attitude can infect the organization and lead the entire organization higher.


To me success is an attitude. Let me explain. The way I see it there are two types of success, personal success and organizational success. Personal success indicates that I do it by myself whereas organizational success takes a team. The truth is that rarely do we succeed at anything by ourselves. Personally I have had the greatest fulfillment when I have worked with a team toward a common goal. This is really what organizational success is all about. When I say that success is an attitude I mean that I understand what my role is in the fire department organization. My attitude says that I can find success when I am influencing those in my sphere of influence positively. If I am influencing those around me in the organization positively, in turn they will influence those in their spheres. This attitude of success can infect an entire organization. The important thing to remember here is that even as a new hire it is my responsibility to be a positive influence on my sphere even if that is just my immediate crew or other new hires. I pledge to do this.

Interview Question: Is diversity important in the fire service?

interview diversityQ: Is diversity important in the fire service?


The key to this question is to not focus on race in your answer. The question is asking about diversity but it is not stated as racial diversity. It is proper to acknowledge race in your answer but the focus should be on the diversity of talents and gifts found in the people that make up any organization. If the department has a set of core values you can reflect on how core values are the “shared values” of the organization. You can also use the mission statement if the department does not have core values in place. This is a good place to call attention to the fact that humble people are able to see the talents and gifts in others and are quick to defer to someone with more expertise on a subject. It is good to verbalize how this attitude makes for a stronger department and this is your attitude.  This is an important question that will test your depth in a way that a firefighter practice test does not.  It is important to note that if you decide to use the Core Values or the Mission Statement you better have these memorized just in case you are asked to recite these.


Absolutely. It is clear that we all come from diverse backgrounds. We come from different ethnic backgrounds and we come from different professional backgrounds. We practice different religions and we belong to different political parties. Furthermore, each of us has a set of talents and gifts that set us apart. These facts make us stronger only if we are humble enough to recognize the diversity in others. This is where a departments core values or mission statement come into play because no matter our race, belief system or the set of talents and gifts we posses, we can rally behind a shared set of departmental values. The Core Values and the Mission Statement set the expectation for all members to meet or exceed.

interview strength

Interview Question: What are your strengths?

interview strengthQ: What are your strengths?

The Strategy

Expect this question in one of its forms. This is yet another question where with preparation you will stand above the rest of the candidates. The key here is simple. Don’t say the same thing as every other candidate.  For this question, interviewers continually hear the same answers. There is nothing wrong with the answers that are common except that they are common. You will fail to stand out if you say the same thing as 30 other candidates. Compare the two lists below: Common strengths

  •  Hard working
  • Team player
  • Problem solver
  • Leader
  • Just care to much
  • Time management
  • Diligence

Uncommon answers

  • Perspective
  • Ingenuity
  • Critical thinker
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Perseverance
  • Hope
  • Gratitude
  • Meticulous
  • Tenacious

Interviews are about perception and perception is reality. The words you use say a lot about you. In particular, if you choose the right words you will sound articulate and intelligent. An exercise I have clients complete is to have them right down several of their strengths in their own words. Once this is complete I have them take each of their strengths and place them into a thesaurus. The thesaurus will give you another way to say the same thing but in a more articulate way. I guarantee that when asked about your strengths if you say, diligence, perspective, and humility the panel will take note and remember you because you will be unique.


I would say that I am diligent, humble, and have perseverance. Diligent because it was a must when I set this goal to become a personal trainer and pass the NASM after practicing with a NASM practice test. I was diligent in setting my goals and diligent in meeting them. In my diligence I had single-minded focus on the prize at the end and I never lost sight of that and now I am on the cusp of success and I am excited. I am a humble person by nature. I never think more highly of myself than I should. I understand that remaining humble will allow me to see the strengths in others and not be jealous. Being humble allows us to abandon ourselves to the strengths of others and that’s how winning teams are made. I would not be here today if it were not for perseverance. The road to this seat has been very challenging. I have studied hard and been rewarded with the credentials needed to have the chance to compete for this position. The journey I have been on has been filled with little money, unforeseen events, and stress. As I sit here today I realize it was all worth it. Thank you.

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.