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Getting Caught

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  • Getting Caught

    No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many mock interviews you have done, no matter how relaxed you feel going into your oral, you could get caught. It could be a question that comes out of left field, something you didn't expect, or worse, something you know and did prepare for, but as the question goes in your right ear, the answer goes out you left. Equally unnerving is to be in the middle of an answer and forgetting what you were saying, or realizing you are far down the wrong path and can't figure out of to out of it.

    Regardless of the reason, you are sitting there with the people that hold your future in their hands looking to you with pencils raised, waiting to write down your incredible answer, and there is nothing there. Even worse, the longer you sit, the deeper your situation sinks in, the worse it gets. You feel the first drip of sweat form on your brow. Hearing that this happens to everybody doesn't help when you are in the moment.

    There are a few directions you can go at this point, but you need to have a plan before you get into a situation like this or you could just lock-up.

    You could talk until you figure out what you want to say. But I don't think you should ever have your mouth running while you brain is on another task. Who knows what could come out. I have seen people that had something come out of their mouths that surprised them as much as it did the people on the panel. Never have you mouth in drive while you brain is in neutral.

    I was asked a question in an assessment center exam for a captain’s job. They asked for me to tell them about the F.O.G. Manuel. The field operations guide. I had spent a lot of time using the book and studying how to use it. I had nothing. I could picture it in my mind and yet nothing I knew was there anymore.

    As I said before, when something like this happens to you, you need to have a plan in place before hand or you are at the mercy of you brain while in panic mode. What I did was to tell them I had lost my train of thought, look down at my lap for a moment to let it come to me. You accomplish a few things by doing this. By telling them you are at a loss, it eases some of you nervousness and panic, also if anything it gives them a sense of your maturity when faced with a challenging situation. In my case, nothing came to me and I had to take a pass. Luckily it was the last question they asked.

    That is the other problem when dealing with a situation like this. It may be a question that isn't that important, not that much of your total score. But by messing it up, it then gets into your kitchen and can affect the rest of your responses.

    I had another assessment center where we had to give an oral resume and then give a class on the D.O.T. Book. I hadn't noticed that there was a five minute time limit on the oral resume. I was running about seven, I decided to talk a little faster. Not a good idea and it didn't help. As I just was getting to the good stuff, they said I had 30 seconds, then time was up. It got into my kitchen. For those of you who don't know the D.O.T. book is the tool you use to look up chemicals at a spill and is as simple as it could possibly be to explain, but not for me. I had been shaken by getting cut off and did a bad job of stumbling through the presentation. I got my scores a week later. I received a 97% on my oral resume and a 73% on the stupid D.O.T. book. It had gotten in my kitchen. Don't let that happen to you.

    It may be they have found a question that will cause everyone to stumble and they want to see how you recover.

    One panel asked a friend of mine what N.F.P.A. stood for, he drew a blank. But what he did say is, “I can't believe I can't tell you, but I will know within the hour, and you can bet I will never forget for the rest of my life”. They chuckled and it didn't hurt him too much.

    A nephew of a captain at work was taking a paramedic assessment and needed to cardiovert the pt. He was just out of medic school and knew it all, but he couldn't remember the word cardiovert. He said, "The Pt is in a rhythm that requires a synchronizing function (either manually operated or automatic) that would allow the cardioverter to deliver a reversion shock, by way of the pads, of a selected amount of electric current over a predefined number of milliseconds at the optimal moment in the cardiac cycle which corresponds to the R wave of the QRS complex on the ECG. Timing the shock to the R wave prevents the delivery of the shock during the vulnerable period (or relative refractory period) of the cardiac cycle, which could induce ventricular fibrillation”. They evaluators laughed and said they didn't know how a person could describe something so well and forget the name. He did fine and got the job, mostly because he kept his composure and didn't get caught.

    If you do get caught you aren't going to pull an answer out of thin air, all you can do is minimize the damage by keeping in control and showing maturity in a bad situation.

    GoodLuck, Capt Rob
    Good Luck, Capt Rob

  • #2

    Captain Rob...Good post and as I've mentioned before I've had candidates have a vapor lock on a question as easy as "What is your shoe size'. They ended up getting the position but they sure squirmed until they received their grade.
    Jay Dudley
    Retired Fire
    Background Investigator
    Lifetime Member CSFA
    IAFF Alumni Member


    • #3
      Great post. I personally froze on an interview question about a specific SOP. I basically gave a very general overview of what I could remember. As I finished I explained that I could not recall the exact details, but as soon as I left the interview I would go look it up. My answer was relatively close and was good enough. So I got lucky.
      Fire Service Interview questions - The blog that has REAL interview questions for firefighters, Engineers, Lieutenants, and Captains !


      • #4
        Capt Bob has good info. I wish i was in a place where i could use it to get hired ....


        • #5
          Another way you can get caught is to bring up things that are emotional. I have seen a lot of people that get a tear in their eye when they tell me a story that they want to use in their interview. A dramatic situation they were in, a sick or dying family member, something that brings a lump into their throat.

          Here is the problem with that. When you are in an interview, or in front of a large crowd, or for whatever reason your adrenaline is flowing, the nerves are kicking in, you are the quintessential you. You laugh a little louder, are more animated, and all of your emotions are peaked. A good example of this is that a lot of couples will have a fight when they are getting ready to go on a vacation. What could be better than going on a trip? But because the emotions are high, something that would be overlooked any other time becomes a big deal.

          We have all seen sports heroes, military veterans; real men’s men get chocked up in public settings, get embarrassed and apologized. “I can’t believe I’m crying” is usually what they say.

          This can come into play in your interview. I had one guy tell me that when he was 10 his whole family was killed, he hid with his sister in the attic and a firefighter was the first to find him. Not only was that a little too heavy to bring into an interview, but he couldn’t get through it without misting up. I told him to expect those emotions to multiply in an interview. We found something else more positive to use in its place.

          A question that goes around a lot is, “Tell use what the most difficult thing you have had to do was”. The answer another guy had was that he was most of the way through medic school he found out his father had terminal cancer. They had never been close, but he quit school and went and took care of him for 16 months. This put off his plans about three years, but he was happy to have improved his relationship with his dad and he felt he could now empathize better with sick patients as well as the families that were caring for them. The problem was that this was tough for him to get through. The solution was to de-sensitize himself. Practicing the response over and over, as well as presenting it in mock interviews, allowed him to get to the point that he could tell it smoothly.

          As funny as it sounds there have been three people that I know of that have broken down and cried in their interview for my department. I am sorry, but there is no way you are going to do well in an interview if your sobbing.

          There may be a time when a panel asks something that will draw out an emotional response. You want to have thought about what you want to say and be comfortable presenting it before you have to do it in an interview because you defiantly don’t want to get caught.
          Last edited by FFighterRob; 11-25-2010, 11:37 PM.
          Good Luck, Capt Rob


          • #6
            Another way you can get caught is when you are asked something you just don’t know or doesn’t apply to you at all. There are a lot of interview questions that are going along the lines of “Tell us about a time?” But what if you have never had one of those “Times”?

            I talked to a guy recently that asked me about a question just like this. He was asked to tell the panel about a time when he had a disagreement or conflict with his boss or supervisor. He said he hadn’t had ever had a conflict at work that he was aware of. They said they would wait until he came up with something, and they did. He said the longer he waited, the longer the silence went, the more he got nervous, and he finally just told them he had nothing and to move on.

            I asked him about it, thinking I would help him find an example that he could have used. He said when he was almost done with college his father had suffered a heart attack and died. He had to leave school and take over his fathers’ auto body shop and had never had a boss. I asked the obvious question, “Why didn’t you just tell them that?” He said he wished he had afterward, but he got so caught up in them wanting a conflict that it just didn’t come to him.

            If you had been asked this question, and really didn’t have anything, the last thing you want to do is lock-up, or tell them you never have and to move on. You could make something up, or tell a story that happened to someone you know, but I would never suggest lying in an interview. We can tell and if you get caught you are done.

            What you could try is to say something to the effect of, “When I am in a conflict or disagreement, I always try to be part of the solution. A lot of disagreements happen when no one listens, and I am a great listener. But if I am at work and my boss wants me to do something, I just do it.” They may or may not accept that, it did seem his panel would have waited for a conflict.

            For me personally I would say, “While it wasn’t an actual conflict, I had a boss that had been on the job a long time and he felt he had done it all and was coasting to retirement. I didn’t know my job well and wanted training. He wasn’t interested. Instead of making my boss look bad, or saying I didn’t know my job, I found another new guy and sat in on some of his training. Then found another person who was willing to help on out on my shift. The funny thing was when we actually got the training going, my boss would come out and help.”

            There are only so many directions you can go if you are asked about an experience you have not had, but try to get through it with anything other than saying “I have nothing”. Because if you have to pass on a question you will get no score and it could get into your kitchen and affect your other responses. You don’t want to get caught.
            Good Luck, Capt Rob


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