The Curve Ball Question

Because I interact with many who use our program, I received this email:

Captain Bob,

I have been a volunteer firefighter for 3 years now. I only began seeking employment as a career firefighter 1 year ago so that I could finish my bachelor’s degree.  I have never had any problem passing written and physical exams but am getting eliminated after oral boards.  

I am at a loss of what to do here. I feel that when I walk into the room, I am well prepared for my interview. Just recently though, I was thrown for a loop by a new oral board question I had never heard before.  It was a series of questions, but I only had 30 seconds to respond. After that, I was cut off and read the next question. These questions ranged from how you feel about working for a female lieutenant, to what you know about our department. I fear that I lost points here. I could not get everything I knew out of my mouth in 30 seconds.  

I have studied everything about the departments that I am interviewing with. Yet, I still seem to fall short and don’t get called back for further testing.

Can anyone give me some advice on what I need to do to improve myself in this area? I would really appreciate it.  –  John

My answer:

You’re not alone here.  Many tell me they felt like they have hit a wall and don’t know what to do next.

Let me share this with you from Culver City CA oral board rater, David White (Fire Captain/EMS Coordinator/Culver City Fire Department).

Dave wrote:

I have sat as a rater on many oral boards.  Sometimes a candidate will have good answers, but the answers don’t seem to be sincere.  The answers don’t seem to fit the candidate.  Raters will hear the same canned answers repeatedly.  Sincerity – your words and feelings – is a dimension that though hard to quantify comes into play when evaluated.  Do your answers jive with your demeanor and application/resume? They need to do so.

There will always be a question that you weren’t expecting. This is not deliberate. It just is. When you know this from the start, you won’t be surprised when it happens.  Every oral board rater has seen a candidate that was surprised by a certain question go into a high speed wobble and never recover.  

If there are conditions to a question, like 30 seconds to answer a series, you are expected to meet them. You need to adapt. Be flexible. Your answers need to be brief enough to meet the time allotted.  If you don’t then you will not score as well as those who did.  –  Dave

Fire Captain Bob continues:

It is unusual to have a format of answering a series of questions in 30 seconds. But here is the deal. If you have your base line of answers down, then you could easily condense the high points to meet 30 seconds.  What too many candidates try to do is answer the questions with a blueprint answer when all the raters need is a sketch. You are trying to give us a dump truck when we just need a trailer.

Yes, curveballs happen. And, you can plan on being asked a curve ball question or two. Often, it’s a question where you already have an answer, but it is disguised in one of a hundred different ways. You must remove the disguise and know what the question is really asking. You must deliver your answer along with a personalized life experience story of how it relates to you. If you think you will struggle with this, I recommend private coaching. It will help you tremendously.

Fire Captain Bob