The Oral Board Skinny

With many years in Fire Service, we have seen it all. Yes – we have seen just about every type of person, and every scenario come through the hiring process. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak. 

Here is what we know at If a firefighter candidate is going to get hung up, it will be on the Oral Board. 

The average Oral Board lasts about 20 minutes. You might five questions, which means you will have 4 minutes for each reply. Add on an opening and closing, and you will have even less time for your answers. 

You must be prepared. You do not want to waste a minute of valuable time. After all, you have 20 minutes to land a career.

You might be asked how you prepared for this position. This will be your longest answer. Your explanation must be concise yet thorough and include highlights that are yours. Forget the clone answers that drive most oral board panel members nuts. Develop a unique response. Do it quickly and cover the good stuff. You do not want the raters to zone out from an answer that goes into the minute details. 

There are some Oral Boards where each session is timed. If you don’t move it along, you won’t have a chance to answer all of the questions and score well. That said, the last thing you want is for the raters to cut you off to move on to the next question. During a private coaching session, I asked a firefighter candidate to tell us a little about himself. Fourteen minutes later, we were somewhere in Montana. FOURTEEN MINUTES! He just used up 14 minutes of a 20-minute Oral. What do you think he had time for now? This exercise was a turning point for this candidate. 

Another firefighter candidate did a great job in a coaching session. His downfall was adding on more to his answers before his next Oral interview. When the panel asked him what he knew about the City of San Jose, the candidate went on and on. Yes, one of the panel members told me this. The candidate ended by informing the raters how many hotel rooms they had in the city. This guy did not get the job. His constant chatter would have driven everyone in the fire station crazy. We already have enough of those.

Here is the takeaway: Candidates need to be prepared to field the question presented, satisfy the oral board, move onto the next question, and get their top score. Why give the panel a blueprint when we need a sketch? Why give us a dump truck when we need a trailer? Keeping your answers simple is the best plan. That’s why it’s important to practice with a tape recorder to perfect your timing, inflection, volume, where to cut out material on those long drawn out answers, and find out if you really do sound like Donald Duck.