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«Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement By Steve Prziborowski The Opening Statement The opening statement of an ...»

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Oral Interview Preparation Tips

The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement

By Steve Prziborowski

The Opening Statement

The opening statement of an oral interview is probably the most important opportunity

you will be provided with to make a positive and lasting first impression. This is your

chance to set the stage for the rest of your interview and to hit the ground running so

that you can come out on the top of the final hiring list. Most fire departments grade the

oral interview as 100% of your total oral board score for entry-level and some promotional processes; starting out on the right foot with a solid opening statement can help you obtain a high score in the oral interview.

What is an opening statement? It is your chance to reduce the nervousness, to get a little comfortable (don’t get too comfortable!), and to let the oral board know something about you – the most important person during the allotted time frame of your interview!

An opening statement is your chance to provide the oral board with information about:

Your personal characteristics, traits, beliefs, career goals, etc.

• Your educational background (formal education – don’t include high school, it • shows your age) Your training background (certifications, licenses, etc.) • Your experience (paid and volunteer) • Your special skills / talents (bilingual ability, mechanical ability background, etc.) • Basically all of the information that you have listed on your resume (without being • too specific that you bore them to death) Your resume needs to be memorized and you need to be able to talk about all of the things you are offering to the department that makes you the best candidate for the job or the promotion. Only you can properly market and sell yourself! Your opening statement is a way to get the oral board motivated to listen to what you have to say during the time you are being interviewed.



Tell us how you have prepared yourself for the position of ______________.

• Tell us how your education, experience, and training have prepared you for the • position of ________________.

Tell us about yourself.

• I suggest you take the time to write out a response to each of the above questions (and the responses can be very similar and modified as needed) and then save them on your computer as a document you can modify as necessary. An opening statement is typically going to be anywhere between two minutes up to about four minutes in length.

Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 1 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement Any less than that, and you’re depriving the oral board of hearing as much as they can about your key attributes. Any more than that, and you risk the chance of boring them to death, putting them to sleep, or having them lose all interest in you and the rest of what you have to say.

A Chief Officer who is a friend of mine, stated he had recently sat on his Department's oral board panel for entry-level firefighters. I was asking him for some feedback regarding their interviews, so I could pass on some "lessons-learned of what not to do during an oral interview" to other folks. He stated they had one candidate with an opening statement lasting approximately 19 minutes. Then, a couple of days later, another candidate beat that record with one lasting almost 25 minutes! Even the person with the best resume in world can't fill 25 minutes worth of opening statement material.

He told me he had lost interest at the point both candidates were about five minutes into their opening statements, but they had to let the candidates continue anyway. They finally had to stop the second candidate because they were running out of time, and they still had more questions to ask, and more candidates to interview.

You want the oral board to remember you for being unique, in a positive way. These two candidates will be remembered for being unique, just not in a positive way. In case you were wondering, neither received job offers.

Since most oral interviews are on a tight schedule, it is paramount to use your time wisely! I had a time when I was interviewing for an entry-level firefighter position with the City of Daly City Fire Department and I was doing my typical three-minute opening statement. After about two minutes, one of the board members politely advised me that I had better be careful and cut my answer short because they still had four other questions to ask me and that candidates were scheduled for every ten minutes! I reluctantly abbreviated my opening statement, summarizing the remaining information, and went on to answer the other questions. When I walked out, I thought I had blown the interview. Turns out, I ended up ranking number one on the hiring list (no ties that I was aware of); the only firefighter entry-level test I ever ranked number one on.

Having your opening statement on the computer is a valuable tool I am glad I utilized, and I will explain why. When I was testing for the position of firefighter over the course of 4 1/2 years, I probably had the opportunity to participate in approximately 40 oral interviews. While I didn’t have an opening statement on the computer at the time, I did have it written down and virtually memorized. I had it down so well I could regurgitate it at a moment’s notice, modifying it to fit the agency I was applying to.

Now before you say “I don’t want to memorize an answer because it will sound rehearsed,” wait a second. Having an answer memorized will make you sound like you have practiced and prepared for the interview. I would rather listen to someone that has practiced their opening statement than to someone who is just winging it or throwing Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 2 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement things out at random and in no specific order. Lack of practice can increase your odds of leaving out key points about you.

I used to carry the opening statement with me to the oral interview and review it while waiting to be called. Realize there was no way I could memorize word-for-word the entire opening statement. That’s ok; memorizing it allowed me to picture it in my head and ensure that I could cover the major points I wanted to cover, and ad-lib as needed to fill in the blanks. The nice part about having it on the computer is that I could change it as needed, cater it to the agency I was testing for, add accomplishments or achievements as I received them, delete things that were no longer applicable or appropriate, and alter it as necessary. Consider your opening statement as a work in progress.

When I was preparing for the Captain’s promotional examination, I mistakenly did not spend as much time preparing for the oral interview as I initially thought I should. I think I became complacent and felt I could just “wing-it” and go with the flow when they asked me a question. I had spent countless hours preparing for the written examination, the personnel problem, the fire simulation, the oral interview, and for the position of Captain itself, but not that much time (if any) preparing my opening statement. Yes, I had prepared for other questions in the oral interview such as my strengths and weaknesses, programs the department was offering, various situations they could ask me, etc. However, I spent virtually no time preparing an opening (or closing) statement.

Luckily, I had an eye-opening experience that kicked me in the pants and forced me to go to my computer and create an opening (and closing) statement for the position of Captain. Something different from when I was testing for firefighter, primarily because I could not find the notes I had utilized at that point. Here is that eye-opening experience that was embarrassing at the time it occurred, but very critical I believe to my overall success on the Captain’s exam: About a month prior to the Captain’s exam, our department had opened up a firefighter position in our training division, and I was very interested in applying for the position. I had been instructing classes for a while and I felt it would be a valuable position for career development purposes and also a position where I could give something back to the department (I had recently completed my Fire Instructor 1, 2 and 3 training through the State Fire Marshal’s Office – 240 hours of instructor training that now allowed me to not just instruct classes, but instruct the firefighters who aspired to be instructors within the department and the State Fire Marshal’s instructional system).

The process for the position of firefighter in training consisted of filing an application and completing an oral interview with the Training Captain and the EMS Coordinator. There was only one other person that had applied for the position, a firefighter with more experience and also prior training division experience (he had held the same spot about ten years prior). One day while working on shift at the fire house, the Training Captain called me up and asked if I wouldn’t mind coming in that afternoon for an interview, since they wanted to complete the process before I went on vacation the next week. I Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 3 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement said fine, and didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, especially since he had told me that it would just be a casual / informal interview, and just a formality.

I went into the interview thinking that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal; I had done really well on oral interviews in the past, why should this one be any different? Famous last words! They started by asking me the standard opening statement question, “tell us how you have prepared for the position of firefighter assigned to the Training Division?” Here’s my chance to shine, or so I thought. I was able to get about one sentence out of my mouth before I realized that I had not prepared, and I really did not have all of my qualifications packaged into a clean, well-prepared opening statement. I was so embarrassed at myself for not having an organized opening statement, that I had to stop my opening statement and apologize to both of the oral board members, both of whom I believed to have a great working relationship with and both of whom knew my qualifications well. Both of them told me to not worry about it, and to just continue on.

Continue on I did. I answered the rest of the questions they asked me adequately, but not superbly. I ended up not getting the position, and I firmly believe it was because of my oral communication skills (or lack thereof) that I had presented that afternoon. Now I can live with not getting that position; what I could not live with was that in about two months, I was potentially going to have an oral interview for the position of Captain (assuming I made it that far in the assessment center). Had this been my Captain’s oral interview, I would have been dead in the water. This was the epiphany that made me get my act together for the upcoming Captain’s assessment center. Had I not had the opportunity to participate in that oral interview, I might have not seen my shortcomings and lack of preparation in time to secure a spot high enough on the Captain’s promotional list to get promoted on my first try (which I did).

The one good thing that came out of that embarrassing moment was that I went back to the fire station that night and literally wrote out my opening statement and put it on computer. It took me a couple of days to get it really where I wanted it to be; a positive and powerful representation of my key selling points. I was able to turn that embarrassing moment into a turning point in my preparation for the Captain’s test.

Because of that embarrassing moment, and the preparation that followed that moment, I ended up coming out number one (out of 11 candidates) in the assessment center, and also being the only candidate to score 100% in any phase of the assessment center. I scored 100% on my oral interview and I correlate that score primarily to the preparation I had done at the last minute, thanks to my “crashing and burning” at the other interview I had participated in for the training position. Had I not had that other interview, I strongly believe I might have fallen into the false sense of security that many candidates have with certain areas of their abilities.


Below is the opening statement I utilized when I took the Captain’s examination:

Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 4 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement Members of the board, I have been in the fire service for over 8 years, and with the Department for almost 5 years. I am presently assigned to Engine 11-serving the citizens of the City of Campbell as a Firefighter/Engineer-Paramedic. Let me take a few minutes and explain how my education, training and experience have prepared me for the position of Fire Captain.

First, regarding education, I have completed my B.S. degree with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Business Administration from California State University at Hayward, and also my A.A. degree in Fire Service Technology from Chabot College in Hayward. One thing that is not on my resume is that 2 weeks ago, I started working on a Master’s Degree in Emergency Services Administration through California State University at Long Beach. It is being hosted by the San Jose Fire Department and should take 2 to 3 years to complete.

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