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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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As for training, another addition that is not on my resume is that last month, I completed my last 2 chief officer classes through the California State Fire Marshal’s office. Although I am competing for the position of fire captain, I believe completing the chief officer certification classes makes me more prepared for the position than just having done the fire officer certification classes (which I have already done). A mentor of mine, once told me to always prepare myself for one position above what I’m applying for, and this will allow me to be better prepared and better rounded. Something else that is not on my resume is that in late May, I completed the Master Instructor course at the California State Fire Academy at Asilomar. There are only about 140 people in the state of California that are certified as Master Instructors.

This certification allows me to teach Instructor 1A and 1B, the two required courses for firefighters that want to be certified by the California State Fire Marshal to teach within their respective fire departments or who want to become certified fire officers. Certifications I have obtained through the California State Board of Fire Services include Fire Officer, Fire Instructor I and II, Public Education Officer, Prevention Officer I, and Fire Investigator I. I have also completed various other California State Fire Marshal classes such as all three level two Fire Prevention classes and both level two Fire Investigation classes, just to provide me with a well-rounded background.

Now allow me to talk about experience. Some of the highlights of my almost five year career with the Department include being a member of the Safety Committee, the Standard Operating Procedure committee, the EMS committee, and the Public Speaker’s Bureau. I have been certified/qualified to drive and operate two of our Truck companies and have spent almost three years as an on-call and shift Fire Investigator/P.I.O. I have also been performing fire and life Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 5 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement safety inspections during the annual County Fair for the past four years and have been a CPR instructor, and Paramedic/EMT skills instructor within the department since I was hired.

On my days off, I am employed by Chabot College in Hayward as the EMT program director and primary instructor, and also as an adjunct faculty member within the Paramedic and Fire Service Technology programs. As the EMT program director, I am responsible for scheduling, planning, budgeting, organizing, and coordinating all aspects of the EMT basic and refresher programs and also for supervising, motivating, and training a staff of 20 instructors.

I also spent 13 years with Longs Drug Stores. I mention this for two reasons.

One being that I spent 3 1/2 years as a manager: ensuring optimum customer relations, and supervising, motivating, and training a staff of up to 40 employees;

and the other being that they taught me a great deal about Customer Service.

Longs prides themselves in their customer service, as does our Department.

Besides this preparation, I am a dependable, motivated, loyal, and flexible person that is ready to take on the challenges of the position and continue maintaining and improving on the Values of our Department, which are customer service, diversity, integrity, teamwork, and most of all, our employees.

I have provided that information not for you to use the same closing statement for yourself, but for you to see how powerful and impacting your opening statement needs to be. I think I was able to properly set the stage for the rest of my interview and to also stick out above the other candidates, based on my opening statement.


1. Categorizing - The way I did it above, by categorizing each of my key areas of preparation - education, training, experience, and personal characteristics, and then taking the time to discuss each of them. If done properly, it makes each of them stick out and be highlighted.

2. Chronologically - For example, telling a story of when you were first attracted to a career in the fire service up until now, including everything you have done to prepare yourself for a career in the fire service (education, training, experience, etc.). This way of answering an opening statement is your way of taking the oral board on a journey. Be careful though; do not take them on a journey that does not have a destination! Rambling on and on, without any structure or organization, will surely doom your score and keep you from getting the badge.


Not every fire department allows candidates to provide an opening statement. Some fire department oral boards start out by asking you simulation questions or other questions Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 6 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement that are not as open-ended as an opening statement. This requires you, the prepared candidate, to be able to think on your feet and be able to “fill in the blanks” regarding your qualifications, in each of the oral board questions. This can be very difficult to do, especially if you are not 100% familiar with the knowledge, skills, and abilities you have to offer (which should be on your resume and also the majority of your opening statement), or if you do not have your opening statement committed to memory.

If you do not adequately recognize the fact that you were not given the opportunity to provide an opening statement during the course of your interview, you stand a great chance of losing the one of the best (and only) chances to sell your knowledge, skills, and abilities and let them know why YOU are the best candidate for the position!

So here is a tip for you to remember. If the first question the oral board asks you is not one of the three typical opening statement questions that I mentioned earlier, then you have to almost believe they will not give you an opportunity to make an opening statement. There are many oral boards that don’t let candidates provide an opening or closing statement; they want to hear your answers on the other questions. I remember testing with a big-city fire department in California. They didn’t want any resumes from the candidates, they didn’t want the oral board to know your name, and they didn’t want the candidates to have the opportunity to have an opening statement or a closing statement. They asked about six or seven questions (most of them scenario-based) and it appeared they did not want the candidates to be able to offer their knowledge, skills, and abilities to the oral board. Well then, if there are 2000 candidates interviewing for 100 positions, and you are faced with a similar situation, what are you to do?

This was a learning experience for me because I did not handle the situation as good as I could have. It was not until they had asked most of the questions that I realized that I was not going to have the chance to provide my opening statement. I had gone on answering their questions to the best of my ability (or so I had thought), without getting into much of my key selling points. I knew I was doomed when after the last scenario question, they advised me that there were no more questions and that I would find out my results in the mail. After picking up my jaw off of the ground, I thanked the oral board for their time, shook their hands, and walked out the door. I had just completed an interview, and had only provided about 10% of my knowledge, skills, and abilities to the oral panel.

What did I learn from that situation and what did I do in the future to prevent a similar situation from ever occurring again? Anytime I had an interview and the first question was a “non-opening statement question,” I had to assume that there would not be an opening statement and there was a good chance there might not be a closing statement either. If that was the case, I knew I had to sprinkle in all of my experience, training and education, community service, personal characteristics, etc. (my knowledge, skills, and abilities) into EACH of the questions. This was risky because I never knew how many questions there were going to be and I also had to ensure I covered as much of background as I could over all of the questions.

Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 7 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement So if the first question was “tell us your greatest strength,” and you said “dependability,” then you could maybe add one of your work experiences to this answer. For example, you could say “my greatest strength would have to be my dependability. Presently I work for XYZ plumbing in San Jose. In the ten years I have worked there, I have never called in sick, never been late to work, and never missed a day of work due to injury. I realize how much my employer depends on me to be there every day, so that his customers can have the best service they deserve. Since there are only five other plumbers in our company, having one employee off work can lead to a delay in the customers’ problems solved on an expedient basis.” See how I was able to sprinkle a part of my background into one question?

Then say the next questions is “provide us with a time when you had to mediate a dispute?” You could answer something to the effect of “last year, while at Chabot College in Hayward – where I received my A.A. degree in Fire Technology as well as completed my EMT and Firefighter 1 academy training, I came across a situation where two students in one of my fire technology classes were almost on the verge of punching each other over the last textbook in the bookstore. Both of them felt they had gotten their hand on the book first, and neither was planning on giving it up. The book was probably going to be ripped in half before one or the other student would have been able to purchase it.

Tensions were tight since certain books can be hard to come by, and also because this was the first day of class and their instructor was very adamant about each student having their books on the first day of class. I could definitely sympathize with both students, since I had taken that class last semester. Knowing that I still had my book from last semester’s class, I offered to sell my book to either student at a slightly lower price. While it is not always the safest thing to try and get into the middle of disputes, I felt that I could try this one idea that all parties would benefit from. After a little bit of convincing, the students agreed to have me flip a coin to determine who would get the book at the reduced price.” Not only was I able to answer the question, I was able to also provide something about my education (the fact that I have an A.A. degree in fire technology and that I have also completed my EMT and Firefighter 1 academy training) in a way that tied into the question.


It has been said that a candidate has about 30 seconds to make a lasting impression on the oral board, once they walk through the door, and I firmly believe that. Besides your own demeanor and body language, your oral communication skills have to be at an excellent level, and you have to be able to hit the ground running once you get asked that first question. If you cannot get the interest of your oral board in the first 30 seconds, your chances of getting a top score are very limited!

Copyright 2015 – Steve Prziborowski – (408) 205-9006 – www.code3firetraining.com 8 Oral Interview Preparation Tips The Opening Statement & The Closing Statement The Closing Statement Next to the opening statement, one of the most important questions of an oral interview is the closing statement. The closing statement, if you are provided the opportunity to do one, is your last chance for you to sell yourself and the best chance for the oral board to remember you in a positive and unique way. Although the question itself may not be scored or have any point value, it is still an important way to provide some closure to your interview, ask for the position, and end on a very high note.

When a fire department is hiring entry-level firefighters, it is not uncommon for interviews to occur for one week or more, and for hundreds of candidates to be interviewed by the same oral board panel. Even if you are participating in a promotional process, there are usually a decent number of candidates for the same oral board to have to interview. An entry-level firefighter candidate (like the promotional candidate) is getting rated during their interview and immediately after their interview concludes.

Another thing that may occur after all of the candidates have been interviewed and ranked (based on their oral board scores), is that all candidates are then re-ranked, based on what the oral board can remember about each of them and based on the needs of the department. If the oral board is re-ranking candidates after the interviews have ended (and your interview occurred on the first of ten days of interviews), it is critical that you leave the oral board on a high note and with a good taste in their mouth.

Most of the candidates being interviewed during any oral interview have very similar backgrounds and experiences. For entry-level candidates: EMT and/or paramedic training, certifications such as firefighter 1, education such as a two-year degree in fire technology and having completed a firefighter academy, volunteer experience, etc. For promotional candidates: college education, fire department experience, committee involvement, various training and certifications, etc. The list goes on-and-on, and this can make it tough for candidates to stick out and be remembered after the last interview is concluded. That is why having a strong closing statement that the oral board members can correlate to you after the interviews have ended is so important.


1. That concludes all of the questions. Is there anything else you would like to add or felt that you may have left out?


1. You can just thank them for their time and then get up to leave (some candidates utilize this method).

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