I get asked frequently by up and coming firefighters all of the time about what they should concentrate on in order to be prepared for promotion. Of course, there are the typical replies about certain types of training and education along with career development paths. Most are enthusiastic and really into the job and others want an easy way to a gold badge. In recent months I have started to offer some new suggestions after witnessing firefighters jockeying for a new officer's position and I am sometimes met with quizzical looks. It is somewhat simplistic, but I really wanted to break down the promotional questioning to make the candidate take some reflection of his/her career. In many cases, the candidate will know when he tries to answer what his odds are of being chosen.
Before some of you go on a rant about how promotions are more complex than what I am about to offer, just humor me for a moment. This is not the ONLY questions that need to be posed. However, by asking them you will see and hear most of what you need to know. If you are the candidate, you too will find yourself either prepared for the questions or you will be fishing for an answer that sounds good.
If you are a potential candidate ask yourself these two questions on a regular basis to determine where you are in your career. This is not competition with others, it's about you and how you develop yourself. If you are already an officer, these questions should be a time of introspection. If you are the interviewer you will likely know the answer to these questions before they are answered, and that's okay. It disallows a lot of BS from the candidate.
So, here they are:
What have you done in the past 90 days to improve yourself, the department and those around you in respect to the profession of firefighting?
What have you done over the last three to five years to prepare yourself to take on a formal leadership position that separates you from the other candidates?
Okay, let's start with number one. Why would we ask the 90 day question first? What do most officer candidates do as soon as a promotion is posted or an officer retirement is announced? That's right, the race is on to take on new projects, kick up the training and enroll in classes. They will start "acting" like a leader and they are a little more friendly. We know what's going on, come on!
For those that train everyday, that treat people with respect, that go out of their way to help and that offer to take on projects, all for the right reasons, this is easy. Others that don't do this on a daily basis will sound real good and will have this confident smile because they just nailed it! Wooo hoooo, they have just given the best answer to a candidate interview and they feel invincible. But, we know it all started just weeks ago and that the motivation is just for the badge. Now comes the decider and it will separate those that love the job and those that are employees.
Now we ask the second question and the employee just looks at you for a moment, a bit perplexed. There are some "uhs" and "ums" and they are trying to figure out what you want to hear. They, in my experiences, will start to replay what they did over the last 90 days. Most of these folks have not performed or strived to make himself better over the years, much less worried about those around him. It will become obvious that his track record is to perform when there is something in it for him, but only then. The spaces in between are spent doing other things, if anything at all.
The candidate that is prepared will have a list of classes, trainings, ideas, projects and conferences that he has shared with his fellow firefighters. This will be a consistent trend that will very likely transfer over to his career as an officer. In addition, as a formal leader, he will very likely encourage his crew and/or shift to do the same and he will have high expectations for performance. This is the guy you want to promote.
I understand that you are not going to promote based solely on these two questions nor am I condoning that. There is much more to a promotional process than two questions. But, what I do believe is that when the candidates are interviewed, these two questions can be a strong indicator of who is just an employee and who is a firefighter.
Asking yourself these questions on a regular basis will not only prepare you for possible promotion opportunities, but they will build a strong foundation for who and what you are in the fire service. Be a firefighter with integrity, respect, honor, tradition and pride. If you can't answer these questions with pride and conviction, then you might be in the wrong profession.