With Election Day upon us, I though it would be fitting to draw up some comparisons between becoming a firefighter and winning a political campaign.
I believe there are some lessons that can be learned from our politicians. Many of this year’s campaigns, including our presidential race can help us better understand what to do, and what not to do while trying to win the race to a full-time job.
There are some basics that help candidates win or lose office and these same factors can be applied to earning a badge.
All political candidates must first show an educational background and experience that proves basic knowledge and competencies in the area of expertise for their elected position.
Most fire departments, especially smaller agencies who may only be hiring one to a few people, are looking for candidates that are ready to go to work and this requires as much competence as possible.
Competence is proven by a person's experience and education.
If that department has any specialized equipment or hazards, having a background in those specialized areas is always going to be a benefit.
Larger municipalities that are looking to hire a large academy class may be less concerned with experience and more concerned with hiring those that they feel are capable of learning and performing the job and acquiring the necessary skills after hire.
More often than not, though, departments are looking for those who already have the basics down, are ready for duty and show promise for building upon that foundation.
Promise for a better future:
Candidates are elected because they have convinced the voters that they will bring a better future.
When departments are selecting a candidate they too are hoping that those they select will bring something positive to the future of their organization.
Unlike a political candidate who is elected for a term that typically only lasts for four years, a fire department is looking for a 20-30 year future out of its new hire.
Convincing the oral board panel that you will enhance the future of the organization throughout your long career is important, because they are making such a long term commitment and investment in every person they hire.
When you convince the oral board that you will help build a better future for their organization you will score high marks.
It is a known fact that for many voters, what is most important is how much they personally connect with a candidate.
Policies are also important, but many political analysts believe that to the average American voter, the candidate’s likeability is even more important than their policies.
Although a person’s beliefs and philosophies are all tied into the way they are perceived and ultimately whether or not they are liked, there should be no mistaking the importance for the candidate to connect with their voters.
The same applies when pursuing a career in the fire service or any field. As someone who has sat on many oral boards, I can tell you first hand that there is nothing more important than being a likeable person and making a connection with the interviewers.
Regardless of how competent a candidate may be, they will not score well if the panel is left with any negative feelings about them.
Those who connect on a personal level and are liked by those making the decisions will be the ones who are selected for the job.
Many competent political candidates have lost elections because they were unable to connect with the American people, and many competent firefighter candidates have been passed over for the same reason.
Be a positive force:
Although you’d never know it by today’s campaigning tactics, no one likes a negative campaigner or negative person.
Politicians use negative campaigning to try to convince voters to not vote for their competitor, rather than giving solid reasons to vote for them.
Although this tactic does not apply for firefighter candidates, I want to stress the importance of showing no negativity in general.
Negativity can come across in many ways in an interview and all verbal interaction. Negative people are usually unaware of their negativity and unknowingly make many subtle remarks that give clues to their pessimistic personality.
If the department picks up on this kind of negative attitude, it can be of great detriment to a candidate’s chances of getting hired.
Negativity can tear a department apart and all Chief Officers know that. The best firefighter candidates and firefighters are very positive and optimistic, see the glass of half full and are going to lift those up around them, not drag them down.
This is all tied in to what they will bring to the future as well as their likeability.
Will this person be a positive force or a negative one in the organization? Are they going to talk trash about their co-workers and bosses that they have issues with, or are they going to conduct themselves like a true professional and bolster the department and its reputation?
Know your platform:
All Political candidates run on a platform that is tied directly to their track record that they use to prove their motivation and abilities to get that job done.
What’s your platform?
Firefighter candidates should also have a platform. That platform ideally should have some background history to support it. Your platform may be your eagerness to learn the job.
If so, you’d better have a solid history of education and training to back it up.
Your platform may be that you are already working as a firefighter and ready to be put to work with little training.
If so, you should be prepared to back it up not only with a resume, but by being able to articulate your knowledge and skills verbally in an interview.
Think about your platform and how you plan to back it up. The most harmful thing to any platform is having contradictions.
Political opponents love nothing more than to catch one another in contradictions and hypocritical views. Make sure your background is consistent with your platform.
For those of you with little background or fire service experience, your platform may be as simple as being very young and eager to learn, but you too will need to support that with a track record of some kind in your past. There is a reason there are more 30-something-year-olds getting hired in the fire service, than 20-year-olds.
It is the same reason that one does not become president of the United States in their 30s.
It takes time to gain the experience needed to prove yourself as capable and productive and able to live up to whatever promises your platform is making.
The bigger the promises the more you have to prove.
In short, political candidates get elected because the majority of the American people have decided, right or wrong, that they trust that person to be competent in their job; they have hope that they will bring a better future, feel a personal connection with them, are positive and believe their platform.
They trust that they are capable of following through with their promises and live up to the expectations that go along with the job.
Firefighters are hired on the same premises, so structure your personal hiring campaign accordingly.