Preparing for the Next Opportunity

Recently, a fire chief position became available in Arkansas. I figured it might be time to move forward in my career, so I checked into the city and researched the fire department. I liked what I saw and decided to apply.

I heard from colleagues that a large number of people usually apply for open fire chief positions. Apparently, a lot of fire chiefs, in or out of work, are looking for new departments to run. And there are a fair number of people, like me, looking to climb up the career ladder. In my case, the city had received 56 applications. Clearly, the competition was stiff.

Do Your Homework
If you’re in the same boat, or plan to be, you might wonder how you get past all the competition to become a finalist for a job. Your first step is having a “living” resume. Always keep an up-to-date resume that will be ready when an opportunity presents itself. If you let your resume sit for years, you might have trouble remembering the details of previous jobs you’ve held and important sections to include, such as education, work history, professional training, license/certification numbers, articles you’ve published, etc. Your resume should be comprehensive and look professional.

Consider your formatting options and use resume paper. I recommend searching for resume do’s and don’ts online or purchasing a book about updating resumes.

Don_t forget to include a cover letter with your resume to set yourself apart from others who will fail to do this. The cover letter should be specific to the job you_re applying to. Show how your experience specifically pertains to this position. It will also catch some eyes if you pull exact key words and phrases out of the original job posting/description and include them in your cover letter where appropriate. In all your application materials, and especially if you include an objective, remember to keep the focus on what the employer needs and how you can help them achieve it, not just what you want.

If you get called for an interview, do extensive research on the city and department you_re applying for. Searching the Internet will give you a ton of information, especially if the department has its own Web site. The U.S. Census Bureau is also a good place to look ( Besides the total population of the city, you_ll find its demographicsÆ’income, ethnicity, number of households, geography, business climate and more.”ž

To get the real scoop, visit the Web site of the community newspaper and search for”žthe department_s name. See what articles”žhave been written about the agency. Sometimes, the department_s “dirty laundry” or problem areas will be discussed in the articles. This will arm for you for the interview, because these issues may be brought up.”ž

The Interview
Prepare yourself for common interview questions. Why do you want this job? What are your strengths? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What was the last personnel issue you dealt with, and how did you handle it? What is your greatest weakness? For this last one, don’t deny having a weakness. Determine your weakness beforehand, but explain how you have found ways to mediate it.

Also, prepare a portfolio for each person who’s interviewing you. Include a copy of your resume, degrees, awards, licenses/certifications and references.

Appearance is another major factor. If you don’t look the part, don_t expect to be offered the job. Business attire is always best, even if the people interviewing you are wearing blue jeans. Good hygiene, down to your hair and nails, is also important.

Scope out the interview location the day before so you don’t get lost on your way there. The day of the interview, leave early enough that you have time to find parking, use the restroom to freshen up (e.g., comb your hair and make sure you’re not visibly sweating), and still arrive at the appropriate room 10-15 minutes early.

Don’t forget, an interview may be only one aspect of your evaluation. Some agencies will also use a variety of assessment centers to give them insight on how you might perform in the new role. Assessment centers run leaderless groups, in-basket assessments, writing tests, plus other scenario-based assessments, including incident management.

Moving On
In case you’re wondering, I made the first cut, and then made the final group of four. But I withdrew my application when I decided I wouldn’t be able to accept the position due to the pension plan, other financial aspects, and thoughts from my family who would be affected by the move.

Don’t lose on an opportunity to progress in your career by being unprepared. Assume your competition is well qualified and find ways to stand out from the pack.

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