Much attention was focused on this all important phase of the hiring process. The oral board was really a make or break component. For me I practiced this skill for days before the real deal. Myself and a group of like minded men got together and rehearsed the interview; we would take turns as interviewer and interviewee.
There are books dedicated to this one step of the hiring process. I don’t
know even to this day if I ever fully comprehended its purpose, I do know it
was nerve racking and mostly a blur afterwards. I guess some of what was sot
was to see how a future firefighter reacted under extreme duress.
Your shot at getting the job hung in the balance and you knew it, a poor
performance at this juncture guaranteed low placement on the hiring list and a
wait of a couple of years to try again. I had one high school buddy that had
taken the exam 18 times and never did get a job. I always thought a guy that
wanted the job so badly should have been given a chance just out kindness.
Especially after working with some of the slugs I worked with, totally
ungrateful bellyachers that had no respect for themselves or the job. And here’s
this guy beating his head against the doors for years. Didn’t make sense to me.
Here’s the setting, a mostly blank room, brightly lit, warm. A table
centered against the far wall with three or four fire officers seated behind
that table. A single chair across from them. Even the position of the chair was
calculated, it was placed a little too far away from the group as to cause separation.
I had practiced relocating the chair to a more appropriate distance. Not too
close, this would crowd the board and be too intimate.
Not too far away as this gave a sense of fear and low confidence. You weren’t
intimidated and you weren’t aggressive. With the chair at the correct distance
you had to decide did you want to approach each member and shake hands? How
would that be perceived? What if your hands were cold and sweaty, or hot and
soft (very unmanly) did you remember to trim your nails, were they clean.
If your nails were dirty would this give the impression that you worked with
your hands? Or would indicate that you were in fact a slob with no respect for
these men? If I didn’t shake hands would they think I was stuck up, too good to
shake their hands?
I had now been in the room for a grand total of 38 seconds and was already
in a mental state bordering somewhere between insane and menstruation. I
elected to stick out my sweaty paw to the first guy on my left and went down
the line from there.
They had warm smiles and kind eyes, they knew how fearful I was, hell they
had been at this for three days at this point and had already seen dozens of
bedwetters prior to me.
Now I thought how hard do I grip their hands, too hard and they might
suspect I was trying to intimidate them, didn’t want that. Too flimsy and I
might be thought of as too delicate for the job. Good firm handshake my father
had always taught. Get the webbing of your thumb firmly into the corresponding location
of their hand. Squeeze just enough, don’t hold it too long you weren’t dating,
you were after a job. I tried to say my name and realized the Sahara desert had
relocated to my throat. I croaked out a noise that would have scared small
children. My pupils dilated, my heart rate doubled, and forehead became moist.
Holly shit I’m failing in under a minute. “Hi Tim.” Said the first guy, I
knew him in passing and he was a nice man, I would work for him in the years to
come and I always remembered that tiny moment of kindness from him. “Relax
buddy, you’re gonna be fine.”
Thank God for that man, I did relax a bit, finished shaking hands and
returned to my seat.