6 Tips to Maximize Interviews in the Volunteer Fire & EMS Service

Bringing in the right member is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. It affects your department’s productivity, morale and so much more. The better your decisions are, the better off you’ll be when it comes down to managing them at the station. So how do you ensure that every candidate is a good fit for your team? Here are six tips for leaders to maximize interviews and bring in the best talent:

1. Don't get stuck on your stereotype

As an Air Force recruiter, I often heard recruiters from other branches say, “She doesn’t look like a Marine,” or “He doesn’t look like he’ll make it out of basic training.” As recruiters and leaders, we must get out of our way and allow people to prove themselves first. 

When getting to know candidates, avoid getting stuck on what they have accomplished in the past. Instead, focus on what they can do for your department and the team. If their skillset doesn’t match what you need right now, that’s okay! That is what training will accomplish. Bringing on new members willing to learn new things will allow them to grow and better fit into your department’s culture over time.

2. Take time to prepare – Do your homework

We expect candidates to prepare for interviews, but it’s also important for leaders to do the same. Ensure you have reviewed the candidate’s application and any other documentation they provided before the interview to get a complete picture of their experience before you actually meet them. Look at their social media profiles to see if they’ve recently participated in any discussions you wish to discuss in the interview. Some may look at this practice as “snooping” or “trolling,” but realistically, you can get a feel for their personality and how they may integrate into the culture of your department.

3. Plan the interview

It’s a good idea to plan questions before the interview to ensure the appropriate questions are being asked, allowing you to learn everything you need to know about the candidate. To ensure fairness, you must ask the same questions to each person you interview.

When talking with candidates, ask them questions that will help reveal who they are in addition to questions like, “Tell me about yourself” or “Why are you interested in joining our department?” Follow up with other probing questions, and dig deeper into who this person is.

Having a diverse panel can help to ensure that unconscious biases are minimized during the process. When organized, panel interviews are more effective than traditional one-on-one interviews. A structured group interview with a pre-planned set of questions prevents everyone from going off-track or off-script.

If you need a standardized interview program or to refresh your existing one, First Arriving can create and design a program that includes interview questions, score sheets, and other assets.

4. Fix your face and attitude

Did you have a bad day at work? Maybe you had a flat tire on the way to the station before the interview. Take a few minutes before the interview to adjust your mood. This is a frequent misstep in the interview process. Remember, YOU and the panel represent your department, and remember your candidate is also interviewing you. When the interview is over, you want them to be motivated by the opportunities for growth and development and your department’s culture.

5. Allow time for questions

Leave enough time to interview a candidate and allow enough time for the candidate to ask questions about the department, position or requirements. Candidates become more engaged and end the interview feeling good about joining your department.

You want them to be motivated about your department and how you run your organization. You also want them to be excited about training and working with the members they will meet daily. An excellent way to ensure this is by providing ample time at the end of interviews so that candidates can ask whatever questions they have about your department and culture before deciding whether or not they want to join.

6. Don't take your time

Try not to drag your feet. It would be best if you decided quickly. A good candidate will likely have other opportunities where they might choose to invest and volunteer their time. If there has to be a vote on acceptance, let the applicant know all of the following steps and the time frame for those next steps, as candidates have shorter windows of opportunity, and planning is essential.


Remember, this is a two-way process. You want to know what the candidate is about and see if they will be a good fit for your department and team. Remember that you want someone who will do well, fit into your culture, and grow within it!


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