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First Impressions

Battalion Chief Paul Lepore

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This statement certainly applies to the interview portion of the firefighter exam, where you only have one opportunity to make a favorable first impression. Even before the start of an interview, the first thing the raters will notice about you is your overall demeanor and appearance. Your eye contact, facial expressions, and posture, as well as your selection of attire can help demonstrate your confidence and personality. While this does not mean that you should try to act like “one of the guys,” it does mean responding to the raters’ questions with clarity and assurance. And while it does not mean wearing the most expensive fashions, it does mean being appropriately groomed and wearing clean, neat clothes that fit well.

When meeting with interviewers for the first time, it’s important for you to be relaxed but alert. Try to stand up straight, offer a firm handshake, and have a pleasant expression on your face. The more comfortable you can make a person feel in your presence, the better they will like you. This is especially important in an interview setting, where everyone’s feeling a little strained. Tone of voice and inflection are also a critical part of your presentation. What you say is important, but how you say it is equally as important. According to recent estimates, how you sound accounts for 38% of the first impression. Pay attention to your tone, rate, pitch, volume and articulation. A candidate who speaks too quickly can give the impression of being nervous. Words that are spoken too quickly are often difficult to absorb, leaving the listener overwhelmed and exhausted.

Monotonous talkers, on the other hand, can make listeners impatient, which might make them lose interest altogether. A voice that is too soft or drops at the end of a statement can suggest a lack of confidence. A candidate who speaks too loudly and/or interrupts, can be irritating. A voice pitch that rises at the end of a statement will turn the statement into a question. Other common mistakes include mumbling or frequent uses of “um,” “ah,” or “ok.” To identify how you perform under pressure in an interview, try answering questions into a tape recorder. You may be surprised at how you sound. Practice speaking into a tape recorder until you’re satisfied with the results. Once you’ve mastered this, do the same thing in front of a video camera.

Words are important, but they only account for 7% of the first impression. Make your words count even more by addressing people in a pleasant manner and mentioning their names. If you have an opportunity prior to the interview, ask the individual in charge for the names of the raters on your panel. If you know the raters’ names before you enter the room, you will be more comfortable referring to them by name during the interview.

Your handshake is another way of displaying confidence. Have you ever shaken hands with someone whose hand felt like a dead fish? Needless to say, your first impression of him or her was probably not a positive one. Enlist the help of a friend and practice your handshake. Strive to have a firm yet comfortable grasp that lasts as long as it takes to greet a person. Don’t be a finger crusher, but don’t be a dead fish either.

Punctuality is another important aspect of creating a good first impression. Arrive early for your interview. Raters frequently call on candidates earlier than their scheduled times. The rater will be favorably impressed to see a candidate who has bothered to show up a little earlier than required. Whether the interviews are running on time or a little late, raters will notice that you’ve been in the holding area for a period of time. When your name is finally called, they may make a comment about your having had to wait. A simple explanation that the interview is extremely important to you, and that you did not want to be late, creates a favorable first impression. Additionally, if the person before you is a “no show” and you’re available, it will make you look good. The interview panel will undoubtedly be pleased to be ahead of schedule.

When it comes to first impressions, getting off on the wrong foot may be overcome, but by then the odds are against you. Why not stack the odds in your favor and create a strong first impression? All it takes is a little practice, and the rewards can help you reach your goal of becoming a firefighter.


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