I recently spent four days with several other Chief Officers, pouring through over 1,000 entry- level firefighter applications. Overall, the applications were very disappointing. The standout ones were awesome, but in general, the quality was pretty lackluster. Here are some of the things that our reviewing committee would like to pass along to aspiring firefighters.
Let’s start with the basics. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. Often a department will provide specific instructions. This may be to include copies of your high school diploma, driver’s license, or college transcripts. Those who do not follow the instructions will be disqualified. These are required documents, and your application will be rejected if you do not include them.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, handwrite your application. Find a way to type it. You may have to be resourceful (a good trait for a firefighter). If you include a resume (which I greatly encourage) make certain it’s perfect. This is a reflection of your work product. You had the opportunity to make sure it’s perfect, so it should be. Make sure it’s been proofread by someone other than yourself. Do not fax your application and resume. They do not copy well and look unprofessional. Make sure you sign your application, and for heaven’s sake, do not include a photo of yourself in a firefighter uniform.
It’s important to keep in mind that someone is going to review your application for completeness and to ensure that it meets the minimum requirements. With this in mind, the better organized an application is, the more likely the reviewer will be able to determine if yours meets the minimum requirements. If the reviewer is forced to sift through a bunch of documents to look for the required ones, it’s likely that it will get put in the discard pile. You can avoid this by putting the required documentation in front of all of the “nice to have certificates”. Color copies are expensive, but make a great first impression.
Speaking of documentation, it’s wise to review the directions once more, before you submit your application. Frequently, the directions require that you put the documents in a specific order (this makes it easier for them to be reviewed and verified). Make sure that all of your copies are legible. It’s often necessary to include a copy of both sides of the certificate to make certain it’s authentic and still current. Make sure that your photo ID looks professional. I cannot tell you how many people had “old” driver’s license photos that gave an unwanted glimpse into their past. This includes insignias and slogans on the T-shirt you wore for your EMT photo. It all sends a message about you. This is often our first impression of you.
DO NOT put “see attachments” under job descriptions. This implies you were too lazy to fill out the application and does not convey a positive first impression. Take the time to spell out exactly what you do in the course of your employment. For someone working as a reserve or volunteer firefighter, I encourage you to come up with a good job description that includes your job responsibilities such as the types of calls you respond to, learning the fire station etiquette, and how often you participate in training. DO NOT highlight cleaning the station and apparatus maintenance. This is selling you and your experience short.
Include proof of your schooling. This includes copies of your degrees, transcripts, and certifications. It’s important to note that we pay attention to your grades. If you served in the military make sure you include copies of your separation papers (we also check these to make sure the discharge was honorable). Explain where you served and your level of responsibility.
Your application is a statement of who you are. It is the first impression that the department will have of you. Take the time to make it look professional, and make sure it highlights all your best qualities and experience. Representing yourself in the best light possible on your application will increase your chances of achieving your goal of being hired on as a professional firefighter.