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Professional Development: Part 4 - The Hiring Process

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Welcome to the fourth article in EMS Magazine's Professional Development series. These articles examine fundamental concepts and structures underlying successful practice. You can apply these leadership and quality improvement processes to every level of your professional and personal lives. Utilize them as steps to guide your professional growth and development. Apply them to your work group, shift or platoon, or to any organization, large or small, public or private, career or volunteer.

In this installment we examine the hiring process. Most EMS organizations run lean, and the tendency is to hire the first person who walks through the door. This can be a formula for disaster. Developing a high-performing EMS system starts by hiring the right people.

'Hire for Attitude, Train the Skill'

This is one of the most important rules an EMS system can adopt. Attitude will make or break an organization, and it will make or break a provider. Therefore, hire only good attitudes.

Look at your department. Have any attitudes that are causing you problems? Most officers spend more time dealing with bad attitudes than any other problem. With that in mind, make sure you bring only good attitudes into your department. A negative attitude can outweigh all the skills an EMT might have. Would you want a surgeon with a bad attitude to operate on you? Would you like to fly with a pilot who has a bad attitude? If not, why would you send an EMT with a bad attitude out to treat the public?

How To Hire The Right Person

1) Use interview teams--When interviewing new applicants, use a team of people. Five is a good number. This gives you the advantage of "groupthink." Each team member listens to and analyzes what's said. One may pick up on something another overlooked. Team interviews, handled properly, can be effective in helping you choose the right candidate.

After the interview the team should give its recommendation to the chief. The team must be in full agreement. If one member isn't sure about a candidate, it must be discussed with the team in an open manner. All team members must be open to each other's concerns.

2) Develop a list of interview questions--Developing a good list of interview questions makes interviews consistent. The interview team knows exactly what it's looking for in each answer, and it helps take away the guesswork associated with interviews. An example of these questions is listed below.

  • What do you expect from our department?
  • Why are you applying for membership?
  • How well do you take constructive criticism?
  • How would you be an asset to our department?
  • What reservations, if any, do you have concerning this department?
  • What are your two greatest weaknesses?
  • What are your two greatest strengths?
  • What type of individual do you find difficult to work with?
  • What will you do to make this organization the best it can be?
  • How do you define best?
  • Give an example of a situation in which you would not be able to support our department.
  • What are your future goals?
  • As a member of the department, do you feel you should be held to a higher standard in the public eye? Why?
  • How do you determine right from wrong?
  • How do you respond to negative people?
  • What can you do to help promote a positive attitude within the department?

Hiring Resources

3) Consider multiple interviews--By interviewing a candidate two or three times, the team can pick up on trends in their answers. It will also allow the department to see how interested the applicant is. Are they willing to come back for two or three interviews? If not, why? Is the department willing to invest time, money and training in an individual they've interviewed only once?

4) Train the interview team--The interview team cannot be expected to perform at a high level if it's not trained properly. Failure to train the team sets it up for failure.

5) Change the team every three months--If you change the members of the team every quarter, everyone in the organization will have the opportunity to participate. Many volunteer departments struggle with getting members to engage in daily operations. Participating on the team gives them greater ownership in the organization.

6) Team makeup--When forming the interview team, consider its composition. One method that works well is using four front-line members and one officer. The front-line members will be working with the new member, so shouldn't they have some say in the hiring process?

7) Clarify expectations--How can an organization meet the expectations of a new member if those expectations are not discussed? Identify your prospective employee's expectations of your organization, and make their job description and your general expectations clear to them--not just the technical skills, but the general behavior you expect. Write it down and review it with those you interview. Describe things in detail. Once you've reviewed the expectations, ask if they agree to abide by them. If they say yes, have them sign the list. An example of such a list is provided in the sidebar.


By formalizing the hiring process in your EMS system, you help ensure the command staff provides the organization with high-quality employees. It is far better to focus on the quality of the people in your department than the quantity. Many departments have lots of members on their roster, but only a handful who actively contribute.

Next time--In the next installment of this series, we'll discuss performance evaluation.

Tim Holman, BA, EMT-P, CFO, speaks and trains on a variety of fire and EMS management and leadership issues. He is a 29-year veteran of the fire service and currently serves as chief of German Township Fire and EMS in Clark County, OH.

Employee Expectations

The following is a list of expectations that are not included in your official job description. Please review the list and clarify any questions you may have. This list is intended to help you make an easy transition to our organization.

1. Maintain and promote a winning attitude.

  • Look at problems as opportunities. How can we improve?
  • When you bring a concern to an officer, bring two possible solutions.
  • Do not engage in chronic complaining. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Avoid negative thinking, and don't accept negative attitudes in others. Negative thinking limits our potential.
  • Develop a "can do" attitude. You are in control of your potential. Attitude is a choice--choose to have a good one.
  • Focus on making a positive impact on others and the organization.
  • Seek out opportunity and ways to implement.
  • Deal in facts, not assumptions.

2. Practice the Golden Rule.

  • Treat others the way you wish to be treated.
  • See value in others. Everyone has value.
  • Care about the other members and help them succeed.
  • Focus on the positive attributes of others.
  • We will not ignore the negative, but we will emphasize the positive.
  • Help energize others by being motivated yourself.

3. Be a team player.

  • Participate in meetings and trainings.
  • Help your fellow members succeed.
  • We win and lose as a team, not individuals.
  • Keep communications open.
  • Always seek win-win solutions.
  • Have fun. Enjoy working with the group.
  • Make it a safe environment.
  • Build relationships to improve trust and understanding.
  • Allow mistakes. We will all make mistakes when we try new ideas. Mistakes must lead to learning.
  • Poor performance is not tolerated.
  • Recognize fellow members for jobs well done.

4. Seek excellence.

  • Increase your education and skill level.
  • Focus on helping move the organization forward.
  • Finish what you start. Get help if you need it.
  • Seek to improve everything we do.
  • Think about why we can, instead of why we can't.
  • Be data-driven.
  • Understand our budget is limited. How can we make the biggest impact with what we have?

5. Do what's right.

  • Do everything you do in a moral, ethical and legal manner.
  • Contribute to the mission and vision of the organization.
  • Help accomplish our goals.
  • Always consider the internal and external customers.
  • Be trustworthy and show integrity.

6. Stay focused.

  • Remember, you're here to help the organization succeed.
  • Stay focused on contributing to our mission, vision and goals.
  • Don't get distracted with personal agendas.
  • You are our most valuable resource. We will support you through education, training, coaching and counseling.
  • Every task you engage in must be aligned with the mission.

7. Capitalize on adversity.

  • We are constantly faced with adversity. Don't let problems pull you down. Our job is to adapt and overcome.
  • Whenever you are confronted with adversity, seek out opportunity.
  • When confronted with adversity, understand all the facts.
  • Help develop and implement the plan to overcome adversity.

I have reviewed and discussed the above list to clarify my understanding of these expectations. A copy has been provided to me for future reference.

____________________ Employee _______ Date

____________________ Officer _______ Date


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