I often listen to audio books while driving as a way to clear my head and use my time the best way possible. Today I listened to Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and one part of it, I thought, spoke directly to the EMS interview process.
In short this story spoke of the moments immediately prior to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. According to witnesses, the president observed that any sign of tremor in his handwriting would forever be interpreted as hesitation in signing the document. Lincoln thus signed the proclamation with a “clear, bold, and firm” signature. The president so realized the gravity of document he was about to sign that he did so boldly.
Do you remember your last interview for an EMS job? Did you prepare for it? Were you asked any questions about your work ethic and skill set, or were you just hired on the spot because “we have a lot of openings”? As EMS progresses as a profession, so should the process we call the interview.
EMS is a small world. Many paramedics and EMTs are known throughout their regions. You may already know the person hiring you. But what happens when it’s your first interview for an EMS job or you’re applying outside your geographical zone? It is easy to believe you don’t need to take an interview seriously because EMS is always hiring. But don’t we want to change that?
Any interview for any position can be inherently stressful; anyone who’s ever sat through one can attest to that. Most interviews I’ve been a part of don’t last more than 20 minutes or so, so you have about that long to get your message across.
Determine what your strengths are and be prepared to talk about them. Figure out what your weaknesses are and be prepared to talk about them too. Questions such as these are designed to see how you deal with uncomfortable situations. I’ve never sat down after an interview and said, “Well, I like Bob, and he interviewed well and has great credentials, but he said he needed to work on giving reports to hospital staff at bedside, so we probably shouldn’t hire him.”
If you’re Bob, this is the time to be bold in your interview. Think about the prehospital providers you know and why you think they’re great. They have determined what sets them apart from everyone else and worked tirelessly to perfect it. This is what will set you apart in your interview. Be bold enough to speak openly about what distinguishes you from everyone else and the steps you’ve taken to define and craft what those attributes are. I’ve performed hundreds of interviews, and I can remember every one where the applicant was willing to speak openly about themselves in a forthright and magnanimous manner.
Tips for Applicants
Now for the formalities:
Dress like you want the job. Taking the time to dress nicely doesn’t go unnoticed. It shows you are serious about seeking the position.
Arrive early. No boss or hiring director likes it when you’re late. If you have to be late, take the time to call and see if you need to reschedule. The person interviewing you will appreciate it.
Put down the phone. There’s no text or e-mail more important than your time during the interview.
Be prepared with a robust resume or CV that accurately describes your work and educational history. If you need help, there are templates online you can reference. There is a catch, though: If you’re applying online, most of those templates don’t work. There’s an ATS formatting standard that must be met. But that’s whole different conversation.
EMS is a serious profession, and you should take the interview process seriously. Collectively we want the profession to move forward, and this is one way to make that happen.
Tips for Interviewers
EMS directors, administrators, and chiefs should conduct their interviews as professionally as they run the rest of their organizations. Conduct sloppy interviews, and you’ll hire sloppy employees. Be bold enough to conduct a serious interview. It is OK to not hire someone. If your agency is known for hiring just anyone who applies because you have shifts to cover, then you get just anyone. Be bold enough to be selective in your hiring.
Take time to discuss the accomplishments of the organization with your prospective employee. Don’t be afraid to share the great things you’ve done and overview where you want the organization to go. Give feedback and answer questions factually. If you decide to offer your applicant a position, give them an idea of what’s ahead and what your expectations are. There is nothing worse than discovering you’ve made a bad fit. Then your new hire will spend the next 30 days providing mediocre care while they wait for something else to open up.
Don’t forget what got you into your position to start with. What kind of impression are you giving to prospective employees? Is your office a mess? Did you show up late? These are all things that can turn off the superstars you’re looking for. Turnover is one of the biggest expenses for EMS agencies, so it benefits everyone to create a right first impression in every aspect of how you manage your agency. Be bold enough to set the standard from the very beginning.
Fortune favors the bold. Embrace boldness in your interview regardless of which side of the desk you’re on. As an interviewee, take the time to practice answers; drop clichés and be prepared with concise and educated responses. As an interviewer, take the time to review some HR guidelines to outline the things you can and cannot ask.
You sell yourself short if you’re not willing to be bold. Our profession needs bold employees and bold administrators to take EMS to the next level. Are you bold enough to be a part of it?
John Hitchens, BBA, NRP, is EMS administrator and chief of EMS operations for the Star City (W.V.) Volunteer Fire Department. He has served 23 years in emergency medical services, with more than 17 as a paramedic and critical care paramedic and 15 years of EMS management experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management and serves on multiple local, state, and national committees on EMS.