Looking to change fire staffing or fire leadership positions is difficult in a bad economy, particularly if you want to change agencies. This process can be even tougher if you cannot make it to the interview process.
The fire department at the Air Force Academy does not require an interview process; applicants are vetted by a human-resources office first, and we receive a list of only applicants that meet the minimum requirements — at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
I received a list of candidates for a single firefighter vacancy. The list was as long as it was varied, and my staff and I began the arduous task of reviewing the résumés. I was shocked by the apparent lack of preparation in the resumes that we received. And this is just one hiring example of many.
If you are looking for a new job or a promotion, read on for suggestions. If you’re happy with your current position, read on to be amazed.
There are some things you always should do when preparing your résumé.
Run spell check. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a step that many applicants overlook. If you are creating a document for a specific job application website that doesn’t have a spell-check feature, create your document in Word, review it, then copy and paste it into the program.
Have someone else review your résumé. Just because it looks good to you, doesn’t mean it makes sense to anyone else. I once received résumés from a married couple; one résumés was fantastic, the other one was terrible. I can’t believe they didn't review each other’s résumés.
Standardize your use of acronyms. Make sure you get them right every time, and that they are acronyms that are understood by others. If you don’t think it’s a common acronym, spell it out. If you’re not sure whether or not others will know what it means, they probably don't. Spell it out the first time you use it.
Also consider how you type your acronyms out. “Emt” is not an acronym; it’s written as a word. Now, write that as “EMT,” and it becomes Emergency Medical Technician. Remember, an acronym is written in all caps — that’s how you know it’s an acronym.
Use correct titles. If you are describing your job, or the job of one of your supervisors, use the correct title. Making up a title never works — I’ve been in the fire service for 34 years, and I can tell if you’re making it up. Furthermore, if you’re going to abbreviate the title, be consistent throughout your résumé.
Describe your previous positions individually. If you had six jobs over the last 10 years, and all were as a “Firefighter," I have to believe that each position was unique, especially if they were with different agencies. Writing one description, then copying and pasting it five times is just lazy — and probably inaccurate. Every position I have ever held has had unique nuances that can be described on a résumé. Don’t forget to describe your current job in present tense, and the rest in past tense. And resist the urge to just copy and paste your job description that you have from human resources. That only tells me what you are supposed to be doing, not what you have actually done.
OK, so we’ve talked about what you should do with your résumé, here are some common mistakes that you should avoid at all costs:
Don’t write like you text. If you are too tired to write out the entire word, close your computer and take a nap. Finish your résumé later.
Don’t list an inappropriate e-mail address on your résumé. If you’re unsure whether or not your address is inappropriate, then it absolutely is. Create a new e-mail account for work-related items. Make it easy to remember, and don’t share this address with your friends.
Don’t use all caps. I still receive résumés in all caps. Stop yelling at me!
Don’t alternate between all caps and regular syntax (ESPECIALLY in the SAME SENTENCE). I can’t begin to describe this résumé, but the applicant decided that roughly 35% of the words were important, and used all caps for just those words. I became ill trying to read it, so I stopped.
Don’t misspell the name of the organization that you currently work for.
Don’t put jokes in your résumé. Recently I read a terrible attempt at humor in a résumé. It might have been funny when the applicant put it in there, but became less funny when I read it.
Don’t embellish anything — especially your professional certifications. If you list a certification, and we check it (and we do every time), you better have it. A verbal response of “Oh, I finished all requirements, I just don’t have the actual certificate” is like saying, “No honey, I don’t think you’ve gained any weight."
Don’t attach blank or expired certificates. If you used to be an EMT, great, but I don’t need to see the certificate if it is expired. I used to be an EMT, but my medical skills are long gone.
Be honest about your education. If you bought a diploma on the Internet, understand there at least a dozen websites that I am aware of to check to see if the diploma was easier to obtain than by traditional means. Attended a brick-and-mortar university? Don’t make up the name. If you’re not sure what the actual name is of a school, double check the school name on Google.
Don’t change the verb tense, especially in the same sentence. OK, I admit this may just be a pet peeve of mine, but I received a 70% on my first-ever English paper when I first started into my degree program. I had two markings in the column, “VTS." It’s a lesson that I will never forget. So, if you are making your point in present tense, don’t suddenly change to past tense in the same sentence.
Don’t use “contact me first” when you list a reference. It’s an immediate red flag….and a blue one, and maybe a yellow one. If you have some baggage that a particular person may know about you…wait for it….don’t list them as a reference. Look, we have all worked for/with someone that doesn’t share our views on firehouse life or philosophies on incident command. That’s OK, that’s what makes this social experiment known as life so much fun. Just don’t list these folks on your resume. Worried about a past supervisor? OK, this one I totally understand. The best career advice I can offer you here is find out how to get along with your supervisor before it becomes a problem. You don’t have to attend social events with them, but you need to figure out their priorities – and make them your own (as long as they are legal/moral). You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your boss. Deal with it.
Remember, the purpose of the résumé is to get you to the interview stage — it’s actually a form of a pre-interview. Please spend an appropriate amount of time preparing it before you submit/send it in. I realize there are folks out there that are professional job applicants who apply for jobs just for the sake of applying, with no intentions of actually taking a new job. Well, these folks don’t need to worry about what their résumés looks like, but for the rest of us, it’s a critical part of the process that we need to get better at. One last thing, if you want your résumé to get better over time, practice re-writing it. How do you get better at playing a piano? Right. My advice is to re-read you resume every time you apply for a job. It keeps it up to date, and will help you find those things that look goofy.
In closing, if you are asked why you should be selected for this position (over the other 49 well-qualified applicants on the list), here is my top-5 list of non-acceptable answers:
- I have family that lives in that area (Not sure how this relates to your talents)
- I have always liked that part of country (Oh, I had no idea, then I should hire you)
- I have a lot of certifications (So do the other 49 applicants)
- I am the best person for the job (What does this mean??)
- I don’t like my current job/supervisor (Fantastic, I guess that means I’ll find you irresistible)
Ernst Piercy is the Fire Chief at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He is a Chief Fire Officer Designate, and a graduate of both the Executive Fire Officer Program and the Harvard Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program. Chief Piercy has served 34 years in the fire service.