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7 Steps to Prepare for the Major's/Deputy Chief's Interview

Assistant Chief Bill Reilly

As you are seeking to ascend to the number two position in your agency, much of what you learned about oral boards in prior promotion processes will not apply.  Yes, competency will still be a factor, but trust and working relationships will be very powerful forces, as well.  So, while it is still important that you know your stuff, be prepared to present yourself as the best candidate in a multi-dimensional manner by incorporating the following seven steps:

1.     Prepare to be Chief

This does not mean that you should be preparing to over-throw the chief.  Rather, prepare for your interview as though you were being queried on the responsibilities of the chief. This is especially true with regards to the chief’s internal responsibilities.  Chiefs spend a good deal of their time tending to the political and community forces that impact the agency on a daily basis.  Often, what a chief is looking for from the second-in-command is someone who can keep the house in order while the chief deals with the external demands.  To demonstrate at an interview that you can do that, you must show understanding for the chief’s responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of the position you are seeking.  Do your homework; know all facets of your agency inside and out so that the chief can confidently leave the operation in your hands when he or she needs to do so.

2.     Demonstrate Support for the Chief

Too many individuals see the number two position as their stepping stone to the number one position; and while that may be the case, that number one position should be earned in due time.  Chiefs are keenly aware of how vulnerable they are; they are the lightning rod for the department and often find their position threatened by internal and external forces.  Certainly, what a chief does not need is an overly ambitious second-in-command who is waiting for the chief to fail.  This position that you are seeking is vitally important for the organization and you should only pursue this vacancy if you are prepared to support the chief and his or her efforts to run the agency.

3.     Don’t Wait for the Interview to Start to Prepare

Unless you are in the rare agency where a scored process is the sole measure of how you advance to the second-in-command position, your interview started a long time ago.  Oral Boards come in two designs, independent and internal.  The independent oral board is one in which you are not known to the panel members and you are scored purely on your presentation to the panel.  The internal oral board often has panel members from within your agency comprising all or part of the panel.  And while the instructions may be to purely consider the content of the presentation, it is impossible to totally ignore other known factors about the candidate.  Knowing that for a second-in-command position the final decision maker will most likely have been informally receiving information about you over a period of time, you must be presenting yourself appropriately from today forward.  Otherwise, you risk presenting answers to questions that deviate from behaviors that you have demonstrated in the workplace.  Bottom line, act like a deputy chief from today until the interview.

4.     Build a “Best” Resume

Beyond the interview, the decision maker (let’s assume that is the chief) regarding your promotion will be called upon by others, formally or informally, to justify your promotion.  We make sense of the world through comparisons.  As such, others will be looking at you and your achievements to see how they stack up against your competition.  It is your job to be building a resume that accurately displays you as the most qualified candidate.  The resume serves as proof of your achievements and qualifications; make sure it is far and away better than your competitors.  If you believe there are weak spots, start taking steps to address them now.

5.     Be Ethical

Effective leaders have individuals wanting to follow them.  Those who choose to follow willingly do so when they deem the leader to be competent and trustworthy.  Trust is earned as a result of your ethical behaviors.  In the case of the second-in-command position, the chief needs to be able to trust you so that he or she can let you function unattended.  That trust will stem from the behaviors that you have demonstrated over the years and whether or not they are honest, responsible, and aligned with the best interests of the agency.  You cannot undo the past, but you can assure that all behaviors from today forward are ethical and in the agency’s best interest.

6.     Do the Dirty Work

Let’s face it, leadership and management responsibilities can have some distasteful elements.  Recommending employees for discipline, cutting overtime, and denying time off are just a few of the responsibilities that come with supervisory positions.  Many of us do not want to be the bad guy when it comes to impacting those who work for us, but sometimes it is more important for the good of the agency to address problems than to maintain friendships.  As you seek to elevate to the second-in-command position you should be able to demonstrate a track record of doing the right thing, even when it is not the popular choice, to serve as a record of your integrity and agency commitment.  Beyond that, at the interview you should articulate that you are prepared to do the unpopular tasks that would otherwise fall on the chief so that the chief does not get mired in such issues.  You are there to assist the chief, show the panel that you know some of that will not be pleasant but you are prepared to assume such tasks nonetheless.

7.     Track Successes

When that deputy chief or major interview comes, it should be an opportunity for you to present evidence of your suitability beyond that of the other candidates.  To do so, you will want to reference specific achievements that you have had as a leader in your agency up to the point of the interview.  The level of specificity is important because it increases the power of your communication.  To say “I have familiarity with the grant process” is not nearly as powerful as saying “I have personally written three grant applications, all of which were approved, that resulted in $125,000 in equipment purchases to advance incident command preparedness”.  Create a clear and compelling picture during the interview process by citing evidence of your leadership success.

As you can see, the interview is often just one component of the selection process.  If the second-in-command position is within your grasp, take deliberate pre-interview steps starting today so that you can present convincing evidence that you are the best candidate when the actual interview occurs.


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