The question “how do I prepare for a job in civil service” comes up frequently. There are some people who know from a very early age that they are going to seek a job in civil service, while others may come about this realization later on in life. Upon reflecting on the question, the simplest and most direct answer is nothing more than four simple words “DO THE RIGHT THING.” In a nutshell, that is the best way to prepare yourself to not only get a civil service job, but to succeeded in one as well. We are going to touch on a few points, and expand on them, but this underlying answer will be seen over and over.
The first point, and the one that we can control very easily, is to maintain a high level of physical fitness. It is not a secret that a life of firefighting will require you to be in shape for the duration of your career. While keeping this level of physical fitness is required for a successful career, pretty much any firefighting hiring process will require you to complete both a physical fitness test and a mandatory medical examination. Overall fitness and health is a great baseline, but we can gear our efforts towards specific tasks which may be required for a certain examination. Many tests will require you to perform tasks such as a timed Stairmaster session, while wearing a heart rate monitor, moving hose lines, throwing ladders, carrying saws, dragging weighted dummies, or any other multitude of tasks which you will perform as a firefighter. If you do not have a good baseline of physical fitness, training for these specific tasks will be ever more difficult. Know what the physical test will consist of and recreate it, or the actions needed to complete the tasks. Some events might need strength, some might need endurance. Be prepared for either or both, depending on what is required. Peak physical condition will also assist you in passing a medical examination, as well as making the right diet choices. If you think about skipping a training session or making a poor choice for your diet, the easy answer on how to succeed…DO THE RIGHT THING.
Our second point in this article, and again something that we can control easily, is our actions as a member of society. What do we mean by this? Good moral character is something that is required for any person preparing for or working in civil service. You might get a traffic ticket for speeding, or maybe running a red light. Are these necessarily disqualifications for employment? Well, if you tell the truth about them during your investigation, then most likely they will not be. If you lie about anything that may have happened in your past and get caught in that lie, then yes you can get disqualified for them. Good moral character includes being truthful and during your investigation that is exactly what you should be. The investigators can, and will, find out everything about you. Now if you are faced with bigger decisions, instances where you have the choice to choose between what you know is right and what you know is wrong, guess what… DO THE RIGHT THING. Don’t get behind the wheel after drinking, don’t commit any of the litany of criminal offenses that exist, choose your group of friends wisely and stay clear of illicit drugs and prescription medications that were not prescribed to you. Major offences like felonies are almost a guaranteed disqualification from most any civil service job.
Another quick point to note in regards to our actions is while sometimes things that we do in our day-to-day lives may certainly not have any criminality to them, they can be perceived as childish, immature, inappropriate, or embarrassing. We all will have these moments from time to time but documenting them on social media platforms is not a recommended course of action for anyone seeking employment as a firefighter or any other civil service position. A simple search of a name can result in an investigator seeing your Instagram or Facebook profile picture. It may result in some pictures on friend’s social media that may not be so flattering. You should do your best to avoid these situations in the first place, but do yourself a favor and before beginning the process, work to delete any of these pictures off of social media entirely. Also, while the right to free speech is something we hold dear, sometimes your opinions are better left said in good company and not plastered all over social media. Remember, positions like a firefighter require the public’s trust, as well as your employer’s trust. Don’t give the investigator anything to use against you. When it comes to your social media, again DO THE RIGHT THING!
The next thing you can do to prepare for a position in civil service can help you not only obtain a position, but also move through the ranks. Achieving a college degree is something that can help you through your entire career. There are positions out there where college credits are necessary, maybe not a degree, but a specific amount of credits. This is something you will have to research and find out what the requirements are for your desired job. When considering what kind of schooling you are going to pursue, do not just look at what you need to get hired. Dig deeper into what you might need for advancement. You might need to only have 30 college credits to get hired, but you might need an associate degree to get promoted to Lieutenant, and then a bachelor’s degree to get promoted to Captain. School may also be in the form of medical training. Most fire departments will require you to have some form of medical training before you are able to be hired. This could be as basic as simple first aid and CPR, or as complex as being a paramedic. Check the requirements for the jobs you are going to be applying for, and start fulfilling them as early as possible. Now you could just get your credits and get hired, then go for a degree later on in life, but consider these things. As you move forward in life, life happens. You might get married, have children, take on a second job possibly. All of these might deter you, maybe even prevent you, from going back to school. If you know you want to go into civil service, do yourself a favor and stay in school. Your future self will thank you for having this checkmark completed when you had the time to do so.
Civil service is rarely, if ever, a fast-moving process. You may take a written exam one year, not get called for the physical exam until a year after the written, then maybe a few months after the physical you will be called in for the background and medical portions of the hiring process. These estimates are for those who score in the top percentiles of all testing. If you are in the middle of the list, or even towards the bottom, you can realistically wait three to four years to go through the process. Like we just spoke about, school is an amazing thing to do during this time. If you have already completed your degree, consider taking on a job in a trade, or some other profession with similarities to your desired position. While employed as a firefighter you will use power tools, hand tools, saws, deconstruct buildings to search for pockets of fire, encounter collapsed buildings that you may have to decide are or are not structurally stable, among many other things. Working in trades will allow you to gain knowledge in building construction, how to handle power tools, and how to work alongside others to complete a project. More important possibly than any of these things we just listed, working a long grueling day in the frigid cold, the blistering heat, or torrential rain will let you get use to the conditions that you will have to endure while working as a firefighter. We don’t take rain days, or snow days. We need to perform in any weather, at any time. The more you are used to working in these kinds of situations, will only make you a better firefighter.
Our last point, and arguably the absolute most important, is to find the tests you are looking to take. The test for the position you want may only be given every few years. If you miss filing, you might be too old to take the next test, and you will miss your chance of ever having that job. You can use traditional announcements in outlets like a civil service newspaper. In New York City, an example would be the newspaper The Chief Leader. A way to expand your search, or without using traditional means, is by using a web browser and just searching for something like “New York City civil service announcements.” If you know you want to be a firefighter, broaden your horizons. Tests are given for firefighter positions all over the country, don’t just commit yourself to one area and hope for the best. Use a website like governmentjobs.com to help you find tests across the country. You can even avail yourself to federal positions across the country by making a profile on usajobs.gov. The more tests you take, the better chance you will have of achieving your dream. If you take 10 tests, you might end up being hired by one fire department, then in a few years being called for one you may prefer more. Who knows, maybe the position you never thought would be for you actually ends up being your dream job. Our point is, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and hope for the best. The goal is to be a firefighter, police officer, or correction officer. Doing the job is more important than where you do it.
There are a few things to note as far as behaviors during the hiring process. While you may have a “hook” inside your desired department, they will do you no good if you never get through the door. When filing out your application and any paperwork, pay attention to details. Hand back paperwork that is completely filled out neatly, as per all instructions. When you are scheduled to be somewhere if you are on time, you are late. Allow yourself enough time to get there early. Don’t be thrown off your game or forget something because you are running late. Punctuality is super important. Attire matters. Business attire, meaning a suit and tie, is the way you should show up to all parts of the process unless you are told otherwise. Neat jeans and a polo shirt are not business attire. Honestly, if you are successful in achieving your goal, this could be the last time you ever need to wear a suit and tie, so enjoy it!
We have tried to hit as many things as possible in this short article. Of course, there may be some things we might have left out, maybe a situation you might encounter during your specific job’s hiring process. If this is the case, we encourage you to inquire with people who have gone through that specific process. We are speaking in generalizations here, and while these points carry over from one civil service job to the next, there most certainly are region/job specific requirements. We are confident that if you DO THE RIGHT THING when it comes to how you care for yourself, how you conduct yourself, education choices you make during your life, how you spend the time between test and hiring, and how you conduct yourself during the hiring process, you will have given yourself the best possible chance of fulfilling your dream.
A very big thanks to a friend of ours who contributed to this article. He is not only an active police officer, but also is an adjunct professor at a local college, teaching a class in civil service prep.