| Chief's Tip of the Month

How to Properly Talk About Your Previous Supervisor

by Dean Guccione - October 1, 2020

Many times, in firefighter interviews, you get a question asking about a previous boss or supervisor and what you would say about them. This can be a loaded question so you must be extremely careful about how you respond.

Remember, every response you give, especially if you are given a negative type of question, must be turned into a positive. Often we have supervisors and bosses who or poor leaders, poor managers, have poor people skills, are not friendly, who think they know everything, or any other negative attribute you attach to them. There are also good bosses who are people-centric, courteous and respectful to their employees and are very competent in their positions.

If you’ve had a good supervisor in the past, then it will be easy to respond to this question. You can simply discuss and list all the attributes and qualities that supervisor possesses. But many times, we have supervisors who are not the best, or downright terrible and this is where you need to turn a negative situation into a positive.

Whenever you have a bad supervisor and they are either constantly giving you negative feedback on your performance, or can never quite muster any praise for you when you’re doing a good job, focus on what they are trying to accomplish and see it as a positive.

And example would be that you feel nothing was ever good enough for your supervisor. No matter what you did or how hard you worked, your boss always found fault in what you did. A way to respond to that in an interview is to say that I had a tough supervisor, but I learned a lot from him/her. He/she had very high standards, similar to the standards firefighters must uphold, and I learned to develop a strong work ethic and pay attention to detail. I have become much more detail oriented since working for my previous boss and I am thankful for that experience because firefighters must also be detail oriented in their work and when solving problems, or people can possibly die and these traits are what I will bring to the job if I am selected as one of your newest firefighters.

This is just one example of how to turn your experience with a bad supervisor into a positive for the interview panel. Remember, just because a supervisor is not good doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from them.

Your goal should be to always be learning from everyone around you at work, in school and from your friends and family. And in this case, be looking for ways to turn a negative or potential negative situation into a positive. The fire service is looking for candidates who can see the good in bad situations, which directly translates into having a great attitude.

Interview panels need to see that you have a great attitude, that you are positive, and have the ability to see the good through all the negative situations firefighters face on a daily basis. This is how you will have a long career and be emotional fit and stable.

One way to accomplish that is by seeing the positive in a bad supervisor or boss. Look back on that experience and try to see what they were trying to accomplish in their role. Maybe they were hard on you because that’s the only way they could help you be your best.

Keep in mind that most supervisors don’t get formal leadership or management training, so they wing it and I promise you that you learned something from that experience. Try to see something positive in them and it will be a game changer for you. Then, take that experience into your interview and show the panel that while you didn’t have the best boss in the world, what you did learn from them will definitely help you succeed as a firefighter.

Be safe out there,




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