Recent Changes to the Firefighter Selection Process

Although Many FRS’s are still using the original National Firefighter Selection (NFS) process, there are also changes being rolled out.  Some FRS’s are implementing the changes gradually, while others are completely overhauling their application process. Although this doesn’t mean that the process will be harder, it may affect the way that applicants will need to prepare.

The NFS Process

Typically the standard NFS process includes:
  • A PQA based application form
  • Physical tests
  • Medical tests
  • Ability tests
  • The final interview
This has been in place for over ten years and many FRS’s will continue to adhere to this.  Others may use parts of it but also add new sections into the process.

Will the application process become harder?

With the standard NFS process applicants knew what to expect, as the structure would be the same regardless of which FRS they were applying to. London Fire Brigade are an exception as they have always chosen to adopt different methods.
However what the FRS recruitment teams are looking for in candidates remains largely the same.  So the process is less easy to predict, but not necessarily more difficult for applicants.

Do I still apply in the same way?

Many FRS’s are still using the PQA application form, but some are moving towards online application.  This may incorporate online ability testing early in the process, at the same time as the applicant submits their personal details.
This may be a benefit for some applicants, as it avoids completion of the more complex PQA application form.  However, with this method up to 90% of applications can be rejected at this stage.

Will the interview still follow the PQA framework?

PQAs will remain an important consideration during the interview process.  However there has recently been a trend for the addition of questions in other relevant areas:
  • The fire service itself and national issues currently affecting it
  • The applicant’s knowledge of the role requirements
  • The applicants perception of their strengths and weaknesses
This may seem like an increased amount of interview preparation for candidates, as it will be important to plan for both PQA based and further reaching questions being asked.  However this may also give candidates more opportunity to impress the interview panel with their knowledge and abilities in other areas.

Will the Ability Tests be changing?

Situational Judgement Testing (SJT) is becoming an increasingly popular choice for FRS’s in the application process.  More FRS’s are also moving to online testing earlier on in the process.
These tests benefit both the candidate and recruitment by giving a good assessment of suitability for the role – if honestly answered a test which does not meet the required score would indicate that this career path is not an ideal match for the candidate.

What type of new elements are being introduced?

There have been recent reports of the following selection methods being used:
  • Assessment days which are a cost and time effective way to screen a number of candidates at the same time
  • Group exercises, which are becoming more common. However due to the cost and time involved these are not being adopted by all FRS’s.  These usually take the form of a group discussion or role-play exercise
  • Realistic Job Previews (RJPs) designed to give the candidate a better awareness of the requirements for the role.  These allow the candidate to ‘opt out’ early if it becomes apparent the role isn’t for them
  • Personality tests, including the Behavioural Styles Questionnaire (BSQ) may be included in the process.  Candidates will be asked to complete them in order for such things as their personality, values and working style to be assessed
  • Online literacy or maths assessments have been reported for candidates who have a formal qualification below the level of GCSE level C (or equivalent)
  • Dictation exercises and candidate presentations are rare but there have been recent reports of them being used to assess the listening, comprehension and communication skills of candidates.
There have also been reports of more unusual exercises – notably these are more common in London FRS.  Reports have detailed instances of practical ‘puzzle’ based group exercises, similar to those used in training in the military.

What are the reasons behind the changes?

The new methods seem partly a result of time and budget constraints, and also a general need to update the system.
Moving to a more online based application process is quicker and cheaper, and with the ability testing being done online at this early stage recruitment are able to work more efficiently when choosing which applicants to move to the next stage.
A rise in the amount of practical exercises in the process is partly in response to criticism that the emphasis on PQA requirements being met meant that other desirable characteristics and abilities were being overlooked.
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