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How to have a successful job interview

Our co-hosts delve into the topic of hiring, discussing all aspects of the prospects and how to make a good first impression


In this episode of Inside EMS, co-hosts Chris Cebollero and Kelly Grayson discuss how to ensure a successful interview process when applying for a new job in EMS. When you step into a room for an interview, you need to put your best foot forward and present the best version of yourself, from deciding on the appropriate dress and appearance, to creating a comfortable setting, to knowing how to ask questions of your potential employer.

The episode also features a mock interview in which Cebollero poses as a potential employer interviewing Grayson.

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EMS mock interview

Our Inside EMS cohosts hold a mock EMS interview.

Cebollero: So Kelly, I want to thank you for coming to our agency and I’m sure you’re familiar with a little bit of the history. I think the first question that I want to ask you is why did you want to apply for ABC EMS Agency and what do you think you could bring to our organization?

Grayson: First, let me thank you for the time and the opportunity to you, Mr. Cebollero. The reason I applied at ABC EMS is simply because from my research, you guys seem to have the most progressive protocols. Your trucks and your employees look sharp and that seems to be the kind of organization I want to be a part of.

Cebollero: So as part of our agency, we have a vision and it’s important that we walk towards that vision every day. Our organization does want to be successful, Kelly. So I think if you now come into this organization, can it help us to reach success? How do you define success?

Grayson: I define success as personal growth and the growth of the people around me. If I stay at your agency 20 years and 20 years down the line, I’m a more passionate, clinically proficient, knowledgeable paramedic than I am today, then that will have been a success. But also, whoever I work with and impact along the way, from patients to partners, if they are better for my being here, then I’m going to define that as success as well.

Cebollero: Well, part of that success really kind of deals with accountability. We have a playbook, our policy manual, we have protocols, we have procedures, and those are things that you’re going to need to be able to fit into as part of the organization. I mean, we want you to be able to feel like this organization is yours, we want you to feel that growth that you’re able to do that, but as we march towards the success, I’m going to need to hold you accountable. What’s the best way that you like to be held accountable to all the expectations that we have to work with here?

Grayson: Personally, I believe that if you have an issue with my performance or something I did, if you address it with me directly, I’m a big boy. I can handle criticism. I can even handle discipline and strive to do better in the future. What I dislike are agencies and leaders that kind of want to police you second-hand or delegate disciplinary tasks. If you had an issue with something I did, the best way to approach it with me is to address it with me directly when it happens and I will strive to correct the behavior.

I have a counter question for you sir, if I might ask one. I’ve looked at your protocols. A good friend of mine works here and he gave me a peek at your protocols and for the most part, like I told you in the beginning of the interview, I find that you guys are pretty clinically progressive. There are some things in your protocols that I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s not that I’ll not follow them. I’m wondering what is your agency’s, your, and your medical director’s attitude on suggestions from within the agency on how to advance and how to improve? Do you have an open-door policy toward adoption of new protocols and maybe changing your clinical guidelines, your policies and procedures? How welcome are you to that input from your employees?

Cebollero: I think that that’s a very interesting question. And of course, our medical director gives us the opportunity to work under his medical license to deliver the highest quality of patient care that we can. It’s no secret that EMS providers are the PAs in the field. We’re just not really recognized as that, but we know that to be true. So our medical director really kind of works on the evidence-based side of delivering those best protocols that he or she thinks is going to be best in handling their patients. Now, he is very, very open to listening to the challenges the protocols might have or trying to get an understanding of what you think about those protocols. Once a year, he does invite the workforce in as part of his protocol committee, the opportunity to kind of look at those, to kind of talk about best practices, to kind of talk about the skill set of those EMS providers to see if there is anything that needs to be polished. Of course, we make that as part of the QI process as well.

An example would be, “What’s the intubation success rate? What’s the IV success rate?” Those types of things, so he takes all that into account. The other thing that he has great input in from the field is pieces of equipment as well. “We’re not doing this skill or we don’t have this piece of equipment.” So it’s a long way around your question. Do we have an open-door policy and are we able to take suggestions from the field? The answer is yes.

I will come on top of that to say our protocols are our protocols, and there may be things in them that we don’t like or that we have different opinions about, but we do need to follow them. An understanding with the medical director that if you are going to have … I don’t want to use the word deviate because I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about, but I think that if you have things that you want to be able to work under, that’s the understanding that you need to have with them in their office as well. You know, we’re not going to penalize you for saying, “This is what I thought was going on, and this is the way I decided to treat it.” But he does need to have that understanding that that’s the relationship that you guys are going to have because we do have to answer to them since we are working under their medical license.

Grayson: Yes sir. Well, I understand that. When you sign on the dotted line with an agency and enter that employment contract, part of the bargain is adhering to the rules and policy. I have no problem with that and that’s the way an organization should be run. It’s gratifying to know that there is some avenue for updating or making suggestions to protocols and whatnot so that we’re invested in that process. I appreciate that. That’s really all I can ask for, and that answered my question very well. Thank you.

Cebollero: Sure. So let’s get back to you then. I’m really interested. As an EMS provider, you have experience here. What is your strength as a provider? When you think about you, one of the things that we need to be able to do is we need to be able to think about your professional and your personal growth. You come to us with a set of skills and we want to be able now to help you get to that next level of your clinical care. So what are your strengths?

Grayson: I would say that I’m clinically intuitive. I have a knack for determining what’s wrong with the patient – a fairly decent diagnostician and I have a knack for at least understanding at some level what’s going on with the patient pretty quickly. I’m also good at managing my crews and fostering a working relationship with my partners and trusting them to do the job to the best of their ability. I get along well with EMT partners, with other paramedic partners.

I kind of approach my job with my ego shoved away in a box somewhere because it’s about patient care rather than what makes me feel gratified as a paramedic. And in that regard, I use my EMTs for everything that an EMT can be allowed to do at your agency. I think that patient care is a team approach and it makes no sense to have one member of the team standing there passively, waiting for orders. So those are my strengths.

Clinically, I can fall down a flight of stairs and accidentally intubate five people on the way down, but also know when not to intubate people. So that’s probably one of my biggest clinical strengths, is my airway management skills.

Cebollero: So with the good always comes the bad, so we know what your strengths are, and hopefully, you’ve never had to fall down the stairs and intubate people accidentally because if I’m on the stairs, I may have a little bit of a challenge with that. But with that said, how about your weaknesses? When we think about your clinical care and we want to be able to help that grow, where do you find the challenges in your clinical care?

Grayson: Well, to be honest, sir, my mind-mouth filter is sometimes deficient and sometimes, things come out of my mouth that felt good to say that weren’t necessarily the right thing to say. That’s not to say that I behave or speak inappropriately to people, but I don’t suffer fools gladly. And sometimes, we have to deal with people that we consider fools and my customer service aspect in that regard is OK. I’ve never gotten a complaint from a patient, but I have gotten complaints from coworkers and sometimes some staff at the hospitals that my conversations from them were a little snider than they should have been. But I think if you check with my supervisors at my previous employer, any of the times that they had to speak to me about that sort of thing, they were satisfied with the steps I took to resolve that issue.

Cebollero: OK, fair enough. I think just one final question that I have for you is tell me everything you know about magnesium sulfate.

Grayson: Well, magnesium sulfate is primarily a smooth muscle relaxant. It works fairly well as a third-line adjunct in status asthmaticus. It really is not a drug of choice for using mag sulfate as a first-line agent for treatment of uncomplicated bronchospasm, but there is some research out there that shows that mag sulfate limits hospital stay in the cases of severe status asthmaticus. Also, a fairly potent tocolytic agent for women in preterm labor and also integral in the treatment of eclampsia as well.

Cebollero: Do you have any questions for me, Kelly?

Grayson: Yes sir. I wonder what the pay scale starts with. I have an idea from speaking with some of my friends who work here, but is there an experience premium? Do you pay extra for certifications and, I guess, we’re at the point where we talk salary and come to a mutually disagreeable number [laughter] because you’re not going to like what I ask for and I’m probably not going to like what you offer. So let’s see if we can find a mutually disagreeable number that we can both live with.

Cebollero: Is that how you would really approach that?

Grayson: I would laugh when I say it, yes. But, you know, I would kind of approach it humorously.

Cebollero: Interesting.

Grayson: That’s the mark of a good compromise, it’s that nobody is happy with it.

Cebollero: I guess you’re right. I think that’s the best answer of magnesium sulfate. I used to love to ask that question, especially to people who I thought were being a little egotistical and I would come up with something like that that would kind of put them back into the humble seat of, “I don’t know everything there is to know about EMS.” Something obscure.

Grayson: I would also add that magnesium sulfate as an antiarrhythmic is useful for torsades only if ...

Cebollero: You don’t have to show off anymore.

Grayson: Which torsades is quite often caused by things other than low magnesium levels.

Cebollero: So I think that you never know what’s going to happen inside an interview. Now, I think one of the things that we wanted to do was just kind of give a little example of what some of those answers and questions may look like, and one of the things that I wanted to be able to do was try to give you, from an interview standpoint, some of the things that I think would be important for me to know. And I think you had good answers. There were some answers that gave me an eyebrow raise that said, “Hmm, I don’t know about that one.” But I think from our standpoint, you know, you just got to go in and all the tips and things that we talked about, Kelly, and give it your best effort. But what do you think?

Grayson: I think so as well. I tried to approach the interview just as I would with any interview at this stage in my career. And the reality is that when I go apply at an EMS agency, generally, I’m pretty much a known commodity. You Google my name and you’re going to get many, many hits, and some of those hits are not going to be real flattering to me. I’ll be quite honest. Sometimes, my social media persona is a little more scatalogical than it could be otherwise, and my Jiminy Cricket that I live with constantly chides me on that sort of thing, but at this point in my career, I am who I am.

And at my current employer, they knew that going in and it wasn’t a dealbreaker for them and my trepidation about coming to work for Acadian wasn’t a dealbreaker for me. It’s been a good relationship ever since. When you are a new employee, that is speaking of social media, when you’re a prospective employee at an agency, one of the first things you really need to do is go scrub your social media profile and make sure that the things on there reflect well on you as a potential employee. If you don’t think you should have to do that, well, then be prepared to have prospective employers look at it differently and be prepared to walk away. And hopefully, you will find an agency where that sort of thing doesn’t matter, but I don’t think you’re going to easily find one.

But hey, that’s what we think. We’d like to hear what you think. What are some of your tips for interview success when you’re looking for a new job in EMS? If you’re a hiring manager or if you’re a supervisor or an ops manager, what are the things and the character traits that you look for in an interview with a prospective new employee? We’d love to hear those thoughts at the show at Don’t forget to rate us on iTunes, and from myself and co-host Chris Cebollero, thanks for tuning in to Inside EMS, guys. We’re going to catch you next week.

The Inside EMS podcast is a regular expert discussion of hot topics, clinical issues, operational and leadership lessons for EMTs, paramedics and chiefs