Posted in Career

Ramping Up

If you’ve never applied for a government job, let me tell you what kind of a treat you’re in for!

It’s always a long game. The shortest government job process I ever had was for a school district job, which still involved three interviews and three weeks, plus fingerprinting and a background check.

911 dispatchers, at least in Washington State, go through everything a sworn police officer does, minus the police academy. Fingerprinting, medical check, psychological check, drug test, background check, polygraph test—it’s a lot. I had to go get fingerprinted again this weekend and I have to take the physical and drug test again tomorrow.

I’ve been working on entering this field for almost a year now. If anyone is interested, I thought I’d share what things I did to help get me prepared.

1. The police phonetic alphabet. They vary slightly from state to state, so find the one used in your area. My new agency was very explicit that I was “not to use the NATO phonetic alphabet.”

2. Read up on your new profession.
Master the Public Safety Dispatcher/911 Operator Exam – A solid enough guide to help you get ready for the CritiCall or Public Safety Testing exam.

The Resilient 911 Professional – A great primer on what sort of issues dispatchers face and strategies you might employ to deal with them.

The Healthy Dispatcher’s Guide to Stress – Still useful, but not as comprehensive as the book above it. Pick the other one if you’re on a budget, but this was a decent read.

Becoming an Exemplary Public Safety Dispatcher – A freebie! I actually downloaded this from a government archive and found it quite worthwhile to read.

3. Watch videos. There’s a lot in the way of example videos put up by different agencies, plus many others by actual dispatchers. As long as you’re social distancing, might as well be productive at it.

4. Sit-alongs. These require permission from an agency and as I write these words, we’re smack in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Still, there’s little better to prepare you for actual dispatching than seeing it firsthand and talking with the professionals who do it every day.

5. FEMA’s ICS/NIMS courses. It was news to me, but the Incident Command System is a national standard in public safety and the core principles are used each day. Take all the free classes (you’ll need to register to get an ID number). Most need an hour or two, but it’s something you can add to your arsenal when the interviewer asks what you’ve done to prepare yourself for a career as a dispatcher.

I hope this might be useful to you. When I started out, I had to hunt it down, but I love research and learning, so it’s fun for me. Drop me a comment with your own suggestions. I’d love to check them out!

Posted in Career

Got the Job

I had an interview with the county agency today and I thought it went pretty well. Since we‘d had problems connecting to the Microsoft Teams meeting last time, they reached out to me this morning and we did a test. Worked great. So, we were prepared and I got out my suit and my shiny black and blue tie and scraped all the barnacles off and I was ready to go.

This interview didn‘t go anything like I expected. They weren‘t quizzing me on scenarios or talking about how I‘ve tried to prepare myself for the job. Instead, they focused on my attitude and motives. Met the executive director of the agency and the deputy director of operations. Both were sharp guys and said they felt like I was equally sharp, which felt nice. They also said that I‘d be coming to work with lots of sharp people and I would have a lot to learn, which I could appreciate.

In the end, I think the answer that clinched it was when I said I wasn‘t just looking for a job, but rather a career that would let me make a difference. I wanted a chance to go to work and know that I could try to do something to help people. The DDO cut in and said he knew exactly what I meant and relayed a story about his time as a trainee, how he dispatched a bad call and the fire and EMS responders wanted to know what they were rolling up on. He told them (car versus mother and child pedestrians, mother with broken leg, child…considerably worse) and the radio went silent for a moment, then they started to acknowledge him and got to work and he just knew he‘d made a difference.

I got goosebumps because I knew these two understood where I was coming from and where I wanted to go.

At any rate, they said they‘d call in a few days with any possible next steps. I thanked them for their time, closed the laptop, and went to hang up my suit. I sat down on my bed to go over the call in my head when my phone rang. It was the HR director, the person who took my desperate call a month ago and was willing to give me a shot.

They wanted me. If they could get a copy of my polygraph and psych evaluation, great. If not, they‘d schedule me forthwith, but iA I should plan on starting on June 1.

Persistence pays off.

Posted in Career

Checking In

So, I had my interview with the city police department. It was supposed to be a video interview, but they’re using Skype for Business and I don’t have access to that, so it ended up being a phone interview.

Pro tip: Always have a backup way of getting into a remote interview. Services sometimes fail. Make sure to ask for a contact phone number well before the interview so you can pivot as necessary.

Anyway, this was a pretty standard screening interview. They asked the same questions I’ve answered many times and it went well enough that they contacted me the next day and congratulated me an told me I was being moved onto the background investigation portion.

I just finished up my background packet. Tomorrow, I’ll print it out, get it notarized, and overnighted to the HR contact at the department, then wait for 4-6 weeks until a detective gets assigned to my file. Having gone through this once before, I’m not overly worried. I passed the background check two months ago, so there’s no reason to think I’m in trouble now.

Next week, I have my face-to-face interview with the county 911 agency. I’m excited about that and am working to make sure I look extra handsome for the interview. For now, however, all I can do is reread my books, study my answers, and try to stay frosty and fresh for it.

Posted in Career


So, good news! In addition to the interview with the city agency, I also heard back from the county agency. They went over my background materials from the frozen department and want to schedule a final interview on May 11.

This is terrific news because a) I would be able to start work sooner than the city agency and b) I wouldn’t have to go through all the background checks again. The county agency is looking to start on June 1, which isn’t far away at all.

Now, I still have to win over the interview committees for both jobs, otherwise, this is just an exercise in dressing up and reading books.

Fortunately, I do okay in interviews and am self-aware enough to know when I’ve answered a question wrong. I’m convinced that, in addition to my inexperience, one wrong answered killed my first two job applications. I’ve since changed that answer (it was to a hypothetical question, not a fact about my history) and it seems to have made a difference.

So, I’ll take some time this weekend to press my suit, make sure I look extra gorgeous Monday morning, and go over questions and my answeres to prep. IA, things will go well and I’ll move on to the next stage!

Posted in Career

Persistence is Key

So, it’s been almost a week since I got the news that my hiring had been frozen. While still crushing, life does go on, even during a quarantine. My goal of becoming a 911 dispatcher hasn’t changed, so I had to keep going.

As I mentioned here, the chief had recommended I contact another 911 agency and I had done so. They liked the fact that I had already completed a background check, the polygraph, and the psych and medical checks. The HR manager scheduled an interview with me yesterday and I hope it went well. She said they were going to look over my background information and then let me know if they were going to schedule a final interview for me. This job would be great because it’s starting in less than six weeks, so fingers crossed for that!

However, I can’t afford to have all my eggs in one basket. Backup plans, redundancy…these things are key. So, I had already applied with another city’s police department to be a dispatcher, but foolishly turned them down when I was about to start my job.

The universe, it seems, is not without a sense of humor.

Fortunately, I contacted them and let them know about the hiring freeze. They were happy to let me proceed (Yay!), but I would still need to start from the beginning (Awww!). I took the Criticall test again today and passed with decent scores. 72 words per minute, 99% accuracy, 96 Criticall score. Got a call an hour later from the department to schedule a video interview next Monday at 0900.

So, I’m down, but not out. Still have two irons in the fire.