Emergency Dispatchers are the first line of communication between citizens and first responders. They walk people through what are typically the most frightening, heart-wrenching moments of their lives. They are level-headed, detail-oriented individuals who know how to effectively support people who are panicked and in often dangerous situations. Their response and guidance can make the difference between life and death in many cases.
A good Emergency Dispatcher works well under pressure and knows how to multitask without becoming overwhelmed. They can naturally lead a conversation and administer directions without becoming too forceful or aggressive. Their ability to provide responsive support requires quick thinking, resilience and a high tolerance for stress. The right candidates will be balanced individuals who are able to stay grounded during distressing situations and help protect people until help can arrive.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests, and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Emergency Dispatcher interview questions to help you get started:
1. What inspired you to pursue a career as an Emergency Dispatcher?
What you want to hear: Selflessness is essential in a job committed to serving the public. Emergency Dispatching is fast-paced and often thankless. A strong candidate will be motivated by the desire to help people through their most difficult challenges and care more about providing high-quality service than being recognized.
Red flag: An Emergency Dispatcher who thinks of themselves first in any position can often be ignorant to the needs of callers. It’s crucial to hire someone who sees value in what they do for others over anything else.
2. What would you say are the three most essential characteristics of any Emergency Dispatcher?
What you want to hear: An Emergency Dispatcher must be resilient to stress, a good communicator, and work well under pressure. These core qualities ensure they can not only connect with callers but effectively guide them through scenarios until help arrives.
Red flag: A candidate who does not point out any of the above traits could be a risk to the public. Even those who are applying for their first position in the field must have a strong understanding of what qualities they need to succeed.
3. What is the most stressful situation you’ve ever had to coach someone through?
What you want to hear: Working through your own stress and helping someone else are vastly different experiences, and it’s important for a candidate to recognize that. Self-awareness, communication and a solution-focused mindset should be exemplified in a winning response.
Red flag: Temperament is also a large part of job success, and a candidate should be able to demonstrate that defining trait while sharing their example. Emergency Dispatcher interview questions that frustrate a candidate are indicators that the candidate may be lacking the resilience and rationality needed for the role.
4. How do you establish a personal connection with the people you’re helping?
What you want to hear: Although there isn’t much time for small talk, an Emergency Dispatcher can still connect on a personal level with their callers. Offering reassurance, repeating directions, and speaking in a calm, controlled manner can help them perform their role better.
Red flag: Emergency Dispatching during emergencies requires a certain level of intimacy; people are vulnerable, afraid and need to know the person on the other end of the line is there to help them. Candidates who focus solely on technical details and overlook the humanity of their role can fail to deliver the level of support people need.
5. If a caller is screaming, cursing and difficult to understand, how will you help them?
What you want to hear: Empathy is required among anyone who is dealing with people in crises. Your ideal candidate will know that their reactions are understandable. They should calmly but firmly let the caller know they have to lower their voice so they can be helped as quickly as possible.
Red flag: Some candidates may say that they would end the call if they could not understand the person speaking; others may react aggressively and try to “scream over” the caller and get their attention. Neither of these responses is appropriate. The candidate should always strive to deescalate rather than perpetuate a stressful situation.
6. What would you do if you received a call from a friend or family member?
What you want to hear: Walking a loved one through an emergency can be incredibly distressing, but a candidate must remain calm and follow protocol. Safety is always the top priority, so they should walk the caller through the process just as they would any other and follow up with them as soon as they are able to do so.
Red flag: It is difficult to not let personal feelings get in the way of work when a loved one needs help, but Emergency Dispatchers must have the ability to think clearly and stay focused. The candidate who prioritizes their own relationships over other calls or emotionally reacts could cause greater harm to their loved ones and others in need of assistance.
7. Someone calls you for help during an active home intrusion. What are the next steps you take?
What you want to hear: Aside from getting the caller’s address and immediately dispatching police to the scene, personal safety is of the utmost importance. A caller should be advised to either escape the home if they can safely do so or hide. The caller should stay on the line until law enforcement arrives.
Red flag: Home invasions are one of the most stressful scenarios someone can face. A candidate who cannot remain calm, fails to respond quickly, or does not follow the appropriate steps puts the caller’s life in greater danger.
8. You receive a call but the person on the other line does not respond. What do you do?
What you want to hear: The 911 Silent Call Procedure has been in effect since the 1990s. It is designed to help Emergency Dispatchers walk silent callers through help by instructing them to press certain buttons on their phone’s keypad. An emergency situation should be assumed, and help should be sent to the approximate location of the caller.
Red flag: Some candidates may interpret a silent phone line as a prank call or misdial, but this can be a fatal mistake. If someone is being kidnapped, held hostage, choking or otherwise incapacitated, they could still manage to dial 911. In this line of work, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Under no circumstances should the call be terminated and ignored.
9. How do you prioritize calls for emergency dispatch?
What you want to hear: Every state has its own priority system for emergency calls. First priority calls are always dispatched for situations involving immediately life-threatening situations. Non-critical situations can be responded to by order of severity.
Red flag: Candidates should recognize that critical calls always take precedence. Relying on an established prioritization streamlines the dispatch process and avoids overloading first responders or misdirecting them to non-critical situations.
10. If you receive a call that makes you especially stressed or overwhelmed, how do you cope?
What you want to hear: Mental health can be significantly affected responding to emergency phone calls. Self-care is important, and a candidate should express awareness of the job’s stressful nature and their coping strategies. During a difficult call, a candidate may mention that they practice deep breathing and concentrate on coaching the caller rather than their own emotions.
Red flag: Failure to recognize the impact dispatching can have on their well-being is a major risk to both the candidate’s health and their callers. Emotional regulation is a major component that should never be overlooked.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Emergency Dispatcher position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Demonstrate a clear understanding of the job and its intensity.
- Have a level-headed approach to problem-solving.
Multitask and work well under pressure and time-sensitive situations.
- Possess exceptional oral communication abilities.