How The Performing Arts Can Teach You About Interviewing

An oldie-but-goodie for Throwback Thursday.

It’s showtime! Spotlight’s on you! Break a leg! Knock ‘em dead! These are common quips in the performing arts, but they work for people going on interviews too. Have you ever thought about your interview being like a performer’s audition?

Perhaps you have, in terms of the need to be someone else or be fake. But great performers actually have to bring authenticity to their roles and their preparation often reflects the same challenges many of us experience as job seekers. With the need for confidence, focus, and the ability to deliver what you claim to provide the organization, there are many similarities. Surprised? Read on!

Present what makes you “uniquely you” and how that “unique you” is right for the role

Actors are selected for roles by bringing authenticity to the audition. While it may be called “acting,” it requires presenting your best skills and your best self. As Rodney Dangerfield puts it, “It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.”

Remember this the next time you have an interview and authentically showcase your skills. While you need to demonstrate your fit with the role, you don’t need to be a carbon copy. Your potential employer wants to know what makes your perspective and abilities unique and how it will enhance the position.

Here’s how to figure out your unique skills and strengths.

Know your audience

Just like a performer needs to be able to “read” his or her audience, a job seeker should be on alert for nonverbal cues from the interviewer. If your interviewer is leaning in as you speak, it shows that he or she is engaged in what you are saying. If he is looking at his watch or tapping a pen against his desk? You might need to kick your conversation into high gear to recover his interest!

Here are a few tips on how to connect with your interviewer.

Look (and dress) the “part”

No, you won’t literally have to “look like a program officer,” but illustrate to your employer you are the right fit for the role by demonstrating your abilities through previous accomplishments.

Dressing the part involves knowing the culture of the organization and the nature of the job. Performers dress to match their roles: an actor will dress in the fashions typical of their character to provide the right “look” for their performance.

If you are interviewing for a direct service role in a youth program or at mental health facility, what is considered appropriate dress will differ from that of a development officer who meets with high-income donors. Also research the organization’s culture for what is appropriate. If you show up to a laid-back, casual environment in a pinstripe suit, you might signal to your interviewer that you did not do your due diligence or that you are not an appropriate fit.

Here’s how to research and understand an organization’s culture.

Understand the nuances and the unspoken needs

Acting is about much more than just delivering lines. A performer must delve deep into the character and understand the “why” behind his or her actions. What are the motivators? Why is the character laughing right now? What are the unsaid words present in a conversation with another character?

Think about this in regards to the role you are interviewing for. Why is the role necessary for this organization? What other needs will you fill, aside from the ones in the job description? What solutions will you provide if you are hired for this job?

Here’s how to identify the pain points of an organization.

Help the interviewer see you in the role and that you will fit in with the rest of the ensemble…or, rather, team

By now, you know the importance of demonstrating yourself as a qualified candidate for the job. Just as notable however, is that you will provide a good balance with the rest of the team. Even if the role does not require regular interaction with team members, show your interviewer that you work well both within an ensemble and as a star by asking questions about the team and sharing examples of how you work with others.

Here are a few questions to ask during the interview to understand the team.

Practice, practice, practice

Performers practice regularly for their auditions and you should do the same for each and every interview. Even if you have done a run-through of the same questions countless times, remember that each interview is different and each company has its own unique intricacies. Refine your answer to the interview questions by making it as relatable as possible to the organization you are currently interviewing with.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when practice your interview.

Good luck!

What other interview lessons can we learn from performers? Share your tips below.



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I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.
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