Landing the Part: Job Interview Tips From An Actor

Artists go on a lot more job interviews than you think. If the artist isn’t making a living with his or her art (and very few of them are) and doesn’t have a trust fund or inheritance to draw from (and very few of them do), they have to find a variety of ways to support their passion so creditors don’t derail their dreams. Luckily, their chosen fields can often give them the edge in interviews, so long as they’ve found a way to incorporate that passion into their performance at interviews.

I work in the theatre, and after all those years treading the boards I’ve found a plethora of similarities between connecting with an audience and connecting with a potential employer.

Know the Play

When an actor is asked to come in for an audition, it’s imperative they have a sense of the show itself. Is it a drama or comedy? Is it a classic play or a world premiere? What will be the tone and atmosphere of the audition? Every actor should spend some time researching the play and the themes it explores. Furthermore, they should use this time to do some research on the company as well. What is their history? Do they usually produce plays like this or are they heading in a new direction? Directors often use a portion of the audition to have a short discussion about their company and the play with the actor, and a firm knowledge of both can heighten your appeal considerably. Directors want to feel the actor has an investment in the company and the material and isn’t just in it for the resume credit.

A potential employer often feels the same way; nobody wants to hire a drone just in it for the paycheck. If you really want the job, make them believe it. Do some research on the company; familiarize yourself with their mission statement and goals. Most of this research can be found on the company website, but push it a little further. Can you find any recent news articles about the company? Have they made the headlines recently? Have you worked with a similar company in the past? How can you relate that experience to your potential involvement with this company? The more specific your knowledge, the more impressive you’ll sound.

Know Your Character

It is the actor’s job to inhabit a character. Some would even say it’s the actor’s job to heighten a character by injecting their own sense of self into the material. The best actors honor the character’s motivations and goals, but also bring him or her to life by integrating their own emotions, quirks, and mannerisms. The question then becomes, “What can I bring to this character?” instead of simply asking, “Can I play this character?”

Employers can always find an assortment of people who can perform the duties of the job, but the person who gets the job is one who can bring something fresh to the position. Employers usually post a list of job duties and requirements during the application process and while familiarization with this list is important, it should only be considered a start. You can perform the task, sure, but what can you bring to it? Your qualifications are important, but don’t allow them to trump your personality. Instead, find a way to integrate your personality into the fabric of the position. Ask yourself what aspects of your personality you can highlight during the interview. Oftentimes, employers don’t just want an employee, they want someone they can enjoy engaging with in both business and the break room. Don’t be afraid of your own personality. Don’t be afraid to be yourself in an interview.

Know Your Lines

Actors are often asked to prepare monologues for the audition. Too often they fall back on old monologues they think will work in any setting, but every play is different and it’s important that your audition piece have some bearing on your role. If the director is looking for vulnerability, it’s up to the actor to find a piece that will bring out that quality in them. If they’re looking for comedic chops, it will do the actor no good to do a piece from one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Always suit the monologue for the audition, but be careful that you’re not bound to the words on the page. A strong set of improvisational techniques can also be a great boon for an actor, especially if a director wants them to take a monologue in different directions. Actors need to be ready at all times to move beyond the words on the page, but in order to do so they must know those words in and out.

When interviewing for a job, it wouldn’t be a good idea to memorize a monologue, of course, but you shouldn’t go in without your own set of talking points and questions. Don’t use the same standard questions you may use for any interview; instead, tailor them specifically to this job and this company. If the job is more creative, let your talking points and questions revolve around the company’s process. If the job is more technical, let the talking points and questions explore their techniques and software. Be sure not to be too rigid with your talking points; allow the conversation to go whichever direction the interviewer wants to pursue. If you have a strong knowledge of your skill set, you should feel comfortable “improvising.”

Check Your Props

In theatre, appearance can be everything. Before any actor goes onstage, at an audition or performance, they have to make sure the elements are in place. Do you have a headshot and resume for the director? Do you look presentable? For a performance, the stakes are even higher. Are all your costume pieces in check? Do you have the correct briefcase, the right pistol? Has it been tested? Will it fire? Did you test the part of the stage that collapses during the second act? Even the smallest problem can derail a show and alienate an audience so it’s important to be prepared in order to anticipate any and all problems.

It can be horribly embarrassing to be unprepared or unkempt during a job interview. Cover letters and resumes are always a given to bring with you at interviews, but what else could they be expecting? Were you asked to submit writing samples or references? It’s important to include hard copies of these along with your resume. In the same way that it may seem redundant to check the same prop repeatedly, it may seem silly to have so many hard copies of material the interviewer has already received. But the assurance that you have them is almost as important as the possibility that they may ask for them. It’s very easy to let your nervousness about being asked for something you don’t have pull your attention away from the interview, but if you check for these materials extensively beforehand you’ll go into the interview confident and assured of your preparedness. In the theatre as in life, confidence is often half the battle.

These are just a few ways one could incorporate their artistic sensibilities into the business world. In my experience, I’ve found that many employers love artists, so long as they’re able to integrate their passion into their profession. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.