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Careers Clinic: How can I apply my acting skills to an off-stage theatre job interview?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I trained as an actor but over the past few years I have found my career moving into writing and directing, initially via pieces of my own and then for other companies. Although I haven’t given up acting, I also enjoy developing shows and stories and supporting other theatremakers.

My ‘career development’ has until now been fairly organic, with my non-acting jobs mainly coming through connections and word of mouth. I have just seen what would be an ideal next step for me: assistant director at a regional theatre that produces a lot of new writing. However, there is a formal application and interview process. I plucked up my courage, filled out the long online application and somewhat to my surprise I have an interview coming up with two of the board and a council rep.

If this was an audition I would know what to do and already be busy refreshing my monologues and getting into character. Instead, not having had a job interview since the careers fair at secondary school, all I’m doing is getting more and more nervous.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE While actors often get butterflies before auditions I don’t think I know many that actively hate them. Job interviews, on the other hand, are unlikely to be on the ‘favourite activities’ list for anyone. For the interviewee, there is the pressure of trying to communicate your ability to do a job in words rather than actions. That can be tough even if you have been doing a job for years. The interviewers face the equally daunting task of trying to identify which candidates can deliver the goods and which are just good at talking.

Fortunately, there are useful tips you can carry directly over from auditions to job interviews. The two obvious ones are turning up on time and being suitably dressed for the occasion. The first should be a given. With the latter, if you are used to turning up fairly casually dressed for auditions (which is usually fine) there can sometimes be a temptation to go to the opposite extreme for a business interview. Smart dress is a good idea, but overdressing to the point where you feel stiff and uncomfortable will inhibit your ability to be yourself.

On the nerves front, the same breathing exercises you do before an audition can be useful in this situation. Unlike sides for a scene, you normally won’t be given the interview questions to prep in advance, but ‘knowing your character’ is still a useful technique. You can do this in two ways, firstly by taking a detailed look at the job description since it is likely that both the company’s ethos and the individual skills and experience set out as desirable will come up in the questions.

The other thing that pays off is to make sure you know your CV well enough to talk the interviewer through it. Often we knock up our CV (or ask somebody else to) for the purposes of the original application and then forget what we put in it. Just as a casting director expects the actor who walks in the door to look like their headshot, the interviewer is seeing you on the basis of your CV, and will expect you to be ‘that person’ when you meet in real life.

One skill that can make all the difference in interviews, which actors should definitely be good at, is storytelling. Modern interview scripts often directly ask questions such as: ‘Can you tell me about a time when you (solved a job related problem)?’. But, even when they don’t, giving concrete examples and painting the picture as vividly as you can is more likely to convince employers to try you out than short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Good luck with your interview.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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