Join the ProRefero Blog mailing list and receive additional information and professional tips straight to your inbox. Plus, the opportunity for one-to-one mentoring.
Article by Michael Hoyle
Well done. The application went in and they like you – you have an interview. This article will give you the crucial information you need to stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of success.
No matter how experienced you are, it’s always nerve-racking to sit in front of a panel and deliver a strong and confident interview. It’s how you manage the nerves that count.
Your overriding aim should be to leave every member of the panel thinking about the endless possibilities available with YOU on their team. Keep reading as I explain some of the key elements you should focus on to stand out from the crowd.
Working in the theatre industry is an interesting endeavour. For me, all of my previous roles were obtained through reputation and being in the right place at the right time. That was until my very first interview.
At the age of 26, I decided to leave my then current place of work in search of more stability for me and my family. Jobs in technical theatre can be few and far between, let alone full-time with job security. Fortunately for me, a position came up at a neighbouring venue.
I absolutely had to get that job, a great deal depended on it.
Fortunately, I did. But I wouldn’t say this was down to an impeccable interview, but rather my experience in the industry. I got lucky. If someone had delivered a better interview but had less experience, I may well have been rejected.
5 years on, I’m still in the same role; The Technical Manager for Lincoln Performing Arts Centre and Lincoln School of Fine and Performing Arts. The first is a multifunctional arts centre with a 444 seated theatre, complete with a small set workshop, three drama studios and a dance studio. The latter is one of the UK’s largest fine and performing arts schools, consisting of drama, dance, fine art and fashion BA degree courses, as well as numerous MA courses.
I look back to my first job interview and remember the pressure of needing to get it right. I look back at all the things I would have done differently if I were to do it now. But the important thing is that I got the job.
Being a part of a big organisation and one that is growing and developing requires me to sit in on many job interview panels, from multiple apprenticeship post interviews to more recent management post interviews.
Being on the panel gives a completely new perspective to the process and each post might have up to 8 interviewees. This makes it invaluable for seeing what people do right, where they go wrong and what they can do to improve, as well as being a part of the panel discussion after the interview is over.
It is so important to research everything you can. Most of the information can usually be sourced online, but you can go deeper than that and cold-call a few members of venue staff to get more information.
The really important information is the basic info. If you haven’t shown the initiative to do at least the obvious then you won’t get the job. Simple as that.
Some examples for researching a theatre:
- Obtain a clear understanding of the venue, such as capacity and the available facilities
- Research the current programme of events and previous event programmes – has the venue shifted trajectory? Is it under new artistic direction? etc.
- Read the mission and vision statements – What are the venue goals and how can you make them happen?
- Is the role a new role? If so, why? What is the organisation hoping to achieve? E.g. Marketing intern – to engage a younger audience (see mission and vision statements)
- Has the venue recently received investment? If so, where from and what is it for?
- Who works there? Know the people and faces who are likely to be on the panel. E.g. Artistic Director, Theatre Manager, Marketing Manager, etc.
- Visit the venue for a first-hand experience. Judge it for yourself – but don’t point out faults in the operation of the venue during an interview. You can, however, randomly suggest areas you like to give special focus to. For example: the show you saw went up late = “In my previous employment, I focused special attention on ensuring the customer experience was outstanding, such as ensuring the audience are in and seated, and the show commences and finishes at the time stated”.
Be careful not to cross the line and be intrusive. Cold-calling can be useful and most staff members will be helpful. For example, call the box office staff and ask if they have a minute to talk, then simply ask them some questions about the organisation that your other research hasn’t answered.
2. The job description and criteria
Most good adverts and descriptions will list the desired attributes for the role. It may state in the description that certain criteria are essential and others are desirable. It may also state that some are expected at the application stage and others at the interview stage.
This is the marking criteria for the panel of interviewers. Your aim should be to tick as many of these as possible. If you’re through to the interview stage, you should presume that your application is now superseded by your interview, this means that your essential and desirable attributes should be reinforced during your interview. Basically, remind the panel of all those amazing things you wrote on the application.
3. First impression – Appearance
Plan ahead! Prep your outfit the night before.
Dress smart, always. Avoid wedding smart, it’s business smart we’re looking for. That means dragging your old go-to wedding suit out the wardrobe isn’t quite going to cut it. Think sharp/business/professional.
In my opinion, this goes for any role, whether that the Managing Director or an apprentice in stage management – show that you can look the part when you need to.
Make sure your outfit fits. And protect it before the interview; that means no coffee or breakfast stains and no car seatbelt creases.
Get a second opinion… an honest professional opinion. My wife once sent me to a wedding looking ridiculous because I had asked her if my shirt needed ironing – she said it looked fine (to be nice). Tell your second opinion – don’t be nice, be honest!
Remember to look clean and presentable. Make sure you have fresh breath (but no chewing gum), your hands and nails are clean and your hair is groomed.
4. First impression – Introduction
Entering the room is more than just that, it tells the panel so much about you. Stand straight, breathe, then go. Practice your walk. Don’t rush. The few seconds it takes you to approach the panel should be calm. Take that time to assess the people in front of you and establish who is who. The most influential may not be sat centrally.
Personally, I would always start from the nearest side and introduce yourself with a good firm handshake and eye contact. Take a second with each member of the panel and engage with them. Don’t jump along the line in a frenzy of crossed over handshakes and confusion.
Think about your handshake – it really is important and says a lot about you. Weak, flimsy grips come across lazy. Too firm and you look like you’re trying to be the top dog.
It’s safe to say that all the candidates will be nervous, everyone suffers from nerves. It’s how those nerves are dealt with that can make or break your interview.
Research how you can manage your nerves and constantly test yourself. This shouldn’t just be prior to an interview; this can benefit you all year round.
Some simple ideas to help get on top of your nerves:
- Start a conversation with a stranger.
- Public speaking – so effective. Trust me, the more you do the better you get.
- Practice – see Tip No.8: Practice questions.
Engage with the panel. Make sure they feel a connection to you. Be passionate about your answers (passionate, not aggressive).
Make eye contact. If a certain panel member asks you a question, respond to them with eye contact. Don’t look at the floor… and don’t forget to blink!
Don’t be intimidating – The panel wants to see your professional determination but also see that you have a softer side.
Every industry has buzz words. If you know the industry well enough then you should know the right things to say. However, make sure you know what you are talking about – there’s nothing worse than a buzz word being said wrong or out of context.
As a technical manager, buzz word examples would be mentioning a complex function of our lighting desk (you should already know what desk we have through some basic research). Another example would be discussing more complex aspects of stage management – the things experience teaches you.
8. Practice questions
Get a friend or partner to record a good number of interview questions as MP3 tracks, then create a playlist and press shuffle. You will get a random question to answer. Do this regularly and practice your responses – which will quickly become more prepared.
Record yourself and review it. Study your responses and how clear they are.
Then move onto a live demo, get that friend or partner to ask you questions at random and answer them. Get honest feedback and work to improve your technique.
9. How much do you want it?
I once tried my hand at acting and this meant going to a number of auditions. Much to my frustration; I didn’t get the jobs I wanted, but the one job I didn’t want; I got. The reason: nerves. I felt the pressure of the process for the jobs I really wanted. That one job I didn’t want, I felt no nerves whatsoever.
I’m not saying that you won’t get the jobs you really want, but the formula to success here is in three parts:
- Ensuring that you really want the job
- Showing the panel that you want the job
- Leaving all the negative side effects at home. (Nervousness, desperation, intimidation, etc.)
I believe the key to this is in tip no.11: Practice makes perfect.
10. Think bigger
Think bigger than just the post you are interviewing for.
In my interview, I was asked a question about income generation, of which I knew little about. It tripped me up and I staggered through a response.
However, I did discuss my set design and scenic artistry skills and how they could benefit the organisation. I gave the panel a desirable asset (theoretically). This meant that choosing someone else would then mean losing that asset. I offered additional value.
11. Practice makes perfect
This is a controversial one.
A mentor once told me that they regularly applied for jobs and went through the interview process… as practice.
Apply for jobs even if you don’t think you’re qualified. Use this as a regular practice and ask for feedback from the panel after each one.
There really isn’t better training than actually being interviewed. This way, when that desirable post finally comes up, the interview process is a well rehearsed one.
12. Watch the politicians
I once saw a politician reuse the same statement to answer all the questions fired at him. Don’t go to this extent but if you get a question that throws you, don’t sit in a blank-faced silence; link the answer to reinforce some of your previous answers by paraphrasing them and making a connection to the original question.
13. Ask questions
You should have two or three questions prepared in advance. These can be written down if necessary. When the time comes toward the end of the interview and the panel chair asks “do you have any questions”? Reply with some good ones, it shows that you’re engaged.
Good question examples
- Is there the opportunity for career progression within the role and organisation?
- I thrive as part of a team, are there the opportunities to improve my team leadership skills?
- I am always looking to improve my own skills, does your organisation have any personal and professional development programmes?
Listen carefully to the questions. Questions can often be asked in two parts; it’s a common occurrence to jump into the initial question and forget the second. This usually leads to two outcomes:
- The panel continues to stare at you, even though you feel you’ve just delivered a 5-star answer. This then leads to you waffling to fill the awkwardness and diluting your 5-star answer.
- You have to ask for the question to be repeated.
The latter is the preferred reaction, don’t be afraid to ask for the question to be repeated.
Listen carefully to the question and take a moment rather than rushing. You may even want to repeat the question as you think of the response, this method will help you to retain and process the information.
15. Body Language
Body language is so important. From the moment you walk in the room to the moment you leave, you should have a good posture, make eye contact and don’t fidget.
Watch this video, it explains body language far better than I can.
16. Offer more than the competition
I’ve been in so many interviews in which we’ve allowed 30-45 minutes and it’s been wrapped up in 10-15 minutes. They were not necessarily bad interviews but the answers may have been rushed. Take your time and connect with the interviewers on the panel. Be the person they remember at the end of the day.
Be comprehensive. Don’t miss anything out that you will regret later. You have time to talk and engage with your panel.
17. Your exit
This is as important as the entrance. You want the panel to remember you above any other applicant.
Same as your entrance, take a moment to say goodbye and shake hands. If you remember names, use them. Tell them that it’s been a great experience.
Someone will likely show you out – don’t express your relief until you are well away from the building. Ripping the tie off or swearing are definite ‘NO’s’. The person showing you out may seem more relaxed and natural with you, but they may still discuss you with the panel.
If you found this article useful then please like, comment and share with others.
If you want to receive more articles on how to get ahead and succeed in the theatre industry, please subscribe