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by Darren Held

Certain people at H2G HQ have the kind of jobs where they go to offices and have bosses and underlings and actual responsibilities. I personally do not approve of such scenarios, but it seems as if they’re here to stay, so I accept them and try not to judge.

In any event, in the course of doing his job, one such individual is often in the position of interviewing hiring candidates. He asked me to write a blog about how improv classes can help these people with their interviewing skills. I’m happy to oblige.

It seems that, when asked about their strengths, candidates frequently list any number of things they’re good at (or at least things they think they’re good at) THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE JOB THEY ARE APPLYING FOR… from snowboarding to karaoke to speed-reading to cooking to sex. Well, I made that last one up – if you’re going to mention sex at an interview that is not actually for a job in the porn industry, I think improv is probably not going to solve all of your problems.

Conversely, when asked about their weaknesses, these same people list any number of things they suck at THAT ARE DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE JOB THEY ARE APPLYING FOR.

Now, I know that my readers – employed or otherwise – would not do such a thing. But in case you are reading this to an illiterate friend or relative, I will explain how improv classes would help in these instances.

In improv, we always want to make connections and unearth what something means. If I tell my scene partner, “I resent your condescending attitude,” we need to figure out why. Perhaps it’s because it makes my character feel insecure, or because his character is actually completely incompetent and yet thinks he’s all that, or whatever. We want to connect our next bit of information onto the last, so we can build a relationship and, therefore, a scene. If I say, “I resent your condescending attitude,” and he replies with, “You love ice cream!” that’s not connected and not helpful.

When you learn that skill, you can apply it in an interview situation. If the HR person asks what your strengths are, and you have none that directly apply to the job at hand, but you are good at snowboarding, don’t say you’re good at snowboarding. Instead, think about the skills needed for successful snowboarding, think about how those skills connect to the job at hand, and list those… Say you have the ability to assess new situations and adapt accordingly, or that you’re always one to take initiative, or that you’re a risk-taker who nevertheless weighs the needs of the team before making a decision. Think about the question, understand what they are really asking, and make those connections in your brain before you answer. All in a couple seconds. That’s what improv teaches you.

Oh yeah. If you’re asked about your weaknesses, don’t hand them a laundry list of reasons not to hire you. Think of something you’re not good at, and explain how the skills you lack in that situation are something you’re not great at. Maybe you’re not good at karaoke… you can say, “I am uncomfortable being singled out or being the center of attention. I’m much better in a collaborative situation.” That takes a weakness and turns it into a strength; essentially, I’m a team player.

I am NOT suggesting you lie in your interviews. Far from it. I am suggesting that improv will help you understand questions and how to logically reply to them in a connected manner that will allow you to tell the best possible truth, instead of the truth that gets you sent home without the job.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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