The Interview: What Performing Artists Can Teach Everyone Else About Job Hunting

By Eric Schumacher:

For those of you who have been reading my work, I have written a lot about surviving emotionally in an unusual career or in an unusual calling, such as the performing arts. As strange a path as an arts career may be, everyone pursuing any career has one thing in common: we want to be successful. A key part of the pathway to success in most careers, arts included, includes the awful, terrifying, stress-inducing experience of . . . the job interview.

Nobody loves job interviews; most people hate them. In many cases, an interview consists of walking into a room and talking to someone who is going to decide your future. In a very short period of time, this individual may determine whether you can have the life you want, have the career you've always dreamed of, or earn the money you need. Most people believe that the slightest misstep during that interview—an awkward moment, the wrong word—will cost you that new opportunity.

Speaking for performing artists (the area in which I have the most experience), there are some significant differences between our process and an interview for a traditional job, but those differences can shed light on some things that can help a traditional job seeker nail their interview. Perhaps help you to level up, so to speak.

Traditional Job Seekers

Thankfully, most folks in traditional careers only have to interview every once in a long while. If you have an office job, for example, you may intend to keep that job for some time, and if everything goes well, you might try to move up within your company. You may have to pull out your resume only once every few years, update it, and begin the isolated process of letting others judge you.

The interview process from job to job is typically pretty similar and often highly regulated by various HR laws. In many cases, your skillsets are proven long before you walk in the door. Your resume explains the types of skills you have and your level of education and experience related to the job. Your references will verify that experience and your reliability. And so, a verbal interview can be extremely important as a deciding factor on whether you're a fit for the culture of the organization. A lot of it simply comes down to whether or not people like you.

Performing Artists

For performing arts job seekers, the interview is traditionally an audition. Demonstrations of skill and artistic compatibility are often more important than the interview phase, although that is still very important. Typically, one walks into a room or onto a stage and, after a short introduction, is asked to perform a dance or a song or a piece of instrumental music, or to read from a script or perform a previously memorized monologue. Then there's some back-and-forth and that's it. There may be many “callbacks” wherein the job seeker is asked to return and re-audition, read or perform with others, and take more direction to help the casting director, producers, and director determine whether the performer is skilled enough for the role and is able to deliver something artistically that will be an asset to the production. You can have all the experience in the world and still not be a good fit for a particular job.

It should also be noted that most performing artists typically find their jobs very short-term, often lasting a day or less. It's extremely rare to find performing arts work that one might keep for months or years. I remember an agent explaining to me when I was a kid auditioning in a large marketplace that if you got a single job out of every 30 auditions you were doing quite well. And again, we're talking about jobs that can last less than a day.

Each audition is therefore extremely high stakes; the odds of you actually getting a job from a single audition—or even 10 auditions—are very low. A performing artist must be an absolute expert at the interview process and has to learn to face that process constantly and endlessly, knowing that the odds are stacked against them.