The simple act of speaking requires a good deal of improvisation because the mind is addressing its own thought and creativity through words, sounds and gestures, and statements that feed back into the thought process (the performer as listener), creating an enriched repertoire of information. Known as “in the moment” communication that stimulates one’s immediate environment and inner feelings, improvisation and the skills of improvisation can be applied to many different abilities or forms of communication (i.e. artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic…and of course, interviewing).
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a one-day improvisation class at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Throughout the class we learned that improv artists use an acronym to describe their approach – CRAFT. We used this approach as part of our team building activities and improvisation exercises.
So what is CRAFT and how does it related to interviewing?
For each of the descriptions below I have included a definition/tips from both the improv and interviewing perspective. By following these tips you will CRAFT your way to winning over your audience; whether it be on the stage or in an interview.
Commit: (improv) Seize your initial impressions, ideas and feedback. Follow through with your honest and candid contributions. The best way to take care of a team member is to take care of yourself. This capitalizes the most valuable team asset: initial instincts and impressions.
Commit: (interviewing) Anytime you receive an interview the employer has determined you’ve met the basic qualifications for the position you are applying for. By preparing for the interview through knowing yourself, your resume, the position, and company you will have the confidence needed to shine in your interview. Don’t forget to “dress to impress,” deliver a firm handshake, smile and show enthusiasm; initial instincts and first impressions are everything.
React: (improv) Use your environment, one another and your own ideas as the inspiration for your thoughts and actions. Resist the illusion of control over an inherently ever-changing world. This maximizes the human and inspirational resources at hand.
React: (interviewing) Believe it or not, the employer you are interviewing with is not inviting you in to torture you but instead to put you at ease and create an enjoyable learning experience for both you and them. Also, when it comes to the Q&A part of the interview – don’t panic – your preparation will carry you through as you share your stories about the skills and experiences they are asking about. Remember to be yourself and not the person you think they want you to be.
Affirm: (improv) Regardless of whether or not you agree with an idea, embrace its contribution. Say “yes” to an idea, then use it to base your contribution. This fosters trust that all ideas are heard and respected as well as forcing collaborative thinking.
Affirm: (interviewing) When providing your responses to interview questions – despite their level of difficult – be sure to affirm your stories with detail and keywords relevant to the position. For instance, if asked a behavioral question (i.e. Tell me about a time when…) try using the STAR technique (S: Situation; T: Task; A: Actions; and R: Results). Or, if you are addressing questions about skills or strengths remember to always back them up (affirm) with proof of when, where and how you’ve used them. By implementing these strategies and affirming your stories, you can be assured that your responses will be heard.
Focus: (improv) Stay present with one another and pay the very attention you seek when contributing. Conscious attention is evident through eye-contact and active listening. This ensures the maximum input and evaluation from team members.
Focus: (interviewing) There are two key parts to consider when focusing: eye contact and actively listening to what the employer is asking. By no means should you devote yourself to 100% eye contact, giving the impression that you are psychotic. Instead, try more like 70%. Effective eye contact can help communicate confidence and belief in what you are saying. Secondly, be sure to listen to each interview question and pin-point the key words (skills or experiences) they are asking you to address. No matter how long-winded or confusing some questions may be, you will at least know what information they are seeking. Lastly, if provided a tour during your interview make sure you are engaged by asking questions, delivering the same positive first impression to new people you meet (as you did with the interviewer), and paying attention to the dynamics of the work environment.
Trust: (improv) Proceed in spite of the possibility of failure. Rest assured that the attention, respect and deference you give other team members will be given to you. This encourages the efficiency of collaboration by marginalizing the impact of fear and doubt.
Trust: (interviewing) Be yourself – trust yourself – believe in yourself! Most interviewees think they must deliver their “A game” in order to receive a second-round interview or job offer. While you will certainly prepare yourself to perform at this level, we are human and humans make mistakes. Not every response will go as you had planned. Sometimes your “B or B+ game” may just be enough.
For those interviewing – I wish you all the best as you begin to CRAFT your way to a successful interview!
Make no mistake about it, writing an effective resume has to be a highly individualized matter, since no two people are alike. Nevertheless, it is such a constricted and standardized format, that we find ourselves adopting certain phrases or words that each of us tends to prefer and that in fact help us get jobs. Every career counselor/job seeker has his or her own list. Here is mine:
1. “$3,000,000” (vs. “$3M”) – To a skimmer’s eye, “$3M” looks like three dollars. If you are dealing with big numbers and write out all the zeros, the employer’s eye will find it anywhere on the page, no matter how fast they are skimming through your resume. Quantifying aspects of your experiences can prove to be extremely beneficial.
2. “Created a database for…” (vs. “Developed a database for…”) – “Developed” is an overused and nondescriptive word. Often databases, procedures, lists, or whatever other job activity you are writing about is something you actually put together (even if you used a standard software program to do it, for example). “Created” is closer to the truth and is certainly much more impressive on your resume.
3. “Applied xyz methods…” (vs. “Learned xyz methods….”) – Many job seekers list important skills or knowledge that they learned on a job on their resume. But that isn’t going to impress a potential employer. The potential employer wants to know if you actually used those skills. How and where you learned them is immaterial. Similarly, avoid using the word “assisted.” This word is obsolete unless you can communicate how you specifically assisted in a given situation.
4. “Show…not tell” – Any of us can say we have certain skill sets, but can we back them up with proof (examples of where we used them)? Employers find skills, strengths and competencies very valuable. Yet, unless you can provide examples of how you used them in action – they won’t get you very far.
5. “Value to an organization:”… (vs. “Career Summary”) – Who cares what your career summary is? In my humble opinion and extensive experience, deep down inside the first thing a potential employer really wants to know is if you can help their bottom line. Otherwise, I don’t really think they’re that interested in reading yet another career summary on a resume.
In some cases, telephone interviews are a way for employers to “pre-screen” possible job candidates before they are granted an in-person interview. In other cases, employers will conduct the full interview over the phone. Whether you are required to go through a pre-screening or have already been given the interview, you must be more prepared than you would be for an in-person interview, even if you are allowed to interview in your PJ’s. Below are some telephone interview tips to keep in mind so your next phone interview is a success.
Telephone Interview Tips
1. Use a landline. You don’t want to risk having problems with cell phone service. It is irritating for employers to conduct interviews if the call breaks up frequently or is dropped completely. If you don’t have a land line at home, just make sure you are in an area with as much cell phone service as possible. Do what you can so the process runs as smooth as possible.
2. Keep your materials handy. In fact, lay everything out in front of you. This includes your resume, notes about your career objective (even if it isn’t included in your original cover letter it’s a good idea to have this out depending on the questions he will ask you), a pen and pad of paper for note-taking and anything else you think may be helpful during your interview. Because you won’t have to schlep into an office, you can have anything out in front of you to aid with your success.
3. Steer clear of distractions. Find a quiet place to interview and stay there! There shouldn’t be any noise in the background to distract you or your potential employer. However, it is understandable that this can be tricky if you have young children at home who need your attention. When you set up your interview appointment, try to schedule it for as precise a time or window as possible. That way, you are able to avoid possible distractions (ex.: your phone interview is between 4 and 4:30, so no one can have company over during that time, the kids are fed and occupied or a sitter will watch them, if need be.)
4. Speak slowly and clearly. When you speak to people face-to-face, you are able to understand what they are saying more clearly because you can see their mouth move. So in a way, you are reading their lips! Neither you nor your potential employer will be able to do this over the phone of course, so speak clearly and a little bit more slowly than you would if you were talking to this person in person. If you can’t hear him, drop hints that he isn’t speaking clearly or loud enough by politely asking him to repeat himself. If this makes you uncomfortable at all you can always blame it on your phone: “I’m really sorry, it’s hard to hear you, the volume on my phone just won’t go up!”
5. Remember – you can’t be seen. That means that anything you say cannot be interpreted by your body language. Beware of jokes or sarcastic remarks that would have been harmless had he seen your facial expression. Maintain your professionalism; stay on target with the interview topics and focus on the key information about you that will get you hired.
6. No eating, drinking or chewing gum! This is self-explanatory. But, we humans are creatures of habit and might pop a potato chip in our mouths at just the wrong moment. However, when I say no eating or drinking I mean during the phone interview. You should eat beforehand to get your brain going so you can focus.
7. Prepare questions ahead of time. Just like in a personal interview, prepare a few questions to ask your potential employer at the end of your phone interview. Some examples are: “What does a typical day look like for an employee with this job?” “What are some skills I would need to develop in order to excel in the position I’m applying for?” “What software/equipment would I be using?” Remember – do not ask about salary or benefits until the employer has brought it up.