There was a time when I thought there was nothing more nerve-wracking than a job interview. That, however, was before I performed stand-up comedy. It turns out that standing in front of a roomful of strangers waiting for me to make them laugh was even scarier than sitting across from a hiring manager.
But once I got over my initial stage fright, I realized that the same techniques I used to master the stage could also be used to land a job. So the next time you find yourself breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of meeting with a potential employer, try these comedy-inspired tips to set the stage for a great interview.
1. Develop a Confident Persona
One of my first comedy lessons is that people can pick up on your energy. Confidence and enthusiasm (or lack thereof) are contagious and can have a dramatic impact on how you're perceived by your audience.
When I walked onto the stage with a confident, relaxed stride and delivered my punch lines with an exclamation point instead of a question mark, I got more laughs than I ever expected. Showing confidence makes it a lot easier to “sell” the jokes to the audience.
The same goes for selling your skills to a hiring manager. Make sure you project self-assurance from the very beginning by greeting the interviewer with a big smile and a firm handshake. Then, convey confidence and enthusiasm as you answer questions and talk about your skills. Being timid, modest, or unsure doesn’t get comedians many laughs—and it won’t get you many job offers.
2. Don't Wing It
The best stand-up comics make their performance look effortless, as if they're coming up with these witty one-liners off the top of their heads. But comedians actually spend a lot of time preparing before they hit the stage. They think carefully about their joke wording and order and they practice their delivery before presenting their material to the audience.
Even if you're a well-oiled interviewing machine, it's essential to spend time researching your audience (the company) and thinking carefully about what skills, accomplishments, and interview answers will resonate with them most. Your management abilities? Your creativity? The examples you share will probably be slightly different everywhere you interview.
Once you've crafted your responses, spend some time “rehearsing” your answers. You can stand in front of a mirror, or better yet, grab a friend, have her run through a mock interview with you, and videotape the session. Watch the tape and analyze your performance to make sure you’re making a compelling pitch to your prospective employer.
3. Recover From Flubs Quickly and Gracefully
Every comic occasionally flubs the wording of a punch line or leaves an important detail out of the set-up. New comics can get flustered and lose focus when this happens, but comedy veterans have learned how to recover gracefully. Depending on the situation, they’ll either plow ahead or make a joke about the mistake—and sometimes that’s what gets a huge laugh!
Even if you've practiced for your interview, remember that everyone flubs an answer at some point. So don’t worry. The key is to quickly re-group and move on to make the point you originally intended to make. Mistakes are easily forgotten, but a smooth recovery can make you memorable.
4. Don’t Pander to the Audience
Early on in my comedy career, after a rough comedy set at a local sports bar, I decided to change my style a bit, even though that new style wasn't really me. After trying my new jokes at my next gig, I was disappointed when they fell flat. Bombing with jokes I didn’t even like was far worse than bombing with my own material—so I decided to go back to being myself onstage.
A few weeks later, after I had a particularly successful set at a new venue, a veteran comedian commented that I had “found my audience.” He said that one of the greatest joys of being a comic is “finding your audience”—one that gets you and shares your perspective.
During an interview, a big part of what the hiring manager is trying to determine is how well you’ll fit into the company culture. And it's easy to fall into the temptation of giving responses you think the hiring manager wants to hear. But while this may land you the job, you probably won’t ever feel that you really “click” with the company, and that’s not a good scenario for either of you.
On the other hand, if you’re confident, you’re armed with preparation, and you act like your great self, I guarantee that you’ll “find your audience”—in the form of a company and role that are a perfect match.