Yesterday I had a great interview for a wonderful opportunity.
It surprised me that I was able to think this. Because the ultimate deciding factor is whether you get selected.
Well, I’m not necessarily sure this is true in the arts.
It made me think a bit about this experience, and what I’ve learned from doing it over the years.
‘Normal’ vs ‘artistic’ job interviews
Not too long ago, I went on an interview for a job opportunity in an admin role. And it was startling to be reminded how different these processes are.
The kind of prep you do for a standard job interview isn’t necessarily going to help you in an interview for an artistic opportunity. In fact, it might even hold you back.
In a ‘normal’ job they are looking to assess your skills and experience. I have never had this happen in an artistic job. They are not looking for you to tell them why you are qualified and capable by listing out what you’ve done. They want to understand what drives you as an artist and makes you feel passionate about your work.
In a ‘normal’ job they are looking for culture fit. The goal is to seem enough like the other people in the company that you will fit in seamlessly. In an artistic job role, they are looking for what makes you stand out or different.
In a ‘normal’ job there is usually, well, a ‘job’. For artistic interviews, often it’s a little more amorphous. There are lots of times I’ve been invited for a vague coffee – but this is really important relationship building and the opportunity to meet some pretty cool people. If you go in with too strong of an agenda of wanting to get something, it’s really easy to sour this connection. Better to go in with an open mind, just keeping your eyes peeled for what you can take away to enrich your practice even if nothing further comes of it.
How to prep
For a theatre interview or chat, it’s good to walk in having thought through what to talk about in the following areas:
- Tell me about yourself. This is deceptively hard. You might want to practice this so you don’t wind up waffling on about stuff that has nothing to do with where you’re at in your practice now.
- What story does your work tell? You probably won’t be asked this question directly, but this is what you want to get across if you talk about your work. What is the through line that has gathered your work? Or if things have taken a sharp turn, why? You aren’t looking to show them lots of different things, you are looking for continuity and connection, creating a cohesive story.
- Why are you the person you are / how do you see your identity? You art comes from who you are – so who are you? What identities or experiences have shaped you? I understand worries about discrimination – there have been times I don’t want to talk about being disabled. But if you are making work with your whole self, you can’t hide – better to be open about this.
- What have you seen? I have been asked this question in interview and felt my mind go blank, to the point where it feels like I have never seen a theatre show ever. Think in advance about two or three things you have seen recently that might be useful to talk about. Bonus points if this is work at their theatre. It’s a pretty good idea to find a way to keep a list of what you’ve seen so this is easy to do!
- How do you think your work fits into what we do? You really want to familiarise yourself with their previous work – even if that just means a quick look over their website. This shows you’re informed, but more importantly it shows you care.
- Which artists inspire you? Be prepared to say why. Be honest, but it’s alright to have an unconventional answer. Try to make sure you don’t just pick dead white men. Speaking from personal experience, it’s amazing what an automatic default this is even if you yourself are not white or male!
- Why do you want this now? ‘Why now’ is the question you will get with every commission or funding opportunity. Get comfortable talking about why the work you’re interested in is important or speaks to the present moment.
During the interview
These are the things I’ve found make a difference for me in having a good experience:
- Try to have a good time. If you can find a way to have fun, it’s more likely your interviewers will as well. This is the kind of attitude that brings out the best in collaborators, so tap into this whenever possible.
- Be present. It’s a good idea to do a bit of prep, but sometimes these interviews take weird and wacky turns. If you go in with expectations, it’s easy to be thrown. In my experience, arts interviewers tend to have a kneejerk reaction against trying to take control of the interview. Allow room for the unexpected.
- Expect nothing. We’re all hungry for opportunities to make work, and want to make a good impression on people who can help us. I find it helpful to remind myself that most of these will not turn into anything other than an interesting conversation. It helps take the pressure off, and can help you lose that desperate edge that programmers can smell a mile away.
- Look for what you can learn. I’ve always come away from these conversations with something rewarding – even if it isn’t what I had in mind. These are usually interesting and connected people, and you will find something enriching from the conversation, whether it’s experiencing a different perspective on making work, or learning about a new artist to check out.
- Keep a sense of humour. It is inevitable you will end up in a conversation with someone who is a bad match, or where you just crash and burn. Humour will help you handle this with grace instead of panic.
- Remember: you don’t ‘need’ these people. There have been opportunities I thought I would die if I didn’t get, I wanted them so badly. You know what? In the long run, it didn’t matter. Would it be nice to make the connection or get the opportunity? Yes of course! But you were making art before the conversation. You’ll be making art afterwards. You are there as an equal and an artist, so remember your worth, and that this is just one job or opportunity in what will be a lifetime of practicing your craft.
After the interview
Arts interviews are a popularity contest even more than normal jobs. It can feel really personal to be judged on these qualities – and therefore even more devastating when you don’t get it.
With yesterday’s interview, I came out feeling really inspired and good – to the point where even if I don’t get picked, I still feel really happy about the interview.
Why? Because it was fun!
I really enjoyed the connection. I liked these people. I felt inspired by what they were trying to create and pretty darn honoured to have made it to the stage of an interview.
The more of these interviews I do, the more useful I feel they are – for me and my artistic practice.
Talking to people in your field, making work is an amazing opportunity to take stock of your own process.
It’s all very well and good to write in your journal or prepare questions in advance. But there is something about being face to face with another human being and having to talk about what you do that can actually help you learn about yourself. When you are under that spotlight, what does feel important? Who are you right now as an artist? Which ways are you growing?
Sometimes we don’t really know these things until we are in a live environment, so this is an amazing opportunity to get to know yourself better. And chances are you’ll come out feeling a lot better going in with this attitude than trying to impress people.
A final thought
Lastly, say thank you. Do it in the interview, and send a note.
Most of the people doing this interviews are working incredibly long hours for very little pay with a lot of artists who want things from them all the time.
These folks keep the arts world running, so reminding them their work is seen and appreciated is just the right thing to do.