You’ve been here before. With every intention of impressing the stranger sitting across the desk — basically, the gatekeeper to your career — your throat tightens.
The lawyer looks at you, waiting for an answer. But you haven’t planned for the question she just hurled your way. Panicked, you squeak out a stock answer that you memorized. It’s good, but it’s to a different question. You’ve messed up.
What you may not know is that learning the basics of improv, the think-on-your-feet brand of theatre, can help you avoid this disaster. We asked two experts to explain how taking a class will help you stand out in an interview.
You’ll learn how to manage your nerves. Recruiters look for candidates with confidence and poise. They’ll count that nervous tick— anything from playing with your hair to “up-speak” (which makes every statement sound like a question) — as a strike against you.
“Everyone has ‘tells’ when nervous,” says Lori Pearlstein, founder of PlayWorks, an improv company in Toronto. Tells appear when you overthink every move. But improv (and interviews) won’t go well if you’re stuck in your head: you have to be ready in the moment.
Improv will help you get there, says Pearlstein. An integral part of every class is the warm-up. For instance, Pearlstein might ask a group to tell a story by having each person invent one line at a time, without taking a pause. “Instead of freaking out, you can just be yourself. You stop overthinking.”
Should you warm up, then, before a job interview? Absolutely, says Joey Novick, an improv teacher and entertainment lawyer in New Jersey. “It’s like putting a weighted ring on a baseball bat: once you’re at the plate, the bat feels lighter.”
Try to take three minutes before your time slot to loosen up your body. Something as simple as rolling your shoulders and counting slowly to 10 out loud could soothe some pre-show jitters.
You’ll learn how to listen. As a law student, you’re used to memorizing your body weight in caselaw. But if you prep for an interview in the same way, you’ll end up robotically reciting pre-written responses. Don’t do that, says Novick. “Law school can juice the people skills out of students.”
Improv will teach you to embrace the risk that comes with not knowing what’s next. It’ll mean showing up for your time slot ready for conversation, not an interrogation.