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Improv to improve your chances at interviews

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Take a cue from improvisational theatre, in which dialogue is spontaneous and performance is unscripted

Getting a job when there's a lack of openings was a big worry for more than 1,000 university students in Singapore polled by Swiss bank UBS.

The bank held its survey during last month's UBS Nobel Perspectives Live! forum, which brought together four Nobel Laureates in economic sciences.

The laureates, including Dr Michael Spence of NYU Stern and Dr Robert Merton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, were upbeat about Singapore's future.

Dr Spence, for instance, said that Singapore is "better positioned than any others to take advantage of a multipolar world". And Dr Merton noted that Singapore's size allows it to adapt to change.

Still, some 72 per cent of the university students polled said they feared not finding a job after graduating.

But when they land an interview, some flunk because they appear rehearsed.

Go into the interview with an open mind, step into their world, listen and let the scene unfold

Take a cue from improv, or improvisational theatre, an art in which almost all the performance is unscripted and dialogue is spontaneous. Actors work with their scene partners to bring the best out of each other.


This is the biggest rule of improv. If you try to control the scene, you'll make everyone tense and disrupt the flow. It's natural to feel the same need to control an interview but that produces the same negative outcomes.

Go into the interview with an open mind, step into their world, listen and let the scene unfold. Your audience - interviewers - will reward you with their respect, admiration and, hopefully, a job.


The focus is not about you - it's about building the scene. In improv, this rule is called "step into their world". It's meant to get you to focus on other people and the setting rather than making you the centre of attention.

In an interview, you're also in a new scene that's larger than yourself. Even if it feels like you're the centre of attention, remember you're there to show how you fit into the whole picture. What role can you play? How can you contribute to a part of the scene?


It may seem like a good idea to have some clever one-liners ready for your moment on stage.

But a prefabricated set of lines is the kiss of death for an improv scene. Instead, a performer must truly listen to his partners, understand what they're trying to convey, and respond appropriately.

In your interview, pay attention to the questions being asked. Do not cut the person off or answer without fully grasping his question. Listen actively with your facial expression turned on. Not only will this help you, it also shows that you're fully engaged.


Another improv rule is saying: "Yes, and…". That is, give examples and keep the momentum going after answering a question. Make your "yes" visible in your body language, attitude and words.

All things being equal, the candidate who demonstrates that he or she is passionate about a role will usually be hired.

Set yourself apart by saying what you admire about the company and why you want to work there. But don't be phony: Ask yourself why you are applying, beyond the salary and benefits. Be sure about your reasons and your answers will reflect that conviction.


It is "Why should we hire you over others?".

Avoid overselling yourself in relation to the rest. You don't know what they bring to the table and saying that you are superior only makes you come off looking arrogant.

Rather emphasise not just your skills but how you want to use them to meet the goals of the organisation.

Tell a personal story - rather than repeat bullet points from your resume, tell a story that demonstrates how your education, evolution and journey intersects with the job.

Others may have similar skills, but your story belongs only to you.

This article was contributed by Right Management (, the global career experts within United States-listed HR consulting firm, ManpowerGroup.