Acting is not interviewing

Are you so prepared for your interview that your friends and family would’t recognize you? In an effort to be the best candidate for a job it is possible that you try to ‘game’ the process and ‘act’ your way through the interview? Does your personality somehow get lost in the process?

It’s never a good idea to let the job search process change who you are. If you do, the job offer, if it comes will be based on a false set of impressions. More likely, you will not get the offer because a good recruiter will recognize that something is missing.

I recall a series of interviews I conducted with candidates for an international internship program. One of the finalists met all the criteria on the resume. However, during the interview I was never able to connect. The answers to the questions were all good, but I felt I was talking to someone who was trying to get it right – like trying to ace an exam. There was no ‘there, there’.

I wanted to say. “Let’s start over. Go out the door and come back in. But come back in as you.”

Have you ever anticipated a theater performance only to arrive and find a paper insert in your Playbill announcing ‘actor x will be played by y today’? Your immediate reaction of disappointment is the same a recruiter experiences when they are excited about meeting a potential employee and encounter the understudy.

Don’t lose yourself in the quest for work. Take the time to do your research in preparing for an interview. (If you are not a ’suit’ type you should not be interviewing with ’suit’ requiring organizations. If you don’t want to work in a cubicle, why would you send a resume to a cubicle farm?)

Review your resume prior to sitting down with a recruiter. What do you want to communicate that will connect your unique capabilities with the organization’s needs? Outline, don’t script.

Engage in the conversation. Be ready to follow a tangent at the recruiter’s lead. Listen.

Never abdicate ownership of your job search process. Don’t let anyone try to transform you into a character actor to get a part. If you don’t have to memorize your lines, you will leave room for spontaneity and give the prospective employer a chance to get to know you.

The Saturday Read ‘A Hologram for the King’ by Dave Eggers

Before you see the movie, take a trip with author Dave Eggers to King Abdullah Economic City in Saudia Arabia and meet American salesman, Alan Clay in this week’s Saturday Read, ‘A Hologram for the King’.

Have you ever had a job in sales? If yes, you know the feeling of dependence on the whim of a sometimes enigmatic client. You have developed a second sense for the competitive pitch of your business rivals. And you have learned to rely on the support of your tech team to execute a demo, make you look good, and help you close the deal. You also know what it’s like to lose, maintain your confidence and uncover the next potential opportunity in the loss.

This 2012 novel is the story of one man’s American Dream on the edge as he pursues his last chance at success in the bewildering global marketplace. If you have not worked in sales, the book cracks open a window into the world of waiting for a face to face meeting with a prospect, in this case, the king.

Alan has the attitude, extremes of confidence and self-doubt, the bi-polar disposition required of all successful sales folk.

“…He was more than that. Some days he was more than that. Some days he could encompass the world. Some days he could see for miles. Some days he climbed over the foothills of indifference to see the landscape of his life and future for what it was: mappable, traversable, achievable. Everything he wanted to do had been done before, so why couldn’t he do it? He could. If only he could engage on a continual basis. If only he could draw up a plan and execute it. He could! He had to believe he could. Of course he did.”

In her June, 2012 review of the book, Michiko Kakutani reflected on the larger themes of the narrative.

“In Mr. Eggers’s telling, the 54-year-old Alan is not just another hapless loser undergoing a midlife crisis. Rather, his sad-funny-dreamlike story unfolds to become an allegory about the frustrations of middle-class America, about the woes unemployed workers and sidelined entrepreneurs have experienced in a newly globalized world in which jobs are being outsourced abroad.”

‘…he has achieved something that is more modest and equally satisfying: the writing of a comic but deeply affecting tale about one man’s travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.”

In an interview with Cressida Leyshon, author Eggers described how the story evolved to blend the themes of globalization and the American economy.

“Before I heard about K.A.E.C., I had been kicking around ideas about a character who had been in manufacturing. The idea of Alan having been in bicycle manufacturing arrived next, and was personal to me, given I grew up about twenty miles from the Schwinn factory, which was building great bikes until the eighties on the west side of Chicago. I wanted to explore how an essentially good man like Alan participated in the process of manufacturing moving offshore in the eighties and nineties, slowly making the factories, workers, supply chain, and eventually, himself, unnecessary.”

Tom Hanks is cast as Alan in the movie. The promo photo released early this year captures our hero in the desert, clad in the costume of the everyman salesman, coat and tie, regardless of the environment.


Near the end of the book, Alan utters the mantra of sales.

“…he had to presume goodwill. He had to hope for amnesia.”

It’s only a play? Lessons learned on the stage

The lights dim, the music rises from an orchestra pit hidden from view and a tiny light begins to fly across the curtain. It’s that magical moment of anticipation in a darkened theater on a spring night in New York. It could be any play, but for me, on Tuesday it was ‘Finding Neverland’, the new Broadway musical about the life of JM Barrie, the playwright and creator of Peter Pan.

Being cast in the lead of a Broadway play has about the same odds as being signed to an NFL contract. Only the lucky, talented few survive the uncompromising selection process beginning with high school and college productions, local theater companies, summer stages and hours of auditions to reach the pinnacle of success for a stage actor.

A Yahoo finance article in 2013 listed drama and theater arts among ‘The 10 Worst Majors for Finding a Good Job’. And yet, sitting in a theater, removed from electronic contact with the outside world, it’s easy to understand why so many aspire to a career on the stage.

The lead role of JM Barrie in ‘Finding Neverland’ is acted by Matthew Morrison. His journey to the Lunt Fontanne Theater in NY started at the Orange County School of the Arts in California and progressed to NYU, TV roles, supporting roles on Broadway, his first lead in ‘The Light on the Piazza’, and in 2009, ‘Glee’ where his audience came to know him as ‘Will Schuester’. Although not as popular with critics as theater goers, this musical based on a 2004 movie plays to a full house at every performance.

And every night, each member of the audience receives the gift of watching a cast of actors pursuing their dream. And the actors include children, dogs and actors playing dogs.

Lesson #1 – There they are, on stage, demonstrating in an incredibly competitive business, that you can achieve your dream.

Lesson #2  – Act Two – The former actors who have achieved success beyond the footlights.

Clarence Otis, Jr. who stepped down as Chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants late last year, credited his success in team building to his experience in theater.

“The thing that prepared me the most — where the team was front and center — was theater, which I did a lot of growing up, in high school, during college, law school and even for a couple of years after law school. I would say that probably is the starkest lesson in how reliant you are on others, because you’re there in front of an audience. It’s all live, and everybody’s got to know their lines and know their cues and know their movement, and so you’re totally dependent on people doing that.”

Tom Vander Well, business consultant, writes on his Wayfarer blog ’10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success’.

“When I chose my major, I had no pipe dreams about becoming a professional actor. I did it because more than one wise adult had advised me that my actual major in college would have less impact on my eventual job search than having the actual degree. “Study what you love” I was told, “not what you think will get you a job.” I listened for once and chose theatre because I’d done it all through my secondary education, I had relative success doing it, and because I simply loved being a part of it. Fortunately, my parents gave me absolutely no grief about my choice (unlike most of my fellow majors. Thanks mom & dad!)”

The list of skills he acquired includes: “improvisation, project management, working with a limited budget, hard work, presentation skills and making difficult choices.”

I would add that you learn to accept feedback as an actor. And you eventually realize it’s about the performance, not personal. If you listen you will get better. Maybe that’s the most important lesson we can take from those who make a living on the stage – listen and you will get better.

Poetry in Music – ‘Fly’ – Maddie Marlow, Taylor Dye & Tiffany Vartanyan

There’s another country music awards show this weekend. The duo of Maddie and Tae challenged the traditional role of women in country lyrics with their debut single, ‘Girl in a Country Song’. Their second release, ‘Fly’ describes their road to success, leaving Texas for Nashville at 17. In an interview for the CBS Morning News, they described ‘Fly’ as “an uplifting song that encourages people to hold on through the tough times.”

And their approach to songwriting: “For us, it’s mainly about just getting to tell our stories. And if we can release a song that’s true to us and our fans relate and then maybe it doesn’t get high on the charts, that’s really not important to us. And as long as we get to say what we want to say and we’re very passionate about it, that’s all that matters.”

This ‘Friday Poem In Music’ is for all of you trying to tell your stories.


Baby blue staring in the window pane
Just counting drops of rain
Wondering if she’s got the guts to take it
Running down her dreams in a dirty dress,
Now her heart’s a mess
Praying she will find a way to make it

So keep on climbing, though the ground might shake
Just keep on reaching though the limb might break
We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now
‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down

Searching for a sign in the night even like a lonely string of lights
That’ll burn just long enough for you to see it
The road’s been long and lonely and you feel like giving up
There’s more to this than just the breath you’re breathing

So keep on climbing, though the ground might shake
Just keep on reaching though the limb might break
We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now
‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down

On the way down

You won’t forget the heavy steps it took to let it go
Close your eyes, count to ten, hold your breath and fly

Keep on climbing, though the ground might shake
Just keep on reaching though the limb might break
We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now
‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down


Maddie Marlow, Taylor Dye, Tiffany Vartanyan

The week @ work March 9 – 15

It’s amazing how many people cede their career decisions to the whims of others: high school students who select a college based on prestige vs. fit, college students who choose a major considering only the return on investment and mid career professionals who take residence in their comfort zone and lose connection with their network outside the organization.

There are many things in life where we have no control, but our career success is a result of the effort we apply to setting our goals and making them happen. Read any profile of an individual who has achieved their dream and you will learn of hard work, determination, failure, resilience and a bit of luck. These are folks who ‘own’ their career despite skeptics and critics, building a support system to enable their success.

This past week we suggested some ideas to jump start your decision process, reclaim ownership of your career.

First, write a letter to your younger self. What have you learned from your experience to this point? What is important to you? What were the ‘big’ things that seemed to matter at the time, that now, in retrospect, had no impact on your future.

Next, create a collage. Visualize your life in photos. Include all the things that describe you, and then broaden the picture to include the social influences and finally the reality of the workplace. Here is the narrative at the starting point. Who you are, who is influencing your decisions and how your goals will play out in the world.

Reflect on your experiences with a journal of life and work. Record your experience in real time and select intervals to go back and review: after a month, six months, a year. We are so consumed by the urgency of the present that we often miss patterns over time.

Clarify your ideas in conversation with others. Get feedback without abdicating ownership. Many have charted their career path before you and there is wisdom to gain from the stories of others.

Outline your plan and set it in motion.





‘Painting’ a Picture of Your Dream

For a number of years I taught an undergraduate course on career theories. Hang in there; I am not about to anesthetize you with the syllabus. As you may imagine, the content was a bit challenging and it took some imagination and good humor to engage students in the material.

In a nutshell, our career decisions reflect three major spheres of influence:

Our individual background including: age, gender, self concept, personality, values, ability and interests

Our social circle: family, friends, community, workplace and education

Our environment: political decisions, globalization, job market, socio-economic status and geographic location

All three are parts of a puzzle, when solved reveals a picture of our future.

Back to the undergraduate class. I think it helps to visualize how all these parts come together. To do this, we came up with the idea to create a collage that would illustrate, for each student, the evolution of their dream.

Starting with stacks of old magazines, poster board and lots of glue we all found our spot on the floor and returned to our kindergarten days, cutting and pasting, creating a vision that incorporated values, hopes, dreams and detours. In the subsequent class each student had the opportunity to present their collage and articulate their career vision. Lively discussion followed and in one case, a student who was being influenced to join a family business, found a substitute to introduce to his father – another classmate whose dream was to work in the type of organization his father managed.

All this to suggest a way to uncover your passion is to create a visual that creates a narrative for your journey. You can go old school and create a collage or use Pinterest to start a ‘career board’.

Creating a visual representation of your work life is a learning process, confirming your values and setting your GPS toward your career home.