Interview Tips: preparing to meet with a creative company

Feb 19, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss

Advice & Experience

It is no secret that the performing arts are hugely competitive industries and the current COVID-19 climate we find ourselves in has only put more strain on recruitment and job retention within creative companies. Resultantly, the prospect of interviewing for jobs over the coming months may feel daunting.

 I, myself, have attended a handful of interviews and learnt some important things along the way. First and foremost, remember to manage your expectations. Don’t expect your first interview to be a complete success, it is likely nerves will get in the way and statistically the company/role may not even feel right for you – after all, it is a two-way process! The key thing to remember is that if you prepare well it is a great opportunity to promote yourself and once you have a few under your belt, you’ll become a pro at how to navigate the conversations. Here are a few tips from my experience of interviews for administration positions within creative companies post-graduation:

Research the Company

This will not just help you gauge the professional atmosphere ahead of your interview but also demystify whether the role is a good fit for you. Start by exploring their website and social media channels to understand the company’s aims and ethos as well as their programme of work. You will be able to piece together how the position you are interviewing for fits within its department and the company’s wider operation. Areas to gain some knowledge around include the history of the company and their upcoming events. This will help you understand the company’s place within the industry and how they engage with audiences.

Whilst You Wait

Arrive five minutes early to demonstrate promptness and professionalism. You will likely be asked to take a seat in a waiting room before your interview, use this time to breathe and ground yourself in the environment. Once greeted by a member of staff/the interview panel, offer a warm smile and a firm handshake. Whilst walking to the interview room I recommend making light conversation (if there is time). Show you are friendly and personable by covering safe small talk, such as, ‘this is a lovely location for your offices’. This will help ease your nerves as well as making you a more memorable candidate in their back-to-back schedule of interviews.

Common Questions

There are a few common questions that you can expect to crop-up. It is a good idea to write down your answers to these in the week prior to your interview and rehearse saying them out loud. This will allow you to get used to the feeling and flow of the sentences before you have to deliver them when it counts! Common questions include:

Tell us about yourself – This should be a short and concise overview of where you are in your education/career, and what you are hoping to achieve next. Try to tie in any key work experience and your professional interests, describing them in a way that aligns with the company’s work.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? – Automatically these questions feel awkward and embarrassing, but it is a great opportunity to demonstrate how your skills match the job requirements. When describing your strengths, focus on wider professional conduct e.g. organisation, communication and relationship building, rather than a niche area of skill such as having a great filing system! Weaknesses are tougher, but it is not a trap. Try to identify something that is understandable and able to be improved upon e.g. having a tendency to take work home with you due to your passion for a project. This is one of mine, but I have used it in the past to demonstrate my understanding of an important work/life balance.

Can you give us an example of when you have taken leadership/worked in a team? – Variations of a question asking you to ‘give an example of when’ are likely to feature. The panel will be hoping to see confidence in how you work with others as well as assessing your skill-set. Show that you have experience in projects that required similar skills to the role you are applying to. For an entry-level position examples from extra-curricular activity or part-time jobs will be appropriate. If you have professional experience in the industry try to use examples from that time.

How do you deal with pressure? – The employer will be looking for a candidate that is adaptable and able to remain task-focused under pressure. There is bound to be a flux in stress depending on the company’s calendar but by pre-planning operations and designing contingency strategies, preparedness can always be managed. Show an understanding of this and how monitored levels of pressure can be motivational. This question is also a great opportunity to give an example of a pressurized experience you were faced with and how you overcame it successfully.

What captured your interest in this role? – This is a great question as it allows you to demonstrate how you understand the role and its day-to-day duties, as well as being able to show your aptitude and excitement towards it. It is important to know the job requirements for the position well. It sounds like common sense, but if you don’t fully understand the duties it will show! Be able to explain why it is a suitable step-up for you at this point in your career and how you feel prepared for the responsibilities.

Why should we hire you? – Another potentially uncomfortable and fear-inducing question, but being bold and positive is the key. Cover three main reasons as to how you will be an attribute to the company through your ability, character and experience. Don’t give them a reason to doubt your suitability and genuine interest.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? – Identify a realistic yet ambitious progression route that you see yourself moving through. Depending on the position, most wish to recruit candidates who will be committed to the company for at least a few years. Discussing how you plan to immerse yourself in the business’s priorities, expand your discipline and hold a desire to eventually progress into a promoted position will alert them to your sincerity.

What was the last performance you saw? – A more casual question that provides a brilliant opportunity to display your interest in and attendance to the arts. Use it to show personality in your taste and opinion. It is a plus for creative companies if their staff are predisposed to keep up with industry trends out of desire and not duty. Use a relevant and recent example: if one of the panellists has also seen the work, ask them what they thought of it to open an engaging discussion.

Gaps in Employment and/or Study

It happens, not everyone can jump seamlessly between education and employment and the interview panel will understand this. However, if there are gaps on your CV or you are currently unemployed, be prepared to explain how you occupied yourself productively. Demonstrate a career focus and attention to self-improvement, perhaps through volunteering, travelling or developing new skills, explaining what you learned from these experiences. Honesty is the best policy and if you recognise that you did not use this time to the best of your ability, explain any regrets and why you are now ready to commit to your career.

Tasks

It is not uncommon to be given a short practical task during your interview. These usually last between 5-20 minutes. The task may be incorporated as part of the initial meeting or perhaps as an addition to a second interview to help narrow down candidates. You will be given notice so will have an idea of what to expect. Tasks are designed to see you in a working context and have your professional manner assessed. I have personally experienced conducting a fake customer phone call, creating an Excel spreadsheet, proofreading/editing copy, drafting an email of rejection and giving a presentation on a pre-prepared topic. Approach tasks with clarity and confidence: they will understand that your ability will only improve with training and time.

Do You Have Any Questions For Us?

This usually concludes an interview. Always have one or two questions prepared for the panel: if you simply say ‘No’, you will be more forgettable and appear un-engaged. You may wish to raise points of clarification from the conversation and ask anything that will genuinely impact your decision about the role. To show that you have done your research, questions could also relate to what the company is currently working on e.g. ‘Are you busy in the run-up to the premiere next week?’ Additionally, it is often interesting to ask them an opinion-based question such as, ‘What is your favourite part about working here?’ This will help you gauge the staff community as well as showing them a bit of dynamic spark. Avoid questions about pay and holiday entitlement, these are sensitive areas and best discussed once an offer of employment has been made!

Asking for Feedback

If you missed out on the position, always ask the interview panel for feedback. Although it may feel a tad narcissistic you will learn a lot about how you presented yourself. They are often complimentary around your strengths and constructive about your weaknesses, so you don’t need to worry about receiving harsh criticism! It will also show that company that you are diligent which will work in your favour if you apply for another opening with them in the future. Rejection isn’t the end of the road, it allows you to grow and learn ahead of the next opportunity!

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