Click here for a video and print version of Stevie Ray’s nationally syndicated column in the Business Journal Newspapers.
Don’t Interview, Audition
Joseph, a director at a respected theatre was casting for the Shakespeare classic, King Lear and he was desperate to find just the right actor to play the part of Lear, King of Britain. Since this is the pivotal role of the play, Joseph needed to make sure the actor could not only handle the weight of the role, but would respond well if any glitches popped up during the performance. After posting the role on audition websites Joseph had two dozen actors eager for the role. He set up two chairs in the center of the stage and called in the first candidate, Nathan. Nathan took a seat and handed Joseph his resume. After reading over Nathan’s performance history Joseph said, “Well, it looks as if you have quite of bit of experience with Shakespeare. How familiar are you with the role of Lear?” Nathan thought for a moment and said, “I haven’t actually performed this role, but I think my experience in similar roles would make me a good fit.” “What work have you done that is similar to Lear?” asked Joseph. Nathan responded, “I played Duncan, the King of Scotland in Macbeth and Caesar in Julius Caesar.”
Knowing that teamwork is crucial in the theatre, Joseph asked, “If you were to have a problem with one of your fellow actors, how would you handle the situation?” Nathan said, “I like to speak to the other actor first, before involving any outside parties. If we weren’t able to resolve our issue, I would ask for a meeting with the stage manager. If that didn’t work, then I would speak to you about it.” “That sounds good,” said Joseph. “Now let’s deal with a hypothetical. Say you were in the middle of the second act of the performance in front of a sold-out house. One of the actors has forgotten his line, a line that is crucial in cueing you for your line, what would you do?”
The conversation went on for a while and Joseph, satisfied with all of Nathan’s responses, said, “It appears that you have everything we need for this role. I will speak with some of your former directors, but if they don’t have anything negative to say, the role is yours.” Nathan was surprised and asked, “Don’t you want me to audition?” “That’s not necessary,” said Joseph. “I think I know all I need to know about you.”
If you think this would be foolish way to cast a major character in a play, replace the scenario with a hiring manager and prospective employee and you have how almost every employee in America is hired. I believe that, unless you are psychic, interviews are a terrible way to learn about people. They are often just opportunities for the prospect to tell you exactly what you want to hear. Only in rare cases is a candidate foolish enough to say things that would show themselves to be lazy, uncooperative, or ill-suited for the job. And asking someone what they would do in a situation is a far cry from what they would actually do.
Auditions were instituted in theatre, music, and dance because it would be ludicrous to take someone’s word about their own abilities. Everyone wants the job, so of course everyone will say they are perfect for the part. If this is true for the arts, isn’t it true everywhere. I believe that interviews should be replaced with auditions, are at least both should work side by side. Once you have reviewed the candidate’s resume, you should be assured that he or she has the necessary qualifications for the job. Beyond that, you need to test real-world skills. That can only be accomplished by a real-world test. Scenarios should be created to test the abilities of the candidate. I have worked with many industries and found very few cases where an audition of sorts wasn’t helpful. Even if you are hiring an electrician to be part of a construction crew, you need to go beyond the candidate’s knowledge of wiring and code. Everyone needs to work well with the team, an audition for the electrician could involve putting him on a job site where he participates on a project. Other members of the crew would be instructed to throw curve-balls at the candidate—a surprise change in the blueprint, an uncooperative co-worker, the client shows up on the job site and isn’t happy with the work. Seeing how the candidate responds would tell the manager a lot about who he was added to his crew.
In one case, I was working with hiring managers to design auditions for security officers at a retail center. Any candidate for the job had to audition handling a frenzied mother who had lost her child at the mall, an unruly guest refusing to vacate the premises, and so on. Sure, candidates can put on their best face for an audition as well as for an interview, but an audition can be designed and performed well enough to push their boundaries, and buttons, such that it is a lot harder to fake their way through it. If you look at any job, there are unique skills and personality traits that can be exposed by an audition.
I certainly didn’t become a columnist for the Business Journal newspapers through an interview. Back in 1997 I sent in four sample columns for consideration. Luckily, I passed the audition.