INTERVIEWS & CVs
I’ve been in the lucky position over the last few years of being the one who does the interviewing rather than being the one interviewed so I thought it might be helpful to share some observations about job / course interviews and CV’s.
This is particularly fresh in my mind because I spent an intense but enjoyable 2 days last week in Dublin interviewing writers and script editors for the Greenlight Screenwriting Lab for new Irish writers. This is not specifically about those two days – but more generally about the interviews I’ve held for this and for the Channel 4 screenwriting course over the last 13 years.
I don’t think anyone positively looks forward to an interview. They are formal, artificial and it’s not fun knowing you’re being ‘judged’! So that’s a given; and one that interviewers are all too aware of. Also, everyone is to some extent nervous in an interview situation. I’ve always tried to make the interview situation feel as informal and relaxed as possible – but those attempts are to some extent illusory – an interview IS a formal, weird way for people to talk to each other; and for the interviewee there is always something at stake – hopefully something that is very personally important to them.
So don’t think that if you’re nervous, it’s necessarily a problem or unusual – it’s really not. The big issue is – how you deal with those nerves. I’d say from my observations that the better prepared you are for the interview, the less likely you are to be affected by nerves.
This obviously varies from interview to interview – but I try to tell people in advance what I’m going to be asking them. In the email invitation I send them I usually list three things I’m going to ask them. (But also sneakily ask one question that I haven’t mentioned in my email – usually about what they have been watching on film and TV, what they’ve liked and why.)
Some people try to turn the tables on the interviewers. I always ask them if they have any questions they want to ask us. Occasionally they will ask us the questions we’ve been asking them – eg ‘What have YOU been watching on TV recently that you’ve liked and why?’ Or a version of this question. This is always a useful reminder (for me) of how tricky an interview is. This question is almost always guaranteed to freeze your brain and reduce you to a stuttering mess. This ploy also helpfully undermines the conventional interview format and can often turn it into a more balanced, interesting, uninflected conversation.
Last time someone did this to me I actually pulled my phone out and referred to the (anally retentive) lists I keep of the films, TV, theatre I’ve been watching and books I’ve been reading.
Which brings me to another point – while it often doesn’t feel right for a writer to read out their pitch verbatim (it can often take all the life out of the pitch and turn what had been a lively, spontaneous conversation into something more stilted) – I am always quite encouraged by an interviewee who comes in with a notebook or some pages on which they have written notes – as long as they don’t start reading these notes out word for word and losing that personal connection.
IMO this shows that the interviewee has prepared, has thought about the questions we might ask and tried to anticipate where the interview might go. This is always a positive sign.
In other instances, the interviewee seems surprised, taken aback and unprepared to answer the questions I’ve told them I will be asking them in the email. Like most things, the more work you put into preparing for the interview, anticipating what we are looking for from you, the better it’s likely to go.
It’s always good if the interviewee has come prepared with a list of specific questions they want to ask us – about the job / course / opportunity they are interviewing for. We want to feel you have engaged with the course / job opportunity and are as interested in it as we are.
It’s also important (and apologies if this feels too painfully obvious) to have thought about your strengths, what you can bring to the table, the qualities and abilities you have that will make you good at the job. What interviewers are always looking for is your self-belief, your confidence in being able to make the most of the opportunity on offer. They will want you to talk about why you would do well in this position. I’m surprised by how often people like to tell me what they AREN’T good at, talk about things they haven’t done or would be weaker parts of their skillset. Maybe this is a particularly British quality but a significant minority of interviewees in my experience actually talk themselves down, talk themselves out of a job. Don’t do this!
Often the tone of the interview is set right from the start, in the introductory chat, the things said before the proper questions start. It helps so much if you can start the meeting on a relatively relaxed, informal, conversational footing.
Generally I’m interviewing writers and script editors who I will be working with closely over several months – so it really helps if you feel you might get on with them, if you share a roughly similar sensibility or sense of humour.
With the C4 screenwriting course and the Greenlight Lab, I have looked at a LOT of CVs over the years. Here are a few CV pointers based on my experience –
Gear your CV to the specific opportunity / application. Don’t just have a one-size-fits-all CV for every occasion eg if you’re applying for a writing opportunity, don’t send out a purely acting CV.
Think about every course, every work experience, everything that you have done that has application to the opportunity you’re applying for, and include it.
On the other hand, like a good pitch, keep your CV short (and a CV is a type of pitch). It should be as short as it can be while still doing you complete justice. A 4 page CV is too long.
Avoid the often meaningless blurb about your skills and personal qualities at the top of your CV. A big section telling us what a great team player, people person, that you can use MS Word, etc often instantly makes me feel you are padding out your CV with this sort of empty, non-specific stuff because you are struggling to think of real experiences to include.
Obviously – include all significant achievements and work that are relevant to the opportunity for which you’re applying (eg include writing or script editing courses, all the writing you’ve done and recognition that writing has received – quotes from good reviews?).
I would say – don’t include photos – we don’t need to know what you look like to hire you as a writer or script editor.
Don’t be afraid to include other life / work experience even if it’s not strictly relevant to the application eg if you are an actor / writer, that’s always interesting to know. If, in another life, you worked as a farmer or a teacher (completely random examples!) it can be interesting to talk about your career transition or how other work / life experience has influenced your work as writer / script editor.
I hope some of this will be helpful to you for any future work opportunities. And as with all these sorts of applications, my empathy is with you – I know how tough they can be. Good luck!
CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS Sunday June 18th in central London.
There are still three places available on this course.
The next newsletter will be on Friday May 19th
Friday May 5th 2023