Virginia Tech Professor Greg Justice Discusses the Art of Interviewing

November 19, 2010

Every year, 10,000 aspiring actors move to Los Angeles to realize their dreams of becoming movie stars—but in the end, only a handful will make it to the top. What sets those few apart from the crowd?

According to Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Theatre Greg Justice, successful actors employ a specific set of techniques that help to distinguish them from their competitors. It was these techniques, and how they can be successfully employed by job candidates in any field, that were the topic of a workshop given to McIntire students by Justice Nov. 10, 2010, in Robertson Hall. Justice is an expert on the use of acting skills in business.

The Elevator Speech

One of the most important elements of job seekers’ presentation of themselves, Justice said, is the so-called elevator speech—a pithy, 15- to 30-second summary of who you are and what you have to offer. According to Justice, a good elevator speech has two primary characteristics. First, he said, it must communicate the candidate’s abilities as a solution provider. “That’s how you pitch yourself,” he told the audience. More, he said, the best way to present yourself as a solution provider is to do research on the company, and to use the elevator speech to zero in on an aspect that the company would like to improve. For instance, if the company can’t keep employees for a long time, emphasize your loyalty.

The second characteristic of a good elevator speech, Justice said, is a strong “grab line,” like that of Justice himself: “I am originally a cowboy from Montana, and I wanted to be a trumpet player when I grew up.”

In addition to communicating what you have to offer, Justice said, the elevator speech gives you the opportunity to convey what makes you unique.

Before the Interview

Most job applicants believe that the interview starts the moment they walk though the door. According to Justice, however, the real interview begins a lot earlier than that. “My philosophy is that if you begin preparing days, weeks, or even months before, the more confident you are going to be,” he said. The first step before an interview, of course, is to research the company. But, Justice said, job applicants must be creative in their research. In addition to looking at a company’s Web site, Justice suggested going to company information sessions, visiting your campus career center, and talking to faculty members who might be able to offer invaluable insight into a company’s culture and needs.

Mastering the interview, Justice said, also comes with practice. “If you really want to get good at interviews, interview again and again and again,” he said. For this purpose, the career services office is a wonderful resource, as the staff is always happy to offer mock interviews. “The more interviews you do, the better your chances are,” he said.

Another important aspect of interviewing, Justice pointed out, is preparing questions for the employers. Thoughtful and meaningful questions will show the effort you’ve gone to in researching the company. “If you have done your research and done it well, the questions you ask should feed right into their ego,” Justice said.

The Interview

Interviews are in a form of public speaking—and public speaking is Americans’ #1 fear (ranking higher, even, than death). “Nerves cause tension,” he said. And tension, in turn, can cause unpleasant side effects, including shaking, sweating, and fidgeting. But how can you rid yourself of tension? “You want to get as far away from tension as you possibly can,” Justice said. “You have to warm up. You have to shake it out.”

Indeed, Justice said, just like musicians and athletes need to warm up before a concert or a game, so interviewees need to warm up before an interview. “If you want to be a virtuoso interviewee,” Justice said, “you need to start conditioning and toning your body on a daily basis so that you can go in and play at your peak.”

Justice also said that interviewees must learn to think of the interview as composed of more than the interview conversation itself. For instance, he said, interviewees must be aware of their entrance into the interview room, and must likewise be conscious of their body language from the very moment of their entrance.

Justice also stressed the importance of positive thinking, telling the audience to remember that the interviewers are not the opponents. Although job applicants are sometimes tempted to believe that the people asking questions do not want them to do well, he said, the opposite is generally true. “They want you to blow them out of the water!” he said. “They want you to win!”

Justice also stressed the importance of a genuine smile, confidence in pronouncing your name when you introduce yourself, and maintaining eye contact and good posture throughout the interview.

Win-Win

Justice also told listeners to try to keep the interview process in perspective. It’s important, he said, to ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable working with the people you are interviewing with. “Sometimes interviews go badly, and that is a good thing,” he said.

Also, he said, the interviewee should keep in mind that he or she was offered an interview for a reason: “They wouldn’t bring you for an interview if they didn’t want you,” he said. “You are a prospect for them.”

Finally, he told the audience, many interviews will include a question designed to allow the interviewee to talk about his or her passion. “If anyone ever falls in love with you, it is when you open up and speak from your heart,” Justice said. “Don’t miss that opportunity!”