From ‘Whose Line’ to Guilford
January 25, 2013
Of all the things one does to prepare for a job interview, watching a show like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” usually isn’t on the list.
However, Alan Mueller, assistant dean for career development and community learning, thinks that the improvisational comedy that the show spotlights has a lot to offer to job interviewees. That’s why he decided to lead a January Term project called Improv Comedy & Interviewing, where students learn improv comedy concepts and apply them to job interviews.
The idea came when Mueller was at a conference for employers and career professionals, and there was a professional improv comedy troupe. The experience got Mueller thinking about the connections between his job and improv comedy.
Mueller said that there are certain standard practices and forms in improv comedy that relate to job interviewing. One of these concepts is the “yes and” philosophy.
“For example, your partner will say, ‘It’s a bunny,’” said Mueller. “Then you have to say, ‘Yes. It’s a bunny and he has a machete.’ That’s immediately transferable into a job interview, because you can turn the interview into a conversation. It bridges perfectly.”
Mueller also spoke about how the concept of fully committing to a character or scene is a helpful skill when entering job interviews. According to Mueller, young interviewees often second guess themselves, and having the confidence to commit can counteract that.
According Mueller’s students, the project has been a great and useful experience.
“The comedy really tied (the interviewing concepts) together,” said Madisen Forehand ’14. “Things like thinking on your feet will already be there when we get to an interview, because we’re getting used to that mindset.”
Though the project has been successful, Mueller said that there were some challenges with adapting to the January Term format.
“It’s been an interesting experience, not knowing how it will pan out,” said Mueller. “Having never done something like this, I had to figure out how to use time and find balance between the comedy aspects and serious aspects.
“Two and a half hours is a a long time to sit in a classroom everyday, but surprisingly it didn’t feel long. I wasn’t sure how two and a half hours would feel everyday. My teaching style is very organic, so I was learning where the ebb and flow of the class is.”
Despite challenges, Mueller says he’s interested in teaching the project again.
“I have a really good idea of what it could be (in the future). I think it could be great — it’s already good. It’s already fantastic. It could be fantastic plus one the next time around.”
In addition to developing improv skills on their own, the students were also able to see a live performance. Associate Professor of Geology Dave Dobson, who performs at The Idiot Box, an improv club downtown, did a clinic with the class. The class attended an improv show at The Idiot Box during which Mueller got onstage as an audience volunteer.
“We got to watch their activities and games, and it helped us to understand stage presence a lot more,” said Mueller. “Since then, I’ve seen an improvement in presence (among the students). It’s really cool.”
“This class was cool,” said Alison Mooney ’13. “It was really hands on everyday. We even went out to dinner one night and saw live improv. It made it really understandable to see it live.”
In reflection, Mueller thinks that the class was successful, and that the students are now a step ahead of where they were in terms of being prepared for a job interview. Overall, he says that the class was an enjoyable experience.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Mueller. “I think the students had fun, and the best kind of learning happens when you’re having fun.”
Story by David Pferdekamper ’12