No, this is not a joke: improv comedy will land you your next job. That’s right – it won’t be your slick resume, that perfectly pressed suit or your firm, no-nonsense handshake that saves the day; it’s going to be improvisation.

Let’s backtrack a bit, because I would have thought that idea was absolutely bonkers until a few years ago, too. After all, if you’re not a professional funny person, the idea of stepping onto a stage and making things up on the fly can sound pretty terrifying. The more you think about it, though, that’s basically what a job interview is: having no script, no idea what’s coming but being ready for anything, all the while staying mindful that you need to get the audience to like you.

One of the first things you learn when taking any sort of improv class is that it’s not about making jokes. In fact, any improviser that hits the stage with that goal in mind usually falls flat on their face! Instead, veterans know the real trick to all improv comedy is simply being in the moment and honestly reacting to what’s given to you by the person you’re sharing the stage with – nothing more, nothing less.

With that in mind, there are three basic principles all improvisers follow that translate surprising well to job interviews: “yes, and”, active listening and turning mistakes into opportunities.

“Yes, and…”

The secret sauce behind all of the best improv comedy you’ve ever seen is “yes, and.” This foundational lesson boils down to this simple concept: when performers are on stage together, they need to both agree on what’s happening.

For example, if performer A walked on stage and said, ”The space station is leaking jelly beans again!” it’d be a total bummer if performer B shut down the idea by responding, “Are you crazy? We’re not in a spaceship; we’re in your bedroom, Tim.” By agreeing to the fun your partner just created, the scene can start to take off.

However, notice that the lesson isn’t just “yes,” it’s “yes, and.” The idea is to take what your scene partner gave to you and add something to it. So, back on earth and in your next job interview, you can apply this principle to remind you to add specifics in your responses. If the question is, “Do you have customer service experience?” it’s not a enough to simply say “yes.” Take it a step forward and add some details, like, “Yes, and in 90 percent of my customer interactions I was given a positive rating!”  

Active Listening

It’s a little counter intuitive to think of improv comedy and listening going together, right? After all, if it’s about making people laugh, don’t you need to be thinking of your next funny line instead of listening to someone else? Rookie improvisers often make this mistake for the same reasons job candidates might lose focus on interview day. Nerves can have a real effect on anyone’s performance!

In job interviews and improv comedy, there’s no prize for being the fastest to respond. In fact, some of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen on stage are the ones that take their time and allow the last words said to settle. Then, once the silence fills the room and the anticipation builds…BAM! they hit you with the punchline.

Instead of rushing to fill the silence, remember to pay special attention to what your interviewer is saying and fully commit to active listening for understanding. If you’re not prepared to respond immediately, that’s okay! Acknowledge the question, be honest that you’re thinking through the response and never be afraid of a little silence. Better to be seen as a thoughtful contributor than someone who’s only interested in hearing themselves talk, right?

There are No Mistakes!

Failure is fun…if you let it be. The reason improv can seem so enjoyable from the outside looking in is that performers all agree to move past what might be seen as mistakes and turn them into something great anyway. After all, it’s all being made up on the spot, so why sweat it? If a character was previously named Todd in a scene, and you accidentally called him Bob, now his new name is just Todd Bob – simple as that!

Job interviews are awkward. It’s most likely your first time meeting these people, there’s a lot on the line and it might not be the most natural of settings for you. Instead of worrying about being perfect, embrace the awkwardness! If you say the “wrong” thing, who knows what was on your mind in the first place? Once you become comfortable with the fact that no job interview ever goes completely perfect, you’ll find yourself feeling more relaxed, confident and ready to kick some butt.

Do you need your application materials to be properly edited and professional? Should you be dressed to impress? Sure, but that’s not going to land you your next job – improv comedy will!

How do you see improvisation and comedy connecting to the job search process? Join the conversation in the comments below!