Teach Job Search Skills with Improv

By Andy Wainer

"Improvisation" To invent, compose or perform with little or no preparation." Improv is on the rise as a FUN, valuable and popular learning tool in the workplace. Career counselors can use simple Improv games and exercises to help clients enhance their job and career search and harness the client's intuitive creative abilities. As Viola Spolin, one of the great teachers of modern Improv, writes, "Improv helps each person to feel his or her own true nature." (Improvisation and the Theater, Northwest University Press, 1963)

Career Exploration

To truly discover a career path that is consistent with values, interests, and beliefs, clients need to expand their career choice horizons, to "think out of the box", and to avoid censoring themselves. Improv can help through creative brainstorming exercises. An example is "Dictionary", in which a common item is suggested, such as a paper clip, and the client is asked to think of as many uses for the object as possible in one minute, no matter how far-fetched or impractical. Another example is "Story" - the Counselor works with the client to create a spontaneous story, using imagination freely.

Interview Success

  • Thinking on Your Feet
    Everyone knows that the key to succeeding at job interviews is thorough preparation, practice and research. What many people don't appreciate, however, is the need to think quickly or be adeptly spontaneous during an interview. Interviewers often ask questions that are designed to assess this ability, because "thinking on your feet" is invaluable in the workplace.

    A relevant Improv exercise is "Picture." The client is presented with a picture or photo, and must create a brief story or character based on the content. Another is "Hot Button," in which you provide a random sentence or two and assign an emotion or attitude to the client. You then select an arbitrary word from the sentence(s) and ask the client to create a brief monologue using the word as a springboard, while also conveying the assigned attitude or emotion.

  • Making Connections
    One of the ways to succeed at a job interview is to explain how your skills, knowledge, experience, and personal traits relate to the job and employer. Drawing connections between and among disparate concepts is an important skill. The Improv exercise called "3 Objects" enhances this skill. The counselor suggests three objects and the client must create a spontaneous story which somehow connects the objects.

  • Focus & Concentration
    Every Improv game and exercise requires the client to be totally "in the moment" - to focus and concentrate entirely on the task at hand. An Improv exercise wonderfully designed for this is "Scene." The counselor suggests a scenario, and together with the client, acts out a brief scene. Perhaps you are both on a cruise ship and you realize, mid-voyage, that you are on the wrong ship! This exercise also emphasizes the use of imagination to solve problems. Innovative problem solving is a highly prized trait in the workplace.


Networking may be unfamiliar to the jobseeker, or they may be shy, or both. Improv-based Mock-Networking can help a client become a confident, poised communicator. Essentially, networking is effective communication, which includes active listening, sharing, asking targeted questions, reciprocating, and conveying information clearly and powerfully. In this Improv technique, the counselor plays the role of an employer, and the client plays the job seeker.


Your clients may often need to be encouraged to take risks in their career exploration and job search. A fine Improv game to promote risk-taking is "TV Commercial." Select an item from the kitchen, such as a spatula, or cheese grater. Then, spontaneously create a TV commercial, in which you and your client sell the item to an imaginary audience. The spatula could be "the most amazing spatula in the world" - and explain why. Or it could be anything else you want it to be - perhaps a combination spatula/microphone/fly-swatter/ipod!

Managing Stress

While the nature and purpose of the Improv games and exercises is serious, Improv is, above all else, FUN. Clients can reduce some of the stress associated with the job and career search through Improv. Moreover, they can take Improv with them - they can continue to practice the Improv games and exercises even after leaving the counseling setting. An excellent web resource of Improv games is www.humanpingpongball.com.

The suggestions included herein can all take place in one-on-one sessions or could be offered as an Improv class through a continuing education program. Using these Improv techniques could enhance your career counseling, make the process more fun for clients, and release greater creativity in yourself and your clients.

Andy Wainer is the owner of Andy's Improvabilities, and has taught more than 625 Improv classes, workshops and programs, for all ages, since 1994 (www.andysimprovabilities.com). Andy is the owner of Career-Power, a career counseling private practice, in which he includes the use of Improvisation ( www.career-power.com). Andy is also a career counselor for Westchester County, in New York, at the One Stop Employment Center and has 16 years of experience as a community college educator. E-mail: wainer9@optonline.net.

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