At "Just for Laughs" Interviewing is No Laughing Matter
By Amanda Frank
Monster Contributing Writer
Andy Nulman, the co-founder of Just For Laughs and author of Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise, imparts some seriously motivating advice to job seekers in the Entertainment and Communications field. But really everyone can learn from this stuff so read on and be inspired.
MONSTER.CA: How should a person coming into an interview conduct himself or herself?
ANDY NULMAN: The whole interviewing process is a pain. You’re either interrupting somebody’s day, or trying to fill a position. Usually it takes me a minute and a half to say nay. That’s the tipping point. I wish I could stop the process like on American Idol and say, “Thank you I’ve heard enough.” As a “judge” if you don’t feel comfortable with this person after 90 seconds, you’re not going feel comfortable for 90 years. It may be horrible but it’s human nature. People don’t use human nature. They try to use processes that may work well in textbooks but not in real life.
The best way to approach me, and I’m relatively indicative of the nature of this business, is to do something sparkling in the first 90 seconds. If you’re really smart do something sparkling before that make me look forward to those 90 seconds. I’ve always been a proponent of doing things differently.
Give yourself a leg up coming in. It’s a sell job. Why would I want to hire you? If you make your presence felt beforehand it makes me look forward to the meeting. Right there you improve your odds. Most people think the interview starts at the interview. The interview is over almost before it starts.
MONSTER.CA: What advice do you have for people trying to live the dream while still being pragmatic about the realities of working?
ANDY NULMAN: There’s a great book about motivation called Drive by Daniel Pink. I don’t believe in making your office a fun place to work or humor in the workplace. You have to be real. Put people on a mission. Just For Laughs may sound frivolous because it’s a comedy festival and comedy television shows. I tell people here, “This a noble cause and you are bringing happiness to the world.”
It may sound Dalai Lama–esque but it is true. Our job is to make people happy. So many people are miserable because of their work, life situation and family problems. We provide a real necessity. Putting that thought in people’s minds helps them appreciate what they do a little more.
My dream job at 16 was to work at a newspaper. I got it. And then the nightmare started the week after. I couldn’t believe I thought this was my dream job. The people I worked with were alcoholics and lunatics. It’s what you make of it. Did I see myself bogged down with these people? What did I really want with this? I really wanted to be involved in the music business so I pushed myself in that direction, and I got it, so that became the dream. The dream becomes the nightmare very fast but you can turn it into the dream once you’re inside.
It’s almost like a roller coaster. You go in on a high. There’s a big dip. What happens when reality sets in? Do you stay in the valley or climb the mountain again? Getting in the door is the most important thing. You will find the dream later. Idealistic people come in here saying, “This is my dream job.” I don’t know too many people who haven’t asked themselves after the first week, “What have I done? Do I cut bait or soldier on?” Some cut but most soldier on.
MONSTER.CA: What can people do to weather the ups and downs of career and foster an invincible spirit?
ANDY NULMAN: Nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems. The problem is how people are built psychologically. When things are in the toilet you think you’re never going to get out. When you’re riding high you think it’s never going to end. Both are very bad states. It’s tough to pull yourself out of the bottom or pinch yourself when you’re on top but you have to do that. So I always say, “Never get too up, never get too down, you know things are going to change.” Things eventually come to equilibrium.
We had a real emergency last Friday. Something we’d worked on for two and a half months was rejected three days before deadline. We experienced 30 seconds of complete and total panic before we picked ourselves up and made it better. We had to take in the panic, appreciate it, let it pass and then get back on track. The problem is many people succumb to the panic.
When you have this dream job and you figure out, once you step in, it’s not the dream you envisioned, keep pushing on until you realize the dream. The only way to do that is to understand things change.
MONSTER.CA: How do you choose your talent?
ANDY NULMAN: I try letting the talent choose me. I look for people who really want to do the job. I’m talking to a guy whose dream in life is to work for Just For Laughs. When I told him I couldn’t afford the salary he’s looking for, he said he’d accept less. The guy just wants to do it. That’s heart. You can’t fake heart.
I’ve had people come here looking at this job like anything else, putting pressure to know now because they have another offer. Take your offer. Not to diminish these people, but I’ve always found heart is the most important thing. People who really want to do the job are passionate. You can’t fake it. Give me the heart and the head will follow, rather than the reverse. Give me the head then try to make a person passionate about what they’re doing. Forget it.
Show business attracts a lot of people that have the dream, but the dream has changed now. With the Internet, you can get into show business in your basement. You don’t need a physical office anymore. You don’t need a company. More people wanted to get into the circus, so to speak, since my last time around here. Today the talent pool is smaller. Now people say, “I am in show business, I’m making my own videos. Who needs you?” It means we’re looking for a different type of person.
It’s important to bring something to the table. Anytime someone comes in for a job I wish it were as easy as saying, “Here’s your desk, do your job so I don’t have to deal with you.” But this is a business of personality. Most businesses now are businesses of personality and communication. We can’t just throw a peg into a hole and say, “Be part of a machine.” Those Pink Floyd “Welcome to the Machine” days are going away, particularly in this business. Everyone has to the shepherded in, massaged, blended and taken care of. The more passionate self-starter you are the better.
MONSTER.CA: Can you give some general advice to the job seeker?
ANDY NULMAN: It’s a sell job. The product you are selling is yourself. Instead most people think, “Here’s my resume, look at how wonderful I am and you will want me and I will answer your questions.”
Selling is a dirty word for most people. They still picture salespeople as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. That’s the thing I enjoy most. I hate being stuck in the office, but I have people to take care of and stuff to do. When you’re interviewing for a job you’re basically out of the office and selling yourself.
People think the sell job starts when you walk in the office. A smart sell job starts before. I usually look people up on the Internet and see what they’re about before they come into my office. That’s a sell job. What does the Internet say about you? There was a guy trying to get a job in the advertising industry that played with search engine optimization and made his name pop up when for example, I would search “Andy Nulman”. Genius. The sell job started early. You may not be going for a sales position, but if you aren’t willing to sell yourself forget it.
Years ago, after the newspaper, I thought of moving to Toronto, and I found an ad for a retail promotion job in the Toronto Star looking for a “Cracker Jack guy”, which means a really sharp guy. I bought a box of Cracker Jack candy and replaced the words Cracker Jack with my name, put my resume in the box and sent it in. I got the interview and the job offer in a second because of that stupid box.
It may sound cheesy and silly, but we’re all impressed by cheesiness and silliness. Unfortunately we all put on airs, “It’s a job therefore I must look important.” Just get in the door and prove yourself. To get past that gate you have to sell yourself.
MONSTER.CA: Any suggestions for what to do in those first 90 seconds?
ANDY NULMAN: Subconsciously interviewing is like mating. Why would this person want to spend the rest of their life with you? I would read books on how to attract the opposite sex, or same sex whatever your preference. “Here’s why you should love me and why I love you.” Don’t put on a dog and pony show. But don’t just sit there and wait for the questions.
Try to make the connection in the first 90 seconds. Get the eyes to meet, get the twinkle. If you can do that you’re cool. Find out what they’re looking for. Is it a mother hen, a long-term relationship, one night of fun, someone to travel the world with? You have to say, “I’m that person” in 90 seconds. It’s speed dating. Everyone knows within 90 seconds. Sometimes it can start off poor and improve, but it’s so much easier if you can make that connection in 90 seconds.