Lighthouse, Ucluelet
If this lighthouse could talk…

“You can hire talent and give it experience. You can’t do the opposite.” -me

In my previous entries in this series, I have tried to build the argument that a) traditional sit-down interpreter interviews are a waste of time and select for the wrong qualities, and b) interpretive workshop interviews, though much better, are a waste of the candidates’ time and still select for the wrong qualities.

The interpretive skills showcase, as described below, allows you to see a high number of candidates doing exactly what you need to see them do: interpret a given resource. It maximizes not only your time but theirs too. Paired with a rigorous reference check (the subject of a future article,) it should be your shortest route to a large selection of talented, high-quality interpreters with which to go about hiring a kickass team.

I believe this process, as outlined below, is fair, transparent, and effective. It should allow you to see four candidates per hour. It showcases interpretive skills over interview skills; it reduces your chances of being charmed by a good schmooze. It emphasizes talent over experience, and I think that’s vital. I believe that you can hire talent and give it experience; you can’t do the opposite.

Dear Candidate:

Thank you very much for your interest in our position. We are pleased to invite you to an interpretive skills showcase and knowledge test as part of Competition XXX with Agency XXX.

The skills showcase will proceed as follows; please take careful note of the details.

  1. Please prepare and present a seven-minute segment of an interpretive program, based on one of the three assignments below. You may present for under seven minutes but not over; we will cut you off at the seven-minute mark.
  2. The presentation must be entirely your own work; it may be adapted from something you have presented before,  or it may be entirely new. You must certify in writing that the work is your own.
  3. The assignments are as follows; please choose one. No substitutions, please.
    1. Theme: A half-hour at a tide pool can change your life, or at least the way you look at it. Audience: A family of five in a tide-pool or touch-pool setting.
    2. Theme: There are aliens invading our parks, and your back yard. Audience: A large mixed family audience in an amphitheatre setting.
    3. Theme: If this lighthouse could talk, you’d hear stories that could break your heart. Audience: 12 active seniors on a guided tour.
  4. You will be evaluated by a team of three people. You may use us as your audience / participants.
  5. We will record the mini-program on video. We will not publish or share the video beyond the evaluation board. All recordings will be erased at the end of the competitive process.
  6. You must give the presentation/interaction, not talk about what you would do. This is like an audition. Show us your best skills.
  7. Bring any props, visual aids or other equipment you require. Keep it simple; you will have one minute to set up your mini-program.
  8. We will evaluate you on the following criteria:
    1. Clarity of message: the theme must be clear and everything you do should support it: 20 points
    2. Audibility, eye contact, clarity of speech, and vocabulary as appropriate to target audience: 10 points
    3. Impact: the presentation/interaction should be inspiring, provocative, compelling, original and memorable: 40 points
    4. Appropriateness of your approach to your target audience and subject matter: 20 points
    5. Suitability and relevance of props, visual and audio aids: 10 points
  9. You’ll need a score of 65 to proceed to the rest of the competition. If you do not score 65 or over, we discard your knowledge test results and eliminate you from the competition. You’ll be welcome to re-apply in the future.
  10. Your audition time is from 10:00 to 10:15 on Tuesday, April 11th at XX locale. If you are late, we will use what remains of your alotted time. No-shows will not be rescheduled.
  11. After your audition, we will ask you to proceed to the proctored subject matter test. You will not need field guides or equipment of any kind, nor will you be allowed to bring notes, books or electronic devices to the table. You will have 30 minutes for the test, and we anticipate that this will be enough time to complete it without rushing. We will test you on the natural/cultural history of our park/historic site.
  12. The knowledge test is not eliminatory; if you score poorly in this segment of the competition, you may compensate with high points in other segments.
  13. After this stage of the competition, we will proceed to a reference check. Please notify your references immediately that we may contact them. If you have not provided three references as described on our competition poster, please do so immediately via email.
  14. A brief interview by telephone will be the last stage in the competitive process.
  15. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions. Any extra information about the competition that we provide you through inquiry will also be provided to other candidates via email.
  16. We are sincerely interested in what you have to offer, and we really look forward to meeting you.

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions on the method suggested above.

I really think you need to sign up for my email bulletin so you don’t miss a thing.

hermit crab
A half-hour at a tide pool…


  1. This is good – a lot like the Parks Canada interview in my time with Banff – but this is better – it is well defined, logically organized and efficient for both sides – it also auditions for the solo interpreter in a realistic work scenerio.

    • Hey Jim- thanks very much. Good to hear that it stacks up against your experience. I’m still new at piloting this method in the form I describe it. Looking for more opportunities to refine it.

      Thanks for all your comments on this series. I appreciate the input.

  2. Mariee Devereux

    Don! I love, love, love this! It sets your candidates up for a very sucessful interview. I like how they know what to expect in the room, from the interviewers and from themselves! It alows them to properly research, rehearse and showcase all their best skills in a clearly defined formate. It has the perfect balance of structure and focus with plenty of room for creative twists and turns as they see fit.

    As someone who has interviewed in this style before, I can tell you that for me, it was a dream come true. I felt that I was able to come into the room well prepared and still able to go with the flow as needed.

    A winning combination for everyone involved.

  3. Very interesting approach to interviews Don. I think you are on to something. The only thing missing is something to test the reaction to the unexpected. Interviews i used to do always had something to test the “thinking on your feet element” that the applicant could not prepare for. Perhaps it was luck but I think I ended up with the most talented interpreters the universe has ever seen… but then i am biased.

    • Ron- I like the idea of throwing something unexpected. Say, if they’ve prepared something for adults, ask them on the spot to adjust it for children. PS You did recruit a talented bunch back in the day. Best foundation a beginning interpreter could ever hope for.

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