In any walk of performance repetition is key. Muscle memory develops as we continue to do something again and again. This then makes our actions almost instinctive. The body remembers the way, almost like a neurological footpath you walk down. Routine and repetition are good for people and in fact, many of us thrive under it. The same is true of interview preparation.
If you are practicing to present something, the tendency can be to think about it. Many people see themselves regaling the panel with interesting or funny anecdotes about their work to the sound of uproarious laughter or wet-eyed inspiration. However, the problem with this practice is that the candidates are establishing themselves firmly in a fantasy world, where they are king. The cold reality, when you walk into the room, can be very different and this is where you begin to struggle.
Although we regularly conduct simulation interviews at H-Training, it is still very difficult to recreate the intensity you will experience on the day. This is also true of athletes and there has been much discussion about the ‘psychological edge’ that separates elite athletes from average ones. The kind of player you are when the lights are brightest as opposed to when you are at training on a Tuesday night in October, can vary greatly. However, there is a solution to this.
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Practice! And lots of it.
Muscle memory can develop to the point where it overrides emotion. If you have the words prepared or the general theme of what you are saying polished so as you can talk about it in different ways and develop a flow, then in a sense your body or trained mind can take over, even as you experience some anxiety. This practice also begins to work as a sort of confirmation bias. When you hear yourself get the first few sentences out clearly, this serves as proof that you can do it and accordingly settles you down. If you know the way through your competencies and the story about yourself you intend for the interview board to hear, then you will find your way. It is a simple but effective science.
However, there are some pitfalls. Under no circumstance do we recommend that you learn your lines off by heart. This can be an unmitigated disaster. The candidates begin their stories almost as if they are reciting a poem, and it becomes very clear to the panel that their ‘performance’ is rehearsed. The delivery can come across as robotic and stiff and worst of all, if you make a mistake or are interrupted by a question, it can be very difficult to regain your composure, mid-competency. Instead we want to have command of our information and be able to ‘riff’ off it like any good presenter. Be in control of your information and furthermore be able to handle your audience.
A good trick H-Training suggests is to practice the competencies playfully. Ask your friend or partner if they would like to be dazzled by your decision-making ability after Game of Thrones ends some night. If you do this when you are relaxed and have fun with it, this element will hopefully accompany you into the interview and also occupy your muscle memory along with the general thread of your story. However, it is also important not to over-prepare. We don’t want you to overwhelm yourself as, with everything like this the more relaxed you are the more susceptible you are to retaining the information you need. Over-preparing leads to stress and builds the wrong muscles.
Say the competencies aloud, then say them again. Then see if you can develop it further and build on this. If you wish, H-Training can video record your simulation and allow you to take your own feedback from it, or if you are more comfortable with sound and no picture you can simply record yourself on your phone and listen to how you sound. The one warning we would add to this however, is not to be too overly-critical or sensitive at the sound of your own voice. Many people find it very difficult to hear themselves played back. So if you feel you are one of these people just ask someone else to listen and trust the process.
In a nutshell, the interview coaching experts advice is: speak more and think less.
As a professional coach, mentor and facilitator Ciaran has a passionate interest in developing competencies at all workplace levels but particularly in first-line and mid-level managers. His well-developed skills in coaching and his unique approach gains the confidence of clients and supports them towards significant development.