Job interview preparations demand ‘deliberative practice’

Research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberative practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.

In their article ‘The Making of an Expert’, authors Ericsson, Prietula and Cokely point out that: ‘The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice – practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself.’ P 2

While the authors are mainly concerned with workplace expertise and gifted performers who excel in areas like sport and music, their comments have relevance for job applicants preparing for an interview. Such preparation demands considerable ‘struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment.’ Job applicants need to devote time and energy to their preparations, be committed to learning, be willing to self-assess and be coached, plus engage in a particular kind of practice – deliberative practice – in order to develop interview expertise.

The authors point out that not all practice makes perfect. To develop expertise you need a particular kind of practice – deliberative practice. Rather than focusing on what you already know, deliberate practice entails ‘considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all’. Further the authors say that: ‘Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.’ P3

Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills. Such practice requires enormous concentration so limits the amount of time you can spend doing them.

With busy lives and short notice of an interview, applicants may struggle to find the time to complete their preparations. One way round this is to anticipate an interview and proceed with preparations.

If using a coach to support these preparations, applicants need to be clear about their goals, particularly in relation to extending the reach and range of job interview skills. These goals tend to focus mainly on one or more of the following:

  • Managing nervousness and building confidence.
  • Help with presenting a strong case.
  • Improving response structures, content and language.
  • Ensuring responses are pitched to the level of seniority of the role.

The above list represents some of the things applicants can’t do well. Learning how to do them well may mean changing your thinking and behaviour. Hence the need for deliberative practice.

The effort and concentration involved in deliberative job interview practice relates to:

  • Revisiting all material relating to the application: organisation research, application, job description, intelligence gained about the role.
  • Selecting what examples to use during an interview and rehearse structured responses.
  • Anticipating all questions that could potentially be asked and preparing a tailored response.
  • Rehearsing out loud all material identified for the interview.
  • Considering the logistics of the interview: time, location, transport, interviewees, clothes.

The authors point out that: Even the most gifted performers take ten years of intense training to achieve their level of performance. This means you have to start early. Job applicants don’t have ten years nor are they working at something that demands the same level of skill as a musician or elite sports person.

Nevertheless, the concept of deliberative practice is a useful one for applicants, as well as for managers wishing to coach staff. Casual practice won’t cut it. A job interview is a specific type of public speaking. A skilled public speaker does not turn up unprepared. Nor have they left their preparation to the eleventh hour. A professional will have devoted considerable time and effort to their preparations so they can control what is controllable; anticipate what could happen; develop contingencies for the unexpected; rehearsed their material while incorporating any new techniques learnt from coaches and advisors.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.