Practice Doesn't Make Perfect

candidate handshake at interview

I had a conversation recently with my son over his effort in practicing piano.  He felt that just practicing a certain amount of time (which in his defense, I did say ten minutes) was good enough regardless of the outcome.  Probably at his age, it’s unrealistic for me to put super high expectations on him for perfection. What I was trying to instill in him was additional motivation to work on small sections at a time to make sure the end goal was met.

When I took lessons in my youth, my piano teacher asked me about how to get a piece to perfection and I instantly said, “I know, I know, Practice makes perfect!”  She quickly corrected me helping me understand that only “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  It’s resonated ever since.  It’s a lesson that applies in so many aspects of our lives – sports, music, academics, relationships, and yes – WORK!

You see, one can routinely practice things as they always have – in the same routine, the same doldrums, the same effort, but if they’re not preparing something with the goal of really nailing it, what’s the point?  You’d only be preparing yourself to be 80% of the way to how it should be.  Certainly with some things that are more measurable than others (let’s take music for example), we know how a song is supposed to sound based on the countless times we’ve heard it before.  We aim for reaching that level of perfection – to make it sound just like – or better than – what we’ve heard or witnessed first hand.

Great – we’re talking about music and practice – you’re looking for a job or a better job.  How does this help you?  Take a moment to reflect how you prepared for the last job you earned. You prepared a resume, possibly a cover letter, thought about what you might say to the hiring manager if they asked what you wanted to do in five years, how you could convince her that you were the best choice for the job because your work ethic outperformed everyone else at your last job.  How far did you go with your preparation?  Were you able to anticipate questions and have your answers prepared in advance?  Were you prepared with questions about their organization, management style, professional development plans, etc.?

You can’t possibly expect to master all aspects of an interview in one setting. It takes time, experience, and “perfect practice.”  You can read an infinite number of books or articles on the most likely questions out there. It can’t hurt, but what you do with the information is what really counts. Practice out loud, practice in your head, practice in front of a mirror, practice with a partner. Practice practice practice!  At the end of the day, those five or ten minutes spent preparing for the interview will help you achieve confidence in your answers which can help dramatically. Don’t try to do it all at once, work on it in stages. Some examples of stages you could look at include:

  • Body language – posture, facial expressions when answering or listening, not leaning on the hiring managers desk or counter
  • Parts of speech – practice avoiding the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ Remember that pausing to answer a question isn’t a nail in the coffin in the interview. You could start with, “That’s an excellent question, do you mind if I take a moment to collect my thoughts on that before answering?”  Make sure to answer the question, but try not to get too long winded.
  • Questions to ask – all companies want to know if you’ve done your homework – do you want to work for them, what you know about their industry, what’s involved with success at their organization, etc. If you can find out a little about the hiring manager, or the company and its short/long term goals, it will go a long way to demonstrating a sincere interest in working there. I recommend 4-6 organizational type questions – even if they won’t impact you in the short term.
  • Know the job description – If you haven’t read through the position description at least two or three times, read it again! Knowing the responsibilities the employer is looking for is as important as showing up on time for the interview. If you can, bring a copy to the interview as reference material.
  • Anticipating the unforeseen questions – interviewers like to ask for specific examples of success and trials you’ve had and how you’ve overcome them, i.e. difficult customer situation, difficult co-worker situation, project blew up in your lap. Prepare yourself to know those situations backwards and forwards to come up with a succinct but tangible response. Not sure where to start? Ask friends who’ve gone on interviews for good questions they were asked on their interviews.

Preparation is the key to success – whether you’re trying to improve your interview skills, row across a lake, pick up a spare at a bowling alley, or perfecting the pinnacle of a piano piece.  Perfecting your preparation provides you a great opportunity to perfect the end result.

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