Without realizing it, sometimes we think of learning in mechanical terms, as if it were a matter of shoving information into a container. Of course, learning is much more organic than that. Here’s how you can work with your brain, rather than against it.
Space out the learning over time.
Research has shown that information and skills learned over a period of time are better remembered than if you “cram” in one long session. Identify what you need to work on, then schedule several sessions.
For example, let’s say it’s Friday and you’ve just been asked to interview on Tuesday. You might schedule 20-minute learning sessions every evening, plus 1- or 2-hour sessions at three or four points during the weekend.
Your learning might include researching the company and the interviewer, studying the company’s website and any interview prep instructions they’ve provided, clarifying the key selling points you want to emphasize, preparing stories, and practicing answers to likely questions.
Not everything you need to learn consists of facts. You also need to learn to be confident, relaxed and alert during the interview. Visualization is a valuable tool for this non-conceptual type of learning.
Testing yourself through mock interviewing is effective, even when you mess up an answer, according to psychology professor Regan Gurung, PhD quoted in an American Psychological Association article. “Just attempting to retrieve something helps you solidify it in your memory.”
It’s fine to outline your interview answers on paper, and to practice answering aloud while glancing at your outlines, but at some point you need to put aside your notes and do a mock interview, either with a coach, a friend or your webcam. When your answer isn’t going well, force yourself to continue as best you can (with a smile, even!), rather than starting over, because thinking on your feet and handling unexpected problems are a crucial interview skills.
Don’t do all your interview prep in the same place.
“The brain wants variation,” said Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. Doing some of your interview prep at home and some in another location may create new associations in your brain and make it easier to recall information later. It may also minimize fatigue and make your preparation more enjoyable.
Get enough sleep before and after learning sessions.
Getting a good night’s sleep before a day of learning helps prepare your brain to form memories, according to Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley sleep scientist. Researchers have also found that sleeping after studying helps solidify the learning. This is another reason to spread the learning out over several days if at all possible, so you don’t end up pulling late-nighters.
Harmonize your interview prep with these insights from the science of learning, and you’ll be more ready to ace that interview.