Afterward the workshop with language students at Rider University on November 21, 2013, three faculty members took me to lunch at Fedora Cafe in downtown Lawrenceville, NJ. It was fun to relax with fellow language educators and to hear about their dedication to their students and their research.
Dr. Elizabeth Scheiber, the department head, told me about the competence conscious matrix as it applies to learning languages. There are two spectra of learning that progress in stages: conscious versus unconscious and competence versus incompetence.
‘Unconscious incompetence’–stage one— is when you’re not good and can’t even tell how bad you are.
Stage two, ‘conscious incompetence’, is when you become aware of what you don’t know and can therefore be in a position to work to fill in those gaps.
Stage three – ‘conscious competence’ is when you develop genuine competence, but you are aware of it–mentally working on getting the right words & phrases out, perhaps translating in your head a bit.
Ideally, language learning reaches stage four – ‘unconscious competence’ –where you’re so good that you’re not aware of the mental processing–it’s unconscious!
As a life-long language educator, I loved hearing about this language learning model. As a career coach, I instantly started connecting it to the job search. While I think the competence conscious matrix could potentially apply to every step of the job search process (might that rough draft of your resume be an example of unconscious incompetence?), the real parallel with the job search is with interview preparation.
It had come up at the Rider workshop when students tried out their answers to interview questions on each other: you have to be so well prepared for the commonly-asked job interview questions that your highly polished, practiced answers sound spontaneous. I’ve blogged about this before and here’s a video tip that warns against trusting your unconscious incompetent self–even though I hadn’t heard of the competence conscious matrix at the time I made the video!
Here is how I would describe preparing for a job interview using the competence conscious matrix:
‘Unconscious incompetence’–stage one— your answer is outlined on the back of a napkin (or the mental equivalent).
Stage two, ‘conscious incompetence’ –you try it out in the mirror or into your phone’s voice recording app and realize that it’s not a great answer and you need to fix it up if you’re going to use it to get a job.
Stage three – ‘conscious competence’ –you’ve got a solid answer down, but when you practice it, you definitely sound like you’re reciting something or have it memorized. You can’t go with the flow to get a polished idea out of your mouth without sticking to a script. You’re depending too much on specific wording instead of a solid delivery of the core of the answer that is a genuine expression of your qualification for the job.
Stage four – ‘unconscious competence’ — you’re so good that you’re not aware of the mental processing–it’s unconscious! That answer rolls off your tongue like you’re just making it up as you go, but it is so clear, concise, and polished that it would wow any interviewer who heard it.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they stand out in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org