Probably the most wonderful thing to happen for a musician on a professional level is to win a job. It removes the fear so many of us have, questioning if we are going to be able to make a living. When it finally pays off there is a mix of relief and joy, especially if it is a job that one wants!
Musicians tend to put a staggering amount of work into preparing for an audition. But just straight practicing alone does not cover all the bases necessary to be successful, and in my opinion, there are other things one can do to increase the odds of winning. Here are a few recommendations I would make to anyone, whether musician or otherwise, when applying for a job:
1) Always make sure you know everything you can about those who are either listening to you or interviewing you. Never take an interview while blind, since there are always points of connection that you can make with members of a committee – ones that are sincere. Knowledge is power, whether it affects playing style or synergy of interests.
2) Always practice whatever you are going to do for a committee in a mock environment by enlisting the help of friends and by making a video tape of your audition/interview. The video camera is the best tool to help identify how you are communicating, whether musically, physically, or verbally. It’s impossible to be completely aware when engaged in doing a task and many times you will have ticks that can be hurtful when trying to present yourself as authentically as possible under pressure.
3) Make a list of potential questions or requests that might come up at your audition/interview. Surprise is the enemy! If you are playing, then make sure you can play softer, louder, shorter, longer, lighter, heavier, etc… If you are interviewing, make sure that you have responses to tough questions regarding conflict resolution, leading vs. listening, etc…
4) Make sure your style fits the needs of the job you want. You can’t be something that you’re not, and if you win a job in a place that doesn’t let you apply your sensibilities fully, you’ll just be unhappy and frustrated. Research the orchestra, opera company, program carefully and read the job description with ferocious energy – does it truly describe you?
5) Be a good listener in the moment. Many auditions are lost by not following directions carefully or answering questions fully.
6) Be absolutely confident that your references will be completely supportive. As a search committee member I’ve called people in the past who have not been kind to those applying. I’m always stunned when this happens, and it has taught me to be extremely careful. Also, ask people to call on your behalf ahead of an audition. Networking is always helpful, again provided that the person calling is persona grata with a committee and also is honestly supportive of you.
7) Be relentlessly organized in your time management leading to an audition. It’s not the quantity of hours spent preparing in my experience as much as the quality. The other thing organization does is train your mind to be structured in approach, which in an audition is a tremendous asset. If you have practiced enough to have the technique to play what is required consistently in a pristine manner, or you have a vocabulary that allows you to express ideas with specificity and passion, then execution is a matter of mental will.
8) Take time to enjoy the process. Once, one of my teachers made me repeat an exercise over and again until I could do it perfectly. After a series of failures, I asked if we could just move on because I was getting bored. His reply was “don’t be bored.” At first I was a little aggravated to be honest! After calming down, I realized that he was telling me my response to doing this work over and again needed to be a conscious choice. So when doing something that I have to do to achieve a goal, I take time to enjoy it - I choose to do this, even if it is grinding in nature. By allowing myself this luxury, I have found my retention, energy, daily routine, and final results are all much better. A little joy in process goes a long way toward winning.
It is true that you can do everything to the absolute highest level and still lose. But I think that if you take every step to be fully prepared your chances for success are always increased. My hope is that these eight suggestions might be helpful in your journey no matter where you are along the path.