For many people, the prospect of interviewing for a new job has the potential to bring on a small panic attack. This can be true whether you are a recent college graduate or a mid-career professional with many interviews under your belt.
Fortunately, there is a proven way to decrease this anxiety, improve your interview skills, and give you the confidence you need to ace the interview. Practice!
Most people know they can’t just “wing it” when it comes to interviewing. But interview preparation goes beyond doing research on the company, the interviewer, and potential questions you might be asked–although those are critical steps! You need to be able to articulate why you are the best person to solve the organization’s problems–to someone who does not (yet!) know and love you the way your friends and family do.
Being prepared for this important conversation requires mentally and physically practicing as though it were the real thing.
It sounds simple enough, but how do you actually practice for an interview? Let’s start with the easiest way.
Rehearsing for an interview is any practice you do by yourself. Verbal rehearsal is probably the most effective of these techniques.
Take your list of common interview questions and practice saying your answers out loud. Verbally rehearsing allows you to hear how your answers would sound to an interviewer, which is often very different from how they sound in your head.
Add another element by practicing in front of a mirror so you can check out your posture, body language, and other important nonverbal cues.
Written rehearsal entails writing out your responses to anticipated interview questions. This can be an effective way to capture certain narratives that you want to be sure the interviewer hears, such as detailing past accomplishments, or articulating why you want the job, or explaining an extended leave of absence from the workforce.
But don’t succumb to the temptation to memorize your answers–you’re not a robot. Instead, practice working from talking points to sound more natural and conversational.
Mental rehearsal involves walking through the interview in your mind. As any successful athlete will tell you, visualizing the desired result is a key component of preparation.
No, you won’t be able to anticipate everything that happens in the interview–the best interviews are like easygoing conversations anyway. But you can try to see yourself embodying positive body language, interacting with the interviewer confidently, and sharing your enthusiasm for the opportunity.
Although they sound similar to rehearsals and share some similar elements, mock interviews differ in that they are conducted by another person. This is where it starts to get a big more nerve-wracking.
Up until now, you’ve been practicing by yourself in front of your bathroom mirror, and nobody has been witnessing your discomfort. But in the mock interview, someone else will ask you the questions, listen to your answers, observe your body language, and share their observations with you.
Some people find it easier to do this with friends or family, who will (hopefully) provide feedback that is not only honest but also kind and compassionate. Others might be more comfortable with a professional, such as a career coach or consultant, who will be unbiased and offer constructive advice for improvement. Many college career services offices also offer this type of service to graduates and alumni.
Whomever you choose to work with, make sure you treat your mock interview like the real thing. This is a valuable opportunity to have someone see you the way an interviewer would. So dress for the occasion, arrive on time, be prepared, and act professionally. Yes, you can have a friend interview you informally over the phone, but they’ll miss the chance to see how you interact interpersonally in a mock interview setting.
After the interview, ask for feedback on every aspect of your performance, from attire to answers.
Video-recorded mock interviews
Now, we’re really upping the ante. A video-recorded mock interview is probably the most uncomfortable interview practice technique, but it’s also the biggest blockbuster in terms of payoff.
If you’ve ever watched a recording of yourself, you know that it can be cringe-inducing. Does anyone really like the way their voice sounds? But that honest reflection is exactly what you’re looking for. You need to see what you look and sound like when you’re nervous.
Do your hand gestures become over-exaggerated? Do you have a weird facial tic? Do you rush through your answers or does your voice sound unusually high? Do you say “um” or “like” excessively? You need to know what your nervous habits are–and you need to know them BEFORE you get into the interview. Now is the time to correct them.
You can record a mock interview DIY-style with just a friend and your smartphone or tablet. Or you can go big and choose to work with a career professional who has fancy equipment and experience in conducting and recording mock interviews. It could be worth a one-time investment to see a professional-looking video of yourself in an office environment. Either way, you’ll gain invaluable input about how you come across in all those intangible ways that have been shown to make a difference to employers.
Sometimes just becoming aware of a behavior is enough to cause a correction. Other times you may need to practice or create a touchstone to remind yourself when you’re in a high-pressure situation.
Now you have the tools to go out and practice for that exciting interview coming up! Enlist the support of a friend and/or coach or consultant, and you will be on your way to standing out from the competition.