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How to Practice for a Job Interview

Have you ever tried to “just wing it” in a job interview? If so, you may have found yourself giving disorganized, rambling answers and generally feeling very nervous and awkward. Like any skill, interviewing improves greatly with practice. Here’s how to practice effectively and do a great interview.

Practice on your own as well as with a parter.

Mock interviews are great, but you probably can’t schedule one every day, right? And yet interviewing, like any skill benefits from frequent practice so that your “learning curve” has many chances to triumph over your “forgetting curve.” Research has shown that several short practice sessions will do a better job of imprinting new skills in your memory than a big study marathon (or a mock interview) followed by a week of ignoring the whole thing.

So on days when you don’t have a partner to mock-interview with, practice on your own. To see and hear how you’re doing, try looking in the mirror and/or recording yourself with your smart phone or computer.

Have you had interview coaching from a career professional or a recruiter? It’s a common saying among coaches that “The most valuable part of the coaching is what you do between sessions.” Think about it: If you took piano or guitar lessons once a week but never practiced in between, would you expect to become a skilled performer?

Compile a list of common interview questions as well as questions specific to your own background. For each question go through this process: (a) plan the main talking points of your answer on paper, (b) practice it out loud, and then perhaps (c) revise your talking points if your answer doesn’t quite work yet. Notice I’m advising you to “plan the key points,” not write a script. If you memorize a script you’re not going to sound authentic.

Practice purposefully, not mindlessly.

Remember when you were a child and you were great at pretending? Use that ability now to imagine you’re really talking to an interviewer–one who likes what they’re seeing and hearing. Role-play with the same alert, friendly tone of voice and body language you want to display in the interview.

Have a vivid vision of success.

Make a list of the specific behaviors you want to see in your interviewing, such as keeping your answers concise, showing enthusiasm,  giving more examples, and so on. Take the time to imagine yourself doing the interview that way–what it will look like, sound like, feel like –and getting a positive response from the interviewer. This kind of visualization or mental practice is a proven performance enhancement technique used by top athletes, public speakers, musicians and others whose occupations require them to be at the top of their game.

Focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want.

For example, if you tend to say “um” or “uh” too much, start focusing on pausing silently instead. By the way, you can relax about the occasional “um.” Even the best professional speakers say it occasionally. There are worse interview mistakes to worry about, such as rambling or not knowing what key selling points to emphasize so you stand out.

If your practice isn’t working, try it a different way.

If one of my recommendations doesn’t work for you, figure out something else. Have you ever practiced a sport, a musical instrument, a performance? What did you learn from that practicing experience?

Don’t do what everyone else does.

Does this kind of methodical preparation sound unusual? It is. By practicing for job interviews as skillfully as I’m describing, you will be way ahead of most job seekers, who suffer through the interview process instead of making a point of mastering it. Don’t fail like the rest–stand out as the best.

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