Have you ever tried to “just wing it” in a job interview? If so, you may have found yourself giving disorganized, rambling answers and feeling nervous and awkward. Like any skill, interviewing improves with practice. Here’s how to practice effectively and do a great interview.
Practice on your own as well as with a partner.
Set up mock interviews with friends, colleagues or an interview coach, or through a job search support group (such as those offered by your local unemployment department, the career development office at your local community college or the school you graduated, or on Meetup.com).
You probably can’t schedule a mock interview every day. Yet interviewing, like any skill benefits from frequent practice so that your “learning curve” has lots of 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 between mock interviews, practice on your own. To see and hear how you’re doing, record yourself with your smart phone or computer.
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 use in the interview.
Have a clear 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 focus on, 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?
Understand the factors that make an interview successful.
Read my post, “12 Tips for a Winning Interview.”
Practice the unspoken part of the interview.
Use mental rehearsal to practice the less intellectual, more subconscious aspects of the interview, like body language, calmness and confidence.
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. (This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.)