Interviews can be super intimidating. Not only are you trying to get a feel for your prospective boss, but you’re also doing your best to make an incredible impression, flawlessly answer questions about that time you dealt with a difficult person (but totally won them over), and explain why you’re absolutely perfect for the job. No wonder so many people experience anxiety when they think about it.
On top of all that, the only time you get to exercise your skills is when you’re actually sitting across the table from the hiring manager. How on earth are you supposed to get comfortable with this whole process?
Enter the practice interview. Setting aside time to run through questions with a trusted friend is a great, low-pressure way to strengthen your skills, build confidence, and receive valuable feedback.
Here’s how to do it right:
1. Decide What You Want to Work On
Are you feeling iffy about the entire process, or do you get tripped up on a specific type of question? You may totally nail your elevator pitch but draw a blank on behavioral questions, or get super awkward when asked about your reasons for wanting to leave your current job.
Spend some time reflecting on the areas where you’d like to improve so that you can approach this with a clear goal in mind.
2. Make a List of Practice Questions
Start by making a list of questions or topics that you’ve struggled with in the past, keeping your end goal in mind.
Then, build from there, mixing in questions about your experience, goals, reasons for leaving your past or current job, and transferable skills. You’ll probably want to include a few behavioral questions, too.
Not sure which questions you want to practice? This list of 31 commonly asked interview questions is a great place to start.
3. Pick a Partner
It’s important that you be comfortable around whoever you decide to ask for help, as they’re likely going to provide you with some tough feedback at the end of your session.
Focus on choosing a partner who you respect, and who you know has your best interests at heart. This may be a former boss, a close friend, mentor, or, heck, even your mom. Bonus points if they have experience interviewing or managing staff.
If the person you ask is also in the market for a new job, offer to return the favor. Otherwise, you can say thank you by picking up the tab the next time you meet for coffee.
4. Set the Scene
Next, decide if you want to practice in person, over the phone or via video conference. Whatever medium you feel least confident about is probably the one you’ll want to focus on, but, when in doubt, meet in person.
These are way more effective if you treat them like the real deal from start to finish. So, from the moment you walk through the door, act like you’re the candidate and the other party is the hiring manager.
This’ll give your interviewer a clearer picture of what you’re like during a real live meeting, and may expose other opportunities for improvement. It’ll also dissuade you from breaking character and shouting, “Wait, let me try that again!”
5. Embrace Feedback
The whole point of this exercise is to get better, so ask for honest, constructive feedback. Then, take it all in. It may help to jot down a few notes as you go, so it’ll be easier remember what all was said. This is also a great opportunity to strategize and talk through alternative answers or different ways of phrasing your responses to tough questions.
If, after your first practice session, you’re feeling like you want to take another crack at it, ask your friend if she’d be willing to meet up again in a week or so for another round or get a fresh perspective by asking someone new the next time around.
Practice interviews are a great, stress-free way to build your confidence and sharpen your skills. As with anything, the more often you spend time running through commonly asked questions, the better you’ll get. Plus, it’s a great excuse to grab coffee with a friend!