As with every skill, talent, and expertise, the more you do it, the better you’ll be at it. Yes, the old saying is indeed true: Practice makes perfect—particularly with job interviews. For best results, don’t go into an interview cold. A mock interview can help you formulate smart answers and show you where your weak spots are.
In Monster’s Grads to Candidates virtual career panel, Michael Ruggiero, senior recruiter for Lionbridge, told viewers that, although many businesses have moved to a remote workplace, the standards for hiring talent have not been relaxed: “[The interviewing process] is just as aggressive as it was.” That means you have to have an interview strategy.
“As tedious as it may sound to practice for job interviews,” says Pamela Skillings, career coach and co-founder of New York–based Big Interview, an online job interview–training platform, “it can make a dramatic difference, especially for people who don’t have a lot of interview experience or haven’t interviewed for a job in a while. Mock interviews give you the opportunity to think through what questions you’re going to be asked and how to articulate your thoughts.”
As Carole Martin, a job interview coach and author of Boost Your Interview IQ, puts it: “A mock interview is like a dress rehearsal,” where you get to flex your interview skills in a safe environment and learn from your mistakes. Consequently, doing mock interviews can also boost your self-confidence, which will come in handy the next time you sit down for a real job interview.
Take these steps to run through a practical and worthwhile mock interview.
Find the best sounding board
Who you choose to practice with is an important decision, since you’re looking for an expert’s honest feedback. Ideally, you want to practice with someone who works in your industry and has real-world experience interviewing job candidates, says Skillings.
Unfortunately, many people make the rookie mistake of practicing with a friend or family member, Martin laments. “You want someone who can objectively assess your interviewing skills,” she says. “Your husband or wife, for instance, isn’t objective.”
If you’re a college student or recent graduate, tap into your school’s career services center. “Many colleges have career advisors that will do mock interviews with students and alumni,” Martin says.
Choose the right setting
It’s good practice to make mock interviews feel as close to the real thing as possible. Choose a professional setting and dress in the attire you’d don for an actual job interview.
If possible, mock interviews should be done in person so that you can practice greeting the interviewer with a solid handshake and enthusiastic smile—two things that can help you start off on the right foot.
Skillings recommends videotaping every mock interview so you can evaluate your body language and track your progress. “You’ll also see a dramatic difference between your first mock interview and your last,” Skillings says.
Don’t become a robot
Put simply: You don’t want to memorize answers. “If you have canned responses, you won’t sound authentic,” Martin says. “A job interview is not a quiz. It’s a conversation to find out whether you’re a great fit for the job and the company.”
Your best strategy, says Skillings, is to take a “bullet point approach,” where you practice talking about key points you want to hit on rather than rehearse what you plan to say word for word.
Practice these frequently asked interview questions
Although there’s no way of knowing exactly what questions you’re going to be asked at a given interview, it’s still beneficial to prepare for common interview questions, says Debra Wheatman, president at career-coaching firm Careers Done Write.
Interview questions can vary depending on the type of industry you’re in, but hiring managers tend to ask candidates these questions:
- “Tell me about yourself.” This is often the first question interviewers ask, but they don’t want to hear your life story or a summary of what’s on your resume, says Wheatman. “This question gives you an opportunity to set the tone for the interview, so don’t go through a rote download of your background,” she advises. Your best approach is to explain how your background, knowledge, and interests intersect with the job you’re interviewing for.
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” When it comes time to talk up your skills, focus on traits or accomplishments that align with the requirements of the position. And as for weaknesses, “be honest but follow up with how you’re improving your skills,” says Wheatmen. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a terrible public speaker,” you’d say: “I’m not a natural public speaker, but I’m taking a course to improve my performance.”
- “What are your career goals?” Rather than saying what milestones you’re aiming for (e.g., “My goal is to be a corporate VP by the time I am 35”), frame your answer around what skills you’re looking to develop. For instance, “In five years, I want to have gained solid experience in marketing communications and carved a niche in social media marketing.”
- “Why do you want to work at our company?” To ace this question, you have to thoroughly research your prospective employer and explain why you’re the right cultural fit. A good starting point is to read the company’s mission statement to see how your experience and background have prepared you to support the company’s goals.
- “What questions do you have for me?” Interviews aren’t just about giving the right answers—they’re about asking the right questions. So, take the opportunity to ask meaningful, well-researched questions. This will demonstrate to your interviewer that you did your rearch and you’re taking the interview process seriously.