Interviewing may be the most important skill in your job search. Hiring managers decide who to hire based on the interviews. Your resume helps you get an interview, and references checks and assessment tests are used to validate the conclusions of the interviews. None of these will get you hired. It is the one-on-one interaction, where you have the opportunity to talk directly to the hiring manager, that will motivate the company to hire you.
Despite the importance of interviewing, very few people practice their interview skills. Most people do three things to prepare for an interview. They start by developing a list of questions they think they will be asked. They then prepare answers to those questions. Finally, they research the company where they will interview.
These three steps are important, but they’re just a starting point. No matter how much you prepare, it will never be the same as actually interviewing. Guessing what is important to a hiring manager will uncover some of the questions you will be asked, but you can’t prepare for every possible question. At some point, you need to practice being asked a question you didn’t expect.
Most people get the practice they need in real interviews. During their job search, their interview skills start out very rusty. They go to a few interviews and improve over time. Two or three interviews can make a huge difference. Then, their interview skills start to plateau.
The problem with this pattern is twofold. First, the job seeker uses their first few interviews to get their skills up to speed, reducing the chances of getting hired early in their search. Second, once the job seeker gets comfortable interviewing, their skill level plateaus. This is a nature result of interviewing without ever getting specific feedback.
The only way to maximize your interview performance is to practice. Completing several practice interviews before your first real interview will help you avoid mistakes and improve your chances of getting hired. This will help avoid those moments in an interview when you think “why am I talking about this – I have to remember not to tell this story again.”
Practicing your interview skills can also help you improve significantly beyond where you would have plateaued. I’ve coached a lot of job seekers to improve their interview skills and have found many people make mistakes they don’t realize. They describe something in their background in such a way that it hurts the impression they make. This is very common. There are few people that are such good communicators that they always convey the exact meaning they intend. Unfortunately, by not getting specific feedback, the job seeker never learns how they are being misinterpreted.
This is the most significant benefit from a practice interview.
To identify areas where you can improve, you have to get an outside opinion. To do this, you need to find someone that does a lot of interviewing to assess your performance. The interviewer should select the questions so you do not know what to expect. This will force you to improvise as you would in a real interview. The interviewer can then assess the impression you give. The feedback you receive will be invaluable to your interview performance and your job search.