Practice Makes Perfect: How to Ace a Mock Interview
Of all the steps in the job hunt process, interviews are among the most stressful. After all, how are you supposed to successfully prepare when it’s hard to fully know what’s happening on the employer’s side? The pressure of competing for a role, the anxiety over making a good impression and the uncertain timeline make it seem like a lot is out of your control.
Molly Khine, senior director of coaching at The Flatiron School of engineering and coding based in New York, has a lot of empathy for those who find interviews to be scary — but she says that the outcome of a hiring conversation isn’t entirely out of an interviewee’s hands, especially with proper planning.
“Interviews are high stakes, which is why they bring on nerves for probably everyone,” she said. “For anything that’s high stakes, it’s worth investing the time to sit down and think about what you want to convey.”
How To Prepare For A Mock Interview
- Understand your goals: make sure your interview accomplishes what you need it to
- Make it realistic: treat your mock interview like the real thing
- Find the right interviewer: ask friends, coworkers, or mentors for help
- Keep a record: take notes throughout or make a video recording to watch later
Interviewing is a skill, and like with any skill, you get better with practice. Mock interviews are one of the most effective ways to prepare for a real interview and can even teach you new things about yourself. The pressure is alleviated, so you can focus on yourself and how you want to tell the story of your career.
Miranda Yan, co-founder of the automotive technology company VinPit based in Singapore with multiple U.S. locations, explained that at first she was focused on what the company wanted. As she practiced, she realized that she could talk about more than just the skills listed on her resume. “I eventually learned that my personality was just as significant in securing a job,” she said. “Now, I try to emphasize that and convey my goals as well.”
Mock Interviews Build Confidence
Here’s why you should practice with a mock interview, even if you think you can wing it. You’ll know what’s coming which means you’ll likely do a better job at showcasing your expertise and personality. It’ll allow you to practice pacing and timing for each of your answers making them sound more natural. Plus, you’ll be able to build your confidence.
“Not feeling extraordinarily anxious is half the battle,” said Fahim ul Haq, CEO of software education company Educative based in Bellevue, Wash. “Mock interviews help a lot in gaining confidence and managing stress levels during the real interviews.”
“Not feeling extraordinarily anxious is half the battle.”
Mock interviews can give you a big morale boost, so long as you get the timing right. You should plan one after you’ve already done a bit of preparation, researched the company and come up with ideas for questions. Many college career centers or coding schools offer mock interview opportunities to sign up for, but you can also informally reach out to people you know and ask them to help you with interview prep.
“If you sign-up for mock interviews at the beginning of your preparation, it could be less useful and could even be demoralizing,” said ul Haq. “Once you have enough confidence in your preparation, mock interviews with experienced engineers can help you close the deal and win the job.”
Understand Your Goals
Before you schedule a mock interview, get clear about what you want it to accomplish. Are you working to fine-tune your answers? Do you have to tighten up your response to ‘tell me about yourself?’ Or do you still need to figure out what might be going wrong? Now is your chance to make a plan.
“I personally find it helpful to write out talking points ahead of time,” Khine said. “Reworking and editing those points helps me get to a point where what I’m conveying is also what I want to be understood, making sure that those two pieces match.”
Try writing a list of your positive professional traits, then think of stories and situations where you exemplified those qualities. This will keep those anecdotes fresh in your mind, making it easier to draw on them later.
Prepare for the Real Thing
In order for your mock interview to be successful, you need it to mimic a real interview as closely as possible, right down to your outfit and the time of day.
“Treat it as an actual interview,” ul Haq said. “Do your research to anticipate what sorts of questions you might be asked. Dress as you plan to dress for the real interview. Sit in your chair the same way you plan to in your real interview.”
“The more they feel that you are in a real interview, the more effective the mock interview will be.”
Revisit past projects, test your coding knowledge in an online exam, or collect info from co-workers about your strengths — if you can showcase your full abilities in your mock interview, you’ll be more confident sharing them in the real thing.
“Someone applying for an engineering role still has to brush up on their technical and system design skills and treat the mock interview as a real interview,” said ul Haq. “In fact, the more they feel that you are in a real interview, the more effective the mock interview will be.”
Find Your Interviewer
“Someone in a different industry or seniority level than you will not be able to give as realistic a mock interview as you may need,” said Wai Gen Yee, head of data science at GrubHub based in Chicago. “Ideally, these people should have interviewed for something similar to what you are looking for.”
Find a friend who knows your career and provide a list of questions for them to ask you. You can also reach out to a career coaching organization about what interview preparation services they provide.
You can also turn your interview preparation into a networking opportunity by emailing someone who’s working your dream job and asking them for advice. “If you’re brave enough, doing a cold outreach concerning a mock interview is actually a really effective networking technique,” said Khine. “Let the person know that you’re looking to practice and get diverse perspectives on how you present yourself in an interview setting.” If they decide to help you, you’ll gain both experience and a new professional connection.
Keep a Record
Your interviewer should offer feedback at the conclusion of your chat, but it may be helpful to keep track of how it’s going while your interview is underway. Unlike a real interview where you’re taking notes on the company, you should take notes on yourself during a mock interview.
“It can be hard to watch a recording of yourself ... but it’s a real learning experience.”
“You may also choose to record yourself to see how you come off as well,” said Yee. “I have made recordings of myself when preparing for talks and while it was time-consuming, it was also useful.” A recording of your interview may reveal tendencies or weaknesses you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. You can also pick up on things like body language and posture as they appear to your interviewer.
“You can pretend you’re the interviewer and ask: Would I hire this person? What feedback would I give them?” Khine said. “It can be hard to watch a recording of yourself — a lot of people are self critical, it’s normal. But it's a real learning experience.”
Process Your Feedback
Don’t worry about whether you aced your mock interview or not — ultimately, it’s meant to be a learning experience. Whatever the outcome may be, you’ll have the chance to get some valuable feedback and hone your approach for future job searches.
“While not getting a positive response after an interview might hurt your feeling of self worth, it’s really about fit,” said Yee. “Take notes after each interview and think about how you could have done better.”
“Forgive yourself and keep learning.”
Instead of viewing any negative feedback as a put-down, think of it as a prompt. “Some of our best students at Flatiron have left mock interviews, done some research and learned what they couldn’t answer in real time,” said Khine. Curiosity, adaptability, and a willingness to learn are favorable traits recruiters look for and they’ll benefit you well beyond the interview stage.
“Forgive yourself and keep learning. Always think about how to make yourself better and a more effective teammate,” said Yee. “It’s good for you, your team, and your company in the long run.”
If you leave your initial mock interview feeling like you could use another chance to practice, reach out to other people to set up second or third sessions. The more mock interviews you can do ahead of time, the better — you’ll receive more varied critiques on your interviewing style, and get more chances to refine your approach and technique.