Preparing for the real thing.

When preparing for an interview it’s not enough just to know your material and understand the skills involved in a successful interview. You need to be able to actively apply these skills in an interview setting, where you’ll need to respond to unexpected questions and situations. There is no “pause” or “stop” button in a live interview, nor are there “do overs.” When it comes to interviewing for a job, you have only one opportunity to make a good impression and present your strengths. This is a big reason why practicing your interview skills through role-playing and mock interviews is important for preparation.

Role-Playing an Interview

Role-playing an interview is a great way to practice your interview skills. Find a friend, family member, teacher, rehabilitation professional, or other person you trust to help you—someone who has experience with interviews, and who will be comfortable giving you constructive feedback that identifies your strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve found someone willing to help, prepare information on a job that you would be interested in getting and provide it to him or her, so that your helper can accurately represent the kind of interview you might encounter. Ask your helper to come up with a range of interview questions, from the most basic to the most challenging.

When you conduct the role-playing exercise, have your helper start off as the interviewer. Try to put all of the skills you’ve learned so far into practice when you answer questions, and don’t forget to pay attention to how you are presenting yourself. If you have trouble answering a question, you and your helper can talk about improvements, try out different answers, and hone your responses until you feel comfortable. If you’re stuck, switch roles and see how your helper would answer the question, then try it yourself. It may be helpful to record these role-plays to help you identify what you can improve on. Role-playing situations from an interview can help you feel more comfortable with hard questions, and can help you prepare to address a variety of issues that may arise during the interview.

Mock Interviews

A mock interview is a more formal role-play with someone who will be nonpartisan and more critical of you as an interviewee. Preferably, your mock interviewer will be someone you do not interact with often. Use your personal network, friends, and family to find a business professional who would be willing to do a realistic interview with you. It would be preferable if the person has experience with interviews, either as an interviewee or interviewer. Provide your mock interviewer with as much information as possible about the job you’re interested in, and make sure that you answer any questions they may have about the exercise before beginning the mock interview. Your mock interviewer should understand that the goal is to make the exercise as realistic as possible, and you should explain that you are looking for feedback on any and all aspects of your interview skills, from appearance and first impression down to how you answer specific questions.

The mock interview should be a full run through, with no stopping. The more authentic the experience, the more valuable it will be. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and conduct yourself from start to finish as if you were in a real interview.

Once the interview is over, it’s important to get your mock interviewer’s feedback, whether directly or through another person. It also could be helpful to get written notes or points to improve on, as well as areas that you excelled in. It’s extremely important not to take any notes for improvement personally, nor to get upset if the mock interviewer has identified an area of your interviewing skills that needs work. The information provided by your mock interviewer is valuable and, if you pay attention to it, can help you grow as an interviewee.

Tips for Role Plays and Mock Interviews

  • Remember to greet the interviewer and thank him or her for the opportunity to meet.
  • Sell yourself
  • Listen to the interviewer and answer all of his or her questions
  • Include necessary information and information that will represent you appropriately
  • Be enthusiastic
  • Be prepared to ask at least one or two questions about the job or business
  • Allow the interviewer time to speak; do not monopolize the conversation because the interviewer may have specific questions for you
  • Provide the interviewer with a resume at the beginning of the interview
  • Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you
  • Note the names of all the persons that you meet with for thank you messages and other purposes
  • Use appropriate eye contact (do not stare into their eyes, try to aim for right above their eyes when you look at the interviewer)
  • Shake the interviewer’s hand in the beginning of the interview and at the end.
  • Prepare well. Often successful interviewees have specific points about themselves, their training, or job experience that they want to make sure to deliver to the interviewer. Identify the points you want to make in your interviews and practice talking about them in your role-playing and mock-interview exercises.
  • If you have to turn in documents or information to the interviewer, make sure these are in good condition (no interviewer likes crumpled pieces of paper).
  • Refer back to information on appropriate dress and hygiene.
  • It’s important to note that the business world is small and businesses have relations with other businesses—take mock interviews seriously and treat everyone professionally and respectfully. You might make a good impression on someone who can help you with your next steps or recommend you for a job. Alternatively, if you do not behave professionally or respect the mock interviewer’s time and efforts on your behalf, you might damage your reputation within his or her network.

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