What if there were some way that you could hone your interview skills, so the next time you’re in the hot seat, you’re prepared for any question that comes at you?
Luckily, there’s a way of doing just that – with a mock interview.
A mock interview is effectively a practice run for the real thing. It’s a simulated experience that has all the hallmarks of a real job interview, just without an actual job offer at the end.
It could be conducted by a variety of people, depending on the reason for carrying out a mock interview. If you’re a university student practicing for first job interviews, it could be carried out by a career advisor within your educational institution, or maybe a professor you trust.
If you’re applying for an internal job, your current line manager might conduct a mock interview to make sure that you’re in with the best chance of getting the new job (especially if it's in a different department). If you’re applying for an external job, a mock interview could be conducted by anyone from a friend or former colleague to your recruitment consultant.
Depending on the reason for the mock interview, it could take a variety of different formats. If you’re applying for an internal job or promotion, your line manager may go through the requirements on the job ad, and help you to assess your suitability against each one.
If it’s being conducted by a recruitment consultant, they may go through a list of questions that they know the company usually asks in interviews, to make sure you’re not thrown off when the chips are down. If it’s a friend helping you practice, it might take the form of a more general chat, as they will likely have less information about the job to go off.
Mock interviews could take place in person or over the phone. Generally, it’s better to stick to the format that the real interview will be in, as that’s the most effective way to prepare. Your mock interviewer might also record you, either with a camera if you’re face-to-face, or a Dictaphone if you’re speaking on the phone. This allows you to listen back to your mock interview and identify areas for improvement.
Mock interviews can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on their purpose. Usually, the interviewer will then review the process with you and provide feedback.
There are a wide variety of reasons why you might want to arrange a mock interview.
There’s nothing worse than being completely thrown off in an interview by an unexpected, difficult question. Especially if it's right at the beginning - it can derail you for the rest of the time. Mock interviews allow you to prepare for any challenging questions you may be faced with, and ensure that you have a confident and comprehensive response prepared.
It’s very easy for an employer to tell when you’re prepared for an interview, and when you’re just winging it. Mock interviews mean you’ll definitely be in the first category, and will have an arsenal of strategies to call upon when answering questions. These might include having concrete examples to back up skills that you cite on your CV, or having an understanding of a specific sector, in case you’re asked detailed questions on it.
Prospective employers can tell a huge amount from your body language and tone in an interview. Not only does it give them clues about your confidence in your abilities and engagement in the task at hand, it can also help them to decide between two candidates if their skills are very similar.
Think about it: you’d be far more likely to hire someone who displays strong eye contact, gives a good handshake and listens carefully to questions, than someone slumped in their seat looking disinterested.
Much of the nerves surrounding an interview come from the rigmarole of the whole thing – the putting on your smart clothes, the waiting around, all the shaking of hands etc. Mock interviews enable you to practice all of those logistical elements, so when the real thing comes around, you don’t even have to think about them. That way, you can concentrate on presenting yourself in the best way possible.
Mock interviews aren’t just for employees – they can be a great help for employers too, both in terms of candidates and your own interviewing technique.
Firstly, promoting mock interviews on an internal basis is a great way to ensure that your team are maintaining vital skills such as careful listening, confident body language and industry awareness. All of those skills come in useful on a day-to-day basis at pretty much every business, especially for anyone that is in a client-facing role.
Secondly, mock interviews can be a great way for you as an employer to hone your interviewing skills. After all, it’s a two-way process: you can’t expect to get the best responses from candidates if you don’t ask the right questions.
Think back to your last few hires – did you find out everything you wanted to during those interviews? Did you accurately assess whether the candidate would fit into the role they were applying for, both in terms of job responsibilities and also on a culture fit level? If the answer to either of those questions is “no” or even “hmm, well, I think so”, you need to re-evaluate your interviewing technique.
This starts with a refresh of all of your job descriptions – as teams grow and businesses progress, roles can start to get a little mixed up, so it’s a great opportunity to assess whether there are any tasks not currently being done or any gaps in your team. Plus, updating job descriptions means you’ve got a comprehensive and current list of job responsibilities and the relevant skills needed to do those well. You can use these to structure your interview.
If you’re an employee...
...the most important thing in a mock interview is to answer questions accurately and concisely. Listen carefully to everything the interviewer says and respond accordingly. Leave it down to them to pick up on details of what you’ve said – don’t spiral off on endless tangents by yourself.
If the interviewer asks about your role within a previous team, don’t waffle on for 5 minutes about how you’re a great team player. Let your experience speak for your skills. That way, when the real thing rolls around, you’ll have a concise idea of what to say in response to key questions.
You should also use mock interviews as an opportunity to think about what you want to know about the company you’re working for. Ask about how many people will be in your team, how long they’ve been there, whether they like to promote organic growth (ie, promote internally to expand the company, rather than hiring external candidates at the top of the chain).
By asking those questions in a mock interview, you’ll figure out what’s important to you in a role, which will shape your job search, too.
If you’re an employer...
...think about what you want to know from a candidate when you interview them. Yes, of course, you want to know how their CV matches up with the requirements of the role, but that’s not the only thing to consider when hiring someone.
First of all, ask why they applied for the job in the first place. This allows you to make sure that your real employer brand matches up with the one you’re putting out on adverts.
If you’re a really dynamic, innovative startup, and all you’re getting is applications from people with 10+ years experience that show up in 3-piece suits, you know something’s not right with your job ads. Mock interviews allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising before it goes out to the public, saving you time and effort by ensuring that you get exactly the right sort of applicants for the role.
Mock interviews are also a great way for you to consider how the hierarchy of your company is looking. One of the most vital questions to ask is where someone sees themselves in 5 years – if they say they want to be a manager and earning £50,000, and you know that there’s little scope for that within your business, that will inspire you to reconsider the progression model.
There are very few downsides to mock interviews, for both employers and employees. They give you a practice run at what is a very important and stressful experience and allow you to put forward the best version of yourself when the real thing lands at your feet.
Plus, all the skills that you use in an interview (good listening, confident body language, evidence-based responses) come in handy in lots of everyday situations.
Give it a go – you have nothing to lose.
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