Congratulations, you have landed an interview with one of your dream employers! You have a few days to prepare, so how should you best spend this time? Review the company. Review the job description. Review your key selling points. Now you have a good foundation of information on which to build your interview. But a job interview is not just any conversation – the stakes are high, the employer is probing you, there is a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time. Here are 5 preparation strategies to ensure you’re at your best for your next interview:
Practice out loud, NOT in writing or in your head
You do not want the job interview to be the first time (in a long time or ever) that you’re describing your last role, a key project, or the arc of your career. Even if you think you know the details in your head, this doesn’t mean you’ll find the exact words when speaking aloud. Even if you write it down, you don’t speak like you write so your chosen words will come out stilted. Practicing what you intend to say out loud is the only way to ensure that you can engagingly, concisely and fluidly talk about yourself, your skills, your motivation, and all the rich, complex information that is covered in an interview.
Prioritize examples, NOT answers to specific questions
When you practice aloud, you practice answers to typical interview questions: tell me about yourself, why are you interested in this role, what is your biggest win. However, while experimenting with specific questions is fine for practice, it is better to prioritize specific examples to share, rather than specific answers. There are many interview questions, and the same question can be asked in many different ways. There is no way you can exhaustively practice enough answers to cover the variability in even one interview. However, your examples of your work are limited, and you can select the best ones in advance. Go line by line through your resume, including academic projects and outside activities, and pull out all projects and roles where you made a substantive contribution and a measurable win. You will have multiple projects or roles to discuss but still a manageable number. Each of these will showcase different skills and expertise and lend itself to different questions. One project may be an example of your top strength, biggest accomplishment, people-facing work, and your favorite project. Another may showcase your analytical skills and may also be a project with a difficulty to overcome. Now, whenever you get a question relating to any of the above, you don’t have to remember a clever answer. You just have to remember a specific project. You’ve rehearsed your description of that project so it flows effortlessly and you can weave it into the specifics of whatever question you happen to get.
Prepare two lists of questions, NOT a one-size-fits-all
In addition to examples, you want to be ready with questions. But ask the right questions to the right people. As a recruiter, I might hire for lots of different roles and departments within the same company. Don’t ask me about the day-to-day specifics or long-term strategy of any one department. I won’t have enough on-the-ground knowledge for you. Save that for people in that group. Similarly, don’t expect the people in the group to know the overall hiring process or information about other areas in the company. Have different questions for HR and for people in the department you’re targeting. Some questions will overlap, and sometimes HR and business groups know about the same things, but you’ll make everyone feel more helpful when you ask questions in their separate areas of expertise. You will also get better information when you align your questions with people who are closest to the answers.
Practice in performance conditions, NOT with friends
Whether you practice project descriptions or specific interview answers or your own due diligence questions, you want to practice in as close to a real-life interview environment as possible. This means you practice in your suit, in an office, and with a stranger or acquaintance who will not give you just the easy questions or let you start over whenever you like. Part of interview practice is practicing the discomfort, nerves and anxiety that comes with high-stakes performance. Try to simulate these performance conditions in your practice so you actually practice pushing through the discomfort. Then when it’s the real thing, you’ll be that much more accustomed to your nervousness and know you’ll be able to power through it.
Follow your game day strategy, NOT your everyday routine
Just like the job interview is not a common conversation, so is your interview day not a common day. Competitive athletes, professional artists and other peak performers don’t use the same routine for the day of the big game or opening night. They follow a special routine for the night before and day of that puts them at their best physically, mentally and emotionally. A job interview is the corporate athlete’s big game. Make sure you’re well rested and well fed. Put yourself in a confident and optimistic frame of mind. If you don’t have a specific routine, think back to when you played competitive sports or were intensely involved in a hobby or even when you’ve been at your best for a presentation at work. Develop a special routine you can follow for the interview day that brings out your best.
his post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes