Mock Interviews

On Friday, I had the privilege of helping out at Westminster College. Kim Zarkin, one of my former professors, had invited a few of us alumni to participate as interviewers during a round of mock interviews with some of their graduating communications students. The entire process was a blast. I had a ton of fun and I learned a lot of things about interviewing that I can use in my own career.

For The Interviewer

I have participated in interviews before. They are kinda fun and they are a great way to reflect on you and your own business. The trickiest part of interviewing is that sometimes if feels like you are there to catch the person being interviewed in some sort of trap. It’s kinda like a game – throw her a curve ball and see how she reacts. But is this the best approach? What if your curve ball trips up the person that you should have hired but didn’t because she just didn’t hit your curve ball? Here are a few ideas that I have been mulling over since Friday.

  • Help her relax: Interviewing is tough. It can feel like the candidate’s entire future is dependent upon the next few minutes. She is automatically nervous. Help the interviewee relax by providing a calm environment with few distractions and then go out of your way to be personable. We were on a tight schedule and the mock interviews were only a small portion of what we were working on with the students; however, it was apparent that some of the students (especially those that were taking the process seriously) were quite nervous. That’s to be expected. Do what you can to help her feel at ease. This might prevent you from skipping over someone that could have made a difference in your business.
  • Start by giving her a few easy pitches: As I mentioned, we were on a tight schedule (10 minutes for interview questions, 10 minutes to review the student’s portfolio, 10 minutes to offer tips and suggestions). With more time, I would want to start off the interview by helping the candidate warm up. Do this by giving her a few easy questions. Talk about her. What do enjoy doing outside of work? Tell me about your family. What was the last vacation you went on? These types of questions are valuable. They help the candidate relax; they give you an opportunity to get to know her on a more personal level; and they signal that you are not there to chop off her head during the process.
  • Come prepared: For me, the biggest challenge of the day was interviewing the candidates and not having a clear understanding of what type of job the candidate would be applying for. Luckily, Kim had emailed us their resumes ahead of time and it was easy to form a grasp of what the student might be looking for. In reality, you as the interviewer know your company and you have a great idea of the types of qualities you are looking for. Sit down and create a list of questions ahead of time, but don’t make it your goal to ask every single one. Instead, allow the interview to flow and take time to dwell on questions when the occasion arises.
  • Don’t get stuck on looking for the “right skill set”: Skills can be learned; finding the right personality is way more important. This is probably the most important thing that hit me during the interviews. As the students highlighted their skill sets or what projects they worked on in school, I kept finding myself wanting to know more about the person, not their skill set. I work in a fast-paced, team-oriented workplace. I want to hire people that I can get along with and enjoy being around. Sure, skills are important and you should being looking for candidates that have the right talents, but at the end of the day, most of your candidates will have similar skills. Find the person who you can sit next to all day long at work is an entirely different matter.

For The Interviewee

Sitting on the other side of the table as the interviewer taught me as much about the interview process as I am sure it did for those we interviewed. Throughout the two hour session, I kept taking mental notes about what I would have done differently or how I would have improved on this or that. Here are a few of the more important tips:

  • Smile: This might sound silly, but if you are headed in for an interview, act like you want to be there and are excited to have the opportunity to be interviewing. It is easy to get nervous and end up taking on a more serious tone, but you have to remember that you are there to form a relationship with the person that is interviewing you. A great smile can take you far. Not only does it look better, smiling can also help you release all kinds of good chemicals in your body. You’ll feel better. The interviewer will like you more. You will be more relaxed. Smile.
  • Be passionate: I work with an amazing bunch of people and they have have taught me so many things. One component of our job is to present to retail teams on almost a weekly basis. When we aren’t out presenting, we spend a good deal of time practicing. One major thing that we have learned is that you perform how you practice. When you sit down to practice for an interview, whether it is a mock interview or a real one, you must make a commitment to practicing with the level of excitement that you want to bring to the interview. Many of the students that we worked with didn’t seem to have much fire in them. I know their hearts were in the right place, but as an interviewer, I want to see the passion that you have. If you need a lesson on passion, be sure to read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Crush it! (amazon affiliate link). One other thing to consider is that even during a mock interview, the person sitting across from you might be looking for great talent. Go into the experience as if it were the real thing.
  • Tell me who you are: It was funny to watch the students answer questions and share their portfolios. So many of them focused on their work and the decisions they made while putting their portfolios together. As an interviewer, my objective was to get to know them and, many times, I didn’t feel like I got to know who they were and what they cared about. Have your 30 second elevator pitch ready to go and start with it. Then infuse yourself into the interview. Talk about yourself; how you take on challenges; what care about; what keeps you motivated; what you want to accomplish in life.
  • Tell great stories: We think in narrative. Use this to your advantage and come prepared with a few canned (but remarkable) stories. As you answer questions, draw upon these stories where you can. If you are sharing a portfolio, don’t just talk about the examples, tell me the story about who the project came to be and how you overcame the challenges that were involved in putting it together.
  • Watch the verbal ticks: Do everything you can to kill any verbal ticks you might have. These include “um,” “like,” “you know,” and my personal favorite “so.” Here’s a secret way to totally get rid of them – practice. As I mentioned above, you perform how you practice. If you spend the time necessary to prepare for an interview, you can eliminate these types of annoyances.
  • Have fun: I want to hire someone that I enjoy being around. Remember this and go into the interview with the intention of starting a great relationship with the person sitting in front of you.
  • Never apologize for who you are: In several of the interviews I participated in, I heard the candidates apologize for various things. Don’t do this. Be proud of who you are (remain humble). Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

I had a blast working with the students and I hope I can help out in the future. (Thanks for the invite Kim) If you ever get the opportunity to do something like this, don’t pass up the opportunity! Not only can you learn to be a better interviewer, you’ll probably learn way more about what you can do to be a better interviewee.

Let me close by turning the tables on you. What is some of your best advice for interviewers and interviewees? What do you want to see in potential team members? How do you prepare for an interview?

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