What is a mock interview? Find out how to utilize this practice to ace the job interview.

Quick, name three things you need to do to ace an interview. If you answered prepare, prepare, and prepare, then you're on the right track.

Left to your own devices, you'll probably do adequate research, read the recruiter's LinkedIn profile, and prepare your interview wardrobe, right down to your matching portfolio. You'll even believe you're ready when you've consumed articles like this one! However, there's something else that you might want to put on your interview to-do list that you are probably not already doing, but would give you such a leg up that you'll wonder why you hadn't thought of it before. That something is a mock interview.

Mock interview — you mean, as in fake?

Not exactly. While it's not a real interview in terms of an actual employer sitting across from you, it is real in terms of a person sitting across from you. It's a key exercise to help prepare for an interview. Many career counselors, life coaches, and college career centers offer participants the chance to take part in this valuable role-playing exercise.

If you have not yet experienced a mock interview, you probably don't realize the power of practicing in a lower-stress environment. In its most basic sense, a mock interview gives you the chance to act as if you are an interviewee, with your counselor acting as your interviewer. Going through the motions without the added anxiety of knowing that a real job is on the line enables you to discover your strengths and weaknesses — not in the sense of whether or not you can do the job — but in the sense of whether you are effectively marketing yourself when face-to-face with a recruiter.

Beyond just the interview practice, most career counselors will be happy to give you constructive feedback on your interview performance, instilling a confidence in you which lasts long after your role-play session is over. With a bit of videocam knowledge, you might even consider recording yourself. Not only can you discover your current level of interview smarts, but the exercise also sets the stage for uncovering areas for future improvement.

It's this last point — knowing where to improve — that the mock interview is most useful. Career counselors can point you in the right direction with suggestions like offering a firmer handshake, allowing yourself to smile and relax a bit, or answering with more enthusiasm. Still, it's up to YOU to assess your own performance in a host of other essential areas. This is true whether you are mock interviewing or taking a shot at a real position.

Great! How do I assess my interview skills?

To ensure that you have adequately prepared yourself before (and assessed your behavior after) an interview, feel free to use the following checklist to ask yourself:

  • Did I research the industry? Did I research the company to see if they're the right fit?

  • Do I know (at least some of) the history of the organization?

  • Have I read the organization's mission statement?

  • Since the department with which I am interviewing may have its own mission distinct from that of the employer, have I committed that statement to memory?

  • Have I read the LinkedIn profile of the person who is interviewing me?

  • Am I following the organization on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media?

  • Do I have a 30-second elevator speech prepared? Have I practiced it?

  • Have I used social media to help me determine whether I know someone who knows my interviewer? Have I reached out to my LinkedIn network to ask for an introduction?

  • Did I wear appropriate interview attire for this type of position?

  • Did I bring my portfolio with extra printed copies of my resume?

  • Was I prepared in case they asked for documentation or other credentials related to the job?

  • Did I arrive on time (which means 10 minutes prior to your appointment)?

  • Did I display confident body language to the interviewer?

  • Was I able to maintain appropriate eye contact (focused, but not staring)?

  • Did I present a positive self-image and a confident delivery of my prior work roles?

  • Did I refrain from mentioning anything negative about a previous job or supervisor?

  • Have I adequately articulated my relevant skills and how they fit with this position?

  • Did I speak succinctly and not ramble on?

  • Did I mention my accomplishments? Was I able to briefly elaborate on them?

  • Did I maintain good eye contact, and did I smile appropriately?

  • Was I relaxed and not fidgety?

  • Did I make it clear that I am interested in the position (if I was interested)?

  • Did I ask the hiring manager relevant questions?

  • Did I request the business card of the interviewer?

  • Did I provide references if asked?

  • Did I send an interview follow-up thank you letter within 24 hours, thanking the hiring manager for their time and reiterating my interest?

Related: How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” During an Interview

It's tough to be objective about myself. Will a mock interview help me do that?

Absolutely. While feedback from your career coach or from watching your performance on video are both useful, the most important thing you can do is to drop your defenses during interview practice. Not all that you hear will be positive, but because this is an opportunity for you to learn and improve, your own candid reflection will serve as a starting point for new, improved interview skills down the road.

Self-assessment, a crucial mock interview component, garners far less attention than research because once your interview is over, it may seem as if any “prep work” is behind you as well. From that point of view, you may assume that all you need to do at this point is to relax and congratulate yourself for all your preparation. You've done everything you can do by setting up a mock interview, right?

Hardly. Immediately following any interview is the ideal time to take steps to improve your future interviews. It's also important to write a follow-up note to thank the interviewer (mock or real) for their time and for the opportunity — and send it out within 24 hours. Additionally, reviewing and then checking off each point on this list will start you on the right path toward more effective future interviews. Your truthful answers to these questions will hold you accountable and thus can serve as calls to action.

I really want to improve. Anything else I should know?

Once you have gone through these questions and looked at your interview performance with an eye toward improvement, take specific action like practicing your 30-second elevator pitch in front of a mirror, videocam, or trusted friend.

Following companies on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter that you've had your eye on may also increase the chances that you'll be noticed when recruiters are scouting for candidates. Setting up an additional mock interview with another counselor to obtain more practice and to get an alternate point of view can also provide you with valuable takeaways. Review any feedback you've already received about your prior interview practice, performance, and prep work, and read lots of articles, journals, and books on the industry where you envision yourself working. You may not become a subject matter expert right away, but you'll certainly show yourself to be an energized candidate who is immersed in your field, which will help you connect when you finally do get to that real interview.

How do you ensure that an interview seems comparatively easy down the road? That's simple: Ask the hard questions of yourself now.

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Need help preparing for your interview? Learn more about our interview coaching services at our sister site, TopInterview!

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