One of my clients told me recently that the mock interview I conducted with her was the best experience she’d had preparing for an interview to date. This was after a session during which I reviewed her performance with constructive criticism and, at times, brutal honesty.
I understand my client’s sentiment, because I also think mock interviews are extremely effective — if done correctly. This is a conclusion I’ve drawn based on the hundreds of mock interviews I’ve conducted during my tenure at the urban career center for which I work.
You don’t have to be a career advisor like myself in order to conduct a mock interview. A trusted friend or relative can perform much the same function — but in order for the interview to have the best results, you must follow these four best practices:
1. Keep It Short
Where the real interview might be a marathon, the mock interview is a sprint. It should be intense and just long enough for the interviewee to get a sense of their performance, but it shouldn’t be exhausting. Keep it to 45 minutes.
2. Record the Interview and Play It Back Afterward
The old saying “the camera never lies” is true. Recording the interview and watching it back gives the candidate a chance to see their performance accurately and in action.
The video can facilitate a number of important insights into tone, inflection, body language, and other nuances. It allows the candidate to analyze closely their answers to questions and make adjustments as needed.
Seeing their body language can be even more important to the candidate than hearing their answers, particularly if their body language is extremely poor. One of my clients didn’t move his hands the whole time and rarely made eye contact. Upon watching the video, he recognized these errors and made the effort to correct his body language going forward.
Candidates should be encouraged to revisit the recording any time they need to.
3. Take It Seriously
Especially if you’re a helpful friend and not a professional career advisor, the candidate may not take the interview seriously. Set the proper expectations ahead of time. Sit down with the candidate and let them know you will be acting as if this were a real interview — and they need to do the same.
Something as simple as dressing the part can make all the difference. If a candidate comes dressed to the nines, this is a good sign. On the other hand, if a candidate comes dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, they probably aren’t serious.
Encourage the candidate to do some research ahead of time. If you ask, “What can you tell me about this company, and why do you want to work here?”, the candidate should be able to answer the question as if this were the actual interview.
Finally, the candidate must be an active participant — including during the playback. Encourage the candidate to comment on their own performance as you review the video together. You don’t want to carry the whole post-interview reflection. It’s important the candidate does some self-critique, as this will help them better internalize the takeaways.
4. Commit to Your Role
Just like the candidate, you need to take the mock interview seriously. I know from experience that if I show up unprepared, the exercise won’t be productive. Plus, the candidate will be able to sense that I am slacking.
Before conducting a mock interview, ask the candidate to share with you their resume and the job description of the role for which they are currently applying or have applied to in the past. You’ll use these documents to prepare a list of questions for the interview.
The questions must be challenging without embarrassing the candidate or making them feel put on the spot. It’s important to come across as friendly in order to put the candidate at ease, but it’s also okay to apply a little pressure to inflict a little stress, especially if the candidate is the type to struggle with interview stress. The mock interview’s main purpose is to build confidence — which sometimes requires candidates to face their fears.
At times you might experience resistance from the candidate. Hold your ground. They don’t need to agree with everything you say.
One final note: You don’t necessarily have to stay on script. You might fall into a more conversational mode if the spirit drives you, at which point it is okay to diverge from your prepared list of questions and follow the flow.
Mock interviews can be the most valuable job search tool for a candidate. I encourage my clients to participate in them as much as possible. Many express discomfort at the idea of role-playing, let alone being filmed — but they’re almost always happy they did it.
When you have the opportunity to conduct a mock interview with a candidate, don’t hesitate. You’ll be doing them a great favor.
A version of this post originally appeared on Things Career Related.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.