Everybody knows that you can’t get better at something unless you practice doing that thing. Skill and luck play a role in most outcomes in life — but that doesn’t mean you should just sit back, trust your native abilities, and cross your fingers the next time that you have a challenging task ahead of you. If you want to get better results, then you need to improve your preparation.
A lot of us probably remember learning to play a musical instrument as kids. Almost nobody simply picks up a guitar, or sits down at the piano, and starts making beautiful music (or even just tolerable noise) right away. You have to practice. And anyone who has learned to play a musical instrument probably remembers the creeping dread of going to a music lesson when you haven’t done any practicing.
Going to an IT job interview can be remarkably similar: You’re nervous, possibly fidgety, and maybe even a little afraid. Sometimes you might even feel like skipping the interview altogether. A lot of job candidates, however, never even think to question whether the anxiety might be because they didn’t do enough practicing beforehand. That’s right, you can practice interviewing for a job.
Even if you don’t do anything more than sit down with a friend and have them ask you about your qualifications, you’ll be better off. Whether or not you get hired, you’re almost certain to feel more relaxed, speak more comfortably — and confidently — and just generally make a much stronger overall impression if you have a number of practice attempts under your belt before that first handshake.
Let’s walk through a series of six tips that will help you practice before your next IT job interview.
1) Know the Questions, Part 1: 1980s wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper famously said, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions!” And job interviewers do sometimes ask questions that you won’t be expecting. Part of your job interviewing practice, however, should definitely include time spent researching both specific questions and types of questions that you might be asked in an interview.
The internet is overflowing with articles about common job interview questions, and those articles get updated constantly. You can make a list in no time at all of the most common questions and then think through potential answers. It’s also not out of line to ask, when setting up your interview, whether there are certain questions you should be prepared to answer.
2) Know the Questions, Part 2: Especially with IT positions, you should plan to answer at least a couple of questions that test your IT knowledge and skills. Questions that determine personality and fit are more common, but tech jobs also require tech fluency. For example, an employer hiring for an IT helpdesk position might describe a simple hardware problem and ask how you would solve it.
Here again, the internet can provide you with dozens of sample questions related to the specific job that you are applying for. And here again, your potential employer can be a great resource: Many employers will provide you with specific scenarios to think through before your interview. If no one directly suggests this, however, then don’t hesitate to ask.
3) Use the Buddy System: Once you have a list of potential questions and have thought about your answers, have a friend or relative sit down with you and conduct a mock interview. Your partner doesn’t need to be an experienced interviewer (though that can certainly help). Their job is mostly to read off the questions you’ve prepared, listen while you give your answers, and then talk through how you did.
Be sure to provide possible follow-up questions — and ask your partner to throw in some of those as well. When the interview is over, ask your partner for specific feedback. Did you ramble? Were you ever vague or unclear? What could you have done to seem more confident and forthcoming? Also: Be prepared to repeat this step several times, and use different “interviewers” when possible.
4) Vetting the Setting: Many job interviews are still conducted in-person, but remote interviews conducted via conferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams are much more common than they were even just a couple of years ago. Find out how your upcoming job interview will be conducted and use that same setting for your mock interviews.
Dress the part, just like you would for a real interview. If you are preparing for an in-person interview, then offer to shake hands with your “interviewer” and generally behave as if you’ve just walked into a real in-person setting. Similarly, if you are preparing for a video streaming interview, be sure that you arrive on time, are familiar with the meeting controls (microphone “on”), and so forth.
5) No Winging It: Most people would never take on a public speaking assignment intending to just stand up and say whatever comes to mind. Yet a job interview, if you boil it down, is really just that: a public speaking assignment involving a small and highly specific audience. In addition to thinking about what to say, make notes, prepare specific wording, and rehearse your answers.
You don’t want to sound robotic, of course, or recite prepared text verbatim. Your mock interviews can help you smooth out any wrinkles in your delivery. You don’t necessarily need to practice sounding natural and engaging — you just need repetition. Sounding more poised and polished will become second nature as you work your way through multiple mock interviews.
6) Practice Your Posture: In The Little Mermaid, Ursula the Sea Witch memorably reminds Ariel, “Don’t underestimate the importance of body language!” This excellent advice applies equally well to voiceless wooery of human princes AND job interviews. You’ve heard it all before: Sit up straight. Maintain eye contact. Give a firm handshake.
This is second nature for some people, and not so much for others. And that’s why it’s another excellent element to work on in your mock interviews. Don’t slouch or look around room while speaking to your “interviewer.” Never yawn. Be sure that your physical demeanor says as much about how engaged and interested you are as your answers do.