Apologies for the somewhat sensationalized headline, but it actually wasn’t written completely in jest. I think there’s an important point to be made about improving one’s interviewing skills that isn’t talked about a lot — and that many job hunters tend to overlook. The point in question? It’s that if you really want to get better at interviewing, and decide to get some coaching in this regard, odds are you’re going to get a bit worse at the process before you actually get any better.
Seems crazy, I know, but experience tells me that when you’re seeking to significantly improve your performance in almost any area of life, you’ll often see your effectiveness decline, at first, before it starts moving in the right direction. For example, if any of you out there occasionally indulge in the game of golf, think of those times when you’ve taken lessons and/or decided to change some particular aspect of your golf swing. Intellectually, you know that the change in question is going to eventually make you better. But in the short-term, as you adapt to the new grip or technique, things are going to feel extremely awkward and, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to send your fair share of balls to a watery (or woody) death.
Same thing with interviewing improvement. Typically when I work with people on this step of the job hunting process, they’re surprised by how many things I point out that they could potentially improve. I might advise them to make better eye contact and display more positive body language. I might tell them to shorten their answers and avoid unconscious little “ums” and “ahs” in their speech. I might suggest they work harder on making small talk, building rapport, and infusing their answers with authenticity. Or I might rip some of their overly-cliched responses completely apart, helping them brainstorm more powerful and original answers to many of the common interview questions about strengths, weaknesses, and the like.
Regardless of the feedback, however, chances are that the client isn’t going to assimilate it immediately or walk out of the coaching session able to hit a home run in their very next hiring conversation. It’s going to take time to digest the input provided, tailor it around one’s own speaking style and personality, and (most importantly) practice it until it flows smoothly. At minimum, this step might take an hour or two. More realistically, however, I’d suggest people plan on carving at least 5-10 hours out to practice their new responses, work all the kinks out, and polish them up via some “final” role-playing with a partner, coach, or video recorder.
Sound like work? Good. Because that’s exactly what it is. Like most things in life, it will take discipline and focused effort to advance your interviewing capabilities to the next level. But given that most job hunters are only “average” interviewers, by definition, the payoff for engaging in this type of practice can be enormous — since it might be the key to sealing the deal and landing your next killer job opportunity.
One recent client of mine, in fact, just went through four rounds of interview practice with me — and by the end of it all, it was amazing to see the confidence he’d acquired and the vast improvement in the way in which he was presenting himself. And yet, his worst performance of all wasn’t during his first session with me. It was in actually in his second session, when he was struggling to break old habits and embrace all the new tips I’d given him. He stuck with the program, however, and after a healthy amount of practice at home and a few additional feedback sessions, he’d transformed himself into a lean, mean interviewing machine. If you could see the “before” and “after” versions of how he was telling his story and showcasing his qualifications, you’d be blown away, I promise you.
So again, while there might be a few band-aids a coach can slap on a candidate’s interviewing approach to improve things in the short term, the real dividends are going to come from making a serious commitment to boosting your competency, fighting through the doubts, frustrations, and fears that inevitably arise, and engaging in the practice necessary to fully internalize the advice given. So whether you work with a professional in this regard or just iron out your answers through a healthy amount of practice, on your own, the results will be worth it!