Practicing Interviewing

My friend Bridget wrote this on Twitter, and I felt like responding with more nuance than 140 characters allows. I think interviewing frequently is good for employees so I’d like to defend the pratice somewhat.

First, though, I’d like to address the disappointment a team feels when a candidate rejects an offer. When a candidate rejects an offer, it stings.

People reject offers for a lot of reasons, and probably not because they’re brushing up their interview skills. I’ve NOPE’d my way out of job offers after interviewing because it didn’t feel right. Title, project, money, technology, commute and many other criteria can play a deciding role. If a high percentage of candidates are rejecting offers, management should try to find out why that is and fix it.

Interviewing is a two-way street: both parties need to agree that they should work together. However, the power is entirely in the company’s hands. A candidate is putting on a performance, and the company must say yes or no before the candidate can accept or reject the offer. Usually, the disappointment of a rejected offer is coming from the other side.

Given that most of the time, candidates are getting rejected, how can you improve your chances at getting a job at a company you really want to work for?

Interviewing is a skill. Some people are better at it than others, and you can improve with practice. I’ve bombed interviews due to lack of preparation. It’s a huge disappointment, and the fear of that disappointment has kept me from applying to jobs at companies where I didn’t think I’d be able to pass the interview. Unfortunately this means that not only are companies missing out on good candidates due to fear, but the best candidates they see are usually people who switch jobs frequently and know the ins and outs of interviewing.

If a good opportunity arises, you need to be ready to interview well to seize it. Therefore, it makes sense to practice interviewing so you can get better at it. Where are you going to get practice? There are books but there is no subsitute for the real thing.

I agree with Bridget that taking interviews with zero intention of switching jobs simply for practice is dishonest (and a waste of the company’s time). However, if a recruiter contacts you and the company sounds interesting, I think it’s fair to have a conversation with them.

The other case where “practice” interviews are essential is when you’ve decided to switch jobs (or are looking for your first job). You’re committed to joining a new company. The question is, which one?

It doesn’t make sense to interview first with your dream company. If you bomb that interview, you won’t get to work there. Like applying to a “safe school”, it’s better to interview at a few places that interest you, but aren’t your top choice. You’ll get more practice interviewing, which will prepare you for your top choice companies, and perhaps one of your secondary options will impress you. Hopefully after a week or two of interviewing, you’re poised and confident and will receive multiple job offers which you can use as negotiating leverage.