Mock interview, once being conducted in the right way, can be extremely helpful and potentially boost your chance of getting hired significantly.
Some people choose to have mock interviews with their friends. Although it’s not as ideal as professional services like Gainlo, you can still benefit a lot with specific mock interview tips in your mind.
It’s worth to note that conducting mock interview is not as simple as people thought. Without thorough preparation and maybe some training, it could be totally waste of time, which is exactly why in most companies interviewers must finish interview training before they can conduct a real interview.
In this post, I will give you 7 very practical mock interview tips that will help you take full advantages from the preparation.
Tip #1 – Be selective about your friend mock interviewer
If you are having mock interview from experienced engineers, I don’t have any concern at all since you’re gonna experience the exactly same process as a real interview.
However, if you are preparing with your friends, you should be very selective about your “interviewer”.
Good and experienced interviewers know exactly what kind of questions to ask based on your background, interview type (full-time, intern, system design etc.), have great control over time and they can give you hint at the best point.
On the contrary, bad interviewers tend to make the interview like an exam where you are just given a fixed problem to solve with limited communication. This is exactly why experienced interview usually make each interview quite different even if he’s using the same questions.
So here are few criteria for choosing mock interviewers:
- The best interviewer is someone who works for your target company (or an equivalent one) and have lots of interview experience there.
- An experienced interviewer who is working for a non-equivalent company is also great.
- Someone who’s well known as a good software engineer.
- Someone who has passed many interviews or interviews from your target company (interview experts).
Tip #2 – Take it serious
A common pitfall is that people don’t take mock interview serious when preparing with friends.
They may chat or joke during the interview and have no fear of failure.
But you won’t benefit a lot from mock interviews unless you take it serious.
The reason is very simple. You need to experience the same kind of intense atmosphere where someone is looking over your shoulder while you are solving a problem.
Many people will feel quite nervous in this circumstance and may fail even the simplest question. That’s exactly the point of a mock interview. You should experience what you will experience in a real interview. That’s as simple as it is.
So if you are able to find someone you are not that close with, probably it’s better as you will be more likely to be nervous. If you prepare with your close friends, do make sure that both of you will take it very serious and it’s important to make sure this point before the mock interview.
Tips #3 – Be formal and professional
Having the mock interview at a cozy place with music on can hardly work.
Again, the point is to imitate exactly the same experience as a real interview.
If you are preparing a phone interview, then have your mock interview via phone call and share code online. If you are preparing for an onsite interview, it’s recommended to find somewhere with whiteboard like a meeting room.
Prepare well for it and dress what you will dress during the real interview. The more serious and formal the mock interview is, the more benefit you’re gonna make from it.
Tip #4 – Be selective about mock interview questions
In many cases, you and your friend will mock interview each other in turn. So we’ll also cover some mock interview tips about how to prepare as an interviewer.
There’s no doubt that questions are one of the most important part of an interview.
Remember that the goal of the interview is not letting the interviewee pass or fail. The point is providing the same kind of experience.
A common interview pattern is to have two questions in total. The first one is like a warmup and you should expect the candidate to code the solution fast. The second one will be harder.
Also please have one or two backup questions in case the candidate have practiced with your question before or solved all your questions too fast. But be aware of the difference between have seen the question and have practiced with the question. During my interviews, many people claimed they had seen my question before, but they still couldn’t solve it.
Tip #5 – Have strict time limits
Most interviews are within 45min to 1 hour. However, many people make mock interviews as long as 2 hours.
It’s okay at the end of the mock interview people have a lot of discussion about the experience. However the real interview time (the time you guys spend on problem solving) should be strictly controlled.
Normally one or two questions should be asked in a single interview session. If you failed to come up with the solution or finish your code, you just failed.
In fact, there’s no point to conduct a mock interview if the interviewee will never fail.
This mock interview tip here might be a bit challenging for some inexperienced interviewers as it requires the interviewer to control the pace of the discussion. He should be able to provide hint at the right time and may decide to skip this question when the interviewee could no longer move on.
If you prepare 2 questions for a single session, some common strategies are:
- Start with the simple one first. If the candidate get stuck for a couple of minutes, try to give some hints.
- If the candidate is getting close but almost 20min has passed, you can decide to focus on this single question for the whole session or for the second question, only ask the candidate to discuss without writing code.
- If after a little while there’s no sign that the candidate can solve the problem or he just gives up, you can move on to the second question.
- If the candidate is too fast to solve the question, you can either ask more followup questions or use your backup questions.
Tip #6 – Pay attention to communication
Communication is what makes interviews different from exams.
It’s always recommended to discussion your approach with the interviewer before writing down any code. We’ve covered this topic in detail here.
Also during the interview, it’s important to keep talking about what’s in your mind even if there’s no concrete ideas yet. The point is to give the interviewer a clear picture about what’s your current status so that it’s much easier for him to know whether you are stuck but getting close or you are totally not on the right track.
As an interviewer, you should encourage candidate to talk whatever in his mind. Also it’s recommended to keep asking different followup questions. For example, when the candidate has a preference of solution A over B, ask the reason and you can actually dig very deep by keep asking whys.
Another example is to ask the candidate to optimize the current solution. Even if there’s no more ways to do it in your mind, you can still ask if the candidate has anything new.
The point here is first to encourage and practice communication during the mock interview session, second to push the candidate a little bit out of his comfort zone so that he got full challenges to improve.
Tip #7 – Feedback
Mock interview without feedback is just a waste of time.
It’s extremely important to have a summary and some feedbacks at the end of the mock interview. Normally you can first summarize the technical part.
Try to remember the whole process of the interview, how each problem is solved and is supposed to be solved. Try to discussion any drawbacks in the solution, codes and the way you analyzed. How could you solve the question faster next time? How to write cleaner and more concise code? How to come up with the optimal approach? Are there anything you were clearly confused (like hashset vs hashtable)?
It’s also recommended to have some other general comments. Did the candidate have a great communication during the mock interview? Was he talking while thinking? How was his analysis skills?
It’ll be better if at least one of you and your friend can write down the summary and feedback as future reference.
The core of the mock interview is to imitate exactly the same atmosphere as the real interview and take it serious.
Imagine that if you have practiced with the same experience over and over again, it’s for sure that the real interview will be a piece of cake for you. You can actually become a “very experienced interviewee” thru this practice.
Any other mock interview tips?