How do I best prepare for an interview?

Now that some of you folks are getting your interview invites, one of the common things I get asked is how to best prepare for an interview.

It’s quite simple, if a bit unconventional.

Practice talking about your candidacy OUT LOUD. Either talking about it to someone (friend, family member, spouse, dog, cat, hamster, etc.) or to yourself (yes, it will sound strange and weird at first).
Interviews aren’t intellectual exercises. They aren’t carefully rehearsed speeches. A great interview is one where BOTH the interviewer and interviewee are fully engaged in conversation (but obviously with the interviewee doing most of the talking). Conversation = talking.

You don’t get “good” at interviews by reading books, writing notes, or doing anything where it’s all in your head. You have to get used to hearing these very themes coming out of your own voice – your career goals, why “b-school X” is the right place for you, what you’ve accomplished, your strengths and weaknesses, and so forth.

If you’re not used to actually talking about this out loud – it’s going to come across as awkward no matter how much you’ve “read” your notes or “written down” stuff or memorized complete threads of “monologues” in silence. The interview room is NOT the best place to be vocalizing this stuff for the first time.

It’s got to be in your body, not just in your head — so that it comes across as natural and engaging. If it’s all in your head and not fully in your body (i.e. so that your body language responds to what you’re actually saying), you WILL come across as disconnected, disengaged, distant, and dull.

Talking is a physical activity. Nervousness is a physical condition. The more comfortable you are talking OUT LOUD about these things we normally don’t talk about everyday in our lives (why MBA, goals, accomplishments, failures, etc.) the less nervous you will get no matter how big the stakes are because YOU are the expert on yourself, and you are used to talking about it.

It’s not about coming up with carefully scripted answers to specific questions – because an astute interviewer will pick up on the fact that it’s carefully scripted. Insincerity or lack of authenticity is what KILLS you in an interview more than a stumble of a word here or there. No one, including the adcom or interviewer, likes to feel that they’re being played or that you are putting on an artificial front – no matter how substantive you think you are, if you come across as insincere or “scripted”, it is death.
So how do you “prepare” for something where you’re supposed to come across as spontaneous and authentic as if you were answering their question for the first time? You do so by practice, practice, practice — until you’re so used to talking about it out loud that you can improvise around it.

Anyone who has done sales will know what I mean. An interview is basically a sales pitch – with the product being YOU. A great sales pitch isn’t one that sounds carefully scripted, but one where the sales person knows the underlying sales points and product so well that he/she can respond in the moment without thinking and improvise — the more one physically talks it out, the smoother and more comfortable one becomes with the material.

Interviewing is a physical activity – treat your preparation as such (and this goes with MBA recruiting as well — i.e. you get better at case interviews by physically talking it out – being good at case interviews isn’t purely about your “thinking process” but about being good at “verbalizing” your thinking process).