person writing in a notebook
Shutterstock

You got the interview! What now? If this isn’t your first interview, you probably already know it’s in your best interest to do what you can to prepare.

Let me guess. You diligently dig in and start researching the company. Great! Next, you find some sample interview questions off of Glassdoor to add to your existing list of standard interview questions. Excellent! Then, you’re ready to figure out what you want to say during the interview. So far, so good.

But it’s here that people (with the best of intentions) make the worst interview prep mistake.

You throw your list of questions into a Word document and start typing away. Page after page, you meticulously write out the perfect answers for each question. Maybe you even go back and wordsmith them a little until they feel just right. At the end, you zoom out until you can see all your pages on the screen and feel accomplished looking at the amount you’ve written. Does this sound like you?

It’s okay if it does. You’re not the only one who’s guilty of writing out interview answers. In fact, this person that I’ve described is actually based off of me preparing for my first interview for an internship (and, no, I didn’t get it).

In hindsight, it’s understandable. I was kind of shy and didn’t really like the idea of practicing my interviewing skills with someone. Plus, it was easier to convince myself that I was making progress preparing for this interview when I could see it in front of me in the form of text and tweak it until it was perfect.

But all those beautiful words I wrote out did nothing for me when it came time to interview. For the answers I could remember, I sounded like a robot. And for the answers I couldn’t remember—I, well, couldn’t remember them and said something else.

So, what should you do instead? You do need to practice answering those questions, but not on paper—aloud. It doesn’t even need to be with a partner at first. It can be just you and a mirror, or you and a recorder, or even you and your teddy bear.

When you’re ready to kick it up a notch, find someone to interview you. If that makes you nervous—good! You should be practicing staying calm, too. The person you’re practicing with doesn’t need to be a seasoned interviewing expert. He or she just need to be able to tell you when you’re leaving out information that’s only obvious to you, or not really answering the questions, or rambling on and on.

The fact is, some recruiters might be more experienced with interviewing, but many hiring managers are not. The ultimate decision makers spend their time doing their job—which is not interviewing. So your practice partner’s gut reaction probably isn’t too far from what an actual hiring manger might feel.

If you have an interview lined up, I’m not saying you can’t write out some answers if it makes you feel less jittery. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re well prepared because you’ve written out exactly what you’re going to say. Sure, go ahead and jot down some bullet points to guide your answers, but then start practicing out loud.

It might feel awkward at first, but it won’t be nearly as awkward as walking into that interview completely unprepared (and thinking that you are).