Interviews, presentations, networking: How can we get better at things that most people dread?

As a career coach and ex-corporate recruiter, I’m often asked “What’s your no. 1 piece of interview advice?” or “What’s the best tip for to networking?”

I have often struggled to sum up everything I’ve slowly learnt over the years about these activities in one handy hint. If I was forced to give just a single piece of advice, I think it would simply be to practise. This may not seem particularly revolutionary or fancy advice, but the vital importance of simply investing time, energy, and effort into things we want to get better at (but often dread) can often be overlooked.

It’s tempting to want to get better at something by thinking about it. By researching, reading, and talking about it until the cows come home. I used to be terrified of giving feedback. Whether it was interview feedback for a candidate I wasn’t hiring, or performance feedback to someone I manged – I used to dread it. I had a tendency to become tongue tied, inarticulate, and could end up softening the feedback so much that I was unclear and inconsistent in my messaging.

Since then, I have given a LOT of feedback. I’ve had to; because various aspects of my career have required it. And over time it’s something I’m a lot more comfortable with. The only way I have done this, is through practise.

I have spent hours practising and refining my technique of delivering people’s strengths and weaknesses back to them. I have learnt through practising both alone and with a mentor, and I’ve also learnt through reflecting on real life experiences when I have had to deliver feedback to others.

Nowadays, I do a lot of mock interviews and provide detailed and specific feedback for each individual interview answer. I’m still always improving my feedback technique, but I have become a lot more comfortable with how to get across difficult messages in a constructive and useful way.

Here are my top tips to practise interviewing, presenting and networking more effectively:

Interviewing

  • Don’t practise specific answers to very specific questions. Instead, annotate your CV with 20 stories (potential interview answers) that could be applicable to a range of different interview questions.
  • Don’t practise by scripting out full length written answers – you will sound rehearsed and inauthentic if you repeat them verbatim. Write down key words or bullet points, and practice your structure by practising out loud to a wide variety of different questions.

Presenting & Interviewing

  • Practise aloud in front of a mirror. Observe your body language and work out how you can improve it.
  • Record yourself on a mobile phone and watch it back. This will be highly awkward (I still hate doing this) but if you can honestly reflect on what works well and what you want to improve on, this REALLY works.
  • Practise in front of a friend or relative (via Skype works too). Ask for honest and specific feedback on what works and what can be improved. Offer to return the favour to your friend – you’ll also get to practise giving feedback.

Networking

  • Nudge your comfort zone! Go to events that are outside your university or workplace, in areas that genuinely interest you. Check Eventbrite, LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with communities of interest.
  • Networking improves with time and practise. You will learn something from each and every networking interaction you have, even if you think it goes badly.
  • Set yourself the target of going to a certain amount of networking events per month, and write down what you plan to go to. Consistency creates momentum for long-lasting change.
  • If you choose not to go to events, create connections and professional relationships by proactively reaching out to people on LinkedIn, or reconnecting with previous contacts.

 

And finally…

Remember that interviewing, presenting, and networking are all skills that get better with time and practise.

Almost everyone finds them challenging at some stage, and finding them difficult is a sign that you care.

The more you practise, the less scary and intimidating they will feel. You can learn something from each and every time you present, interview, and network, even if (especially if) you think it went really, really, badly.

Want more career tips?

CVs – what not to do

Interviews – 5 common fails

What should I ask at the end of an interview?

Networking or Netflix: which would you choose?

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