Post Academic

(Unofficial) Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #5: The Mock Interview

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on December 17, 2010
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So I guess my first interview wasn’t really a real interview to begin with: It was a mock interview with my advisor and one of my other diss committee members, along with one person I didn’t know.  Normally, I passed on the dept-sanctioned fake interviews, in part because I didn’t really want the powers-that-be in my business–for instance, there’s always one *really* nosy professor who likes to take credit for your interviews/job even when s/he’d totally ignore you otherwise–and in part because I was too cool for school. But my faculty peeps set up their own ad hoc alterna faux interviews for us self-identifying outsiders, so there was no excuse not to do them.  Here are what ended up being the pros and cons from the experience…

PRO — Practice makes better: I had never been under the intense scrutiny of a job interview, with the closest thing being the qualifying exam orals.  The mock interview at least gave me a chance to give my dissertation spiel, even though I probably ended up giving it less than half the time in my real interviews.  But the experience was useful in helping me tweak my answers, mostly through a process of elimination, since I learned more about what I shouldn’t be talking about.

CON — Role playing is only playing: The thing is, though, I didn’t find the role playing plausible.  For starters, I’m a bad bluffer, and even more so in front of people who know me.  So try as I might, I found it hard to ham up my answers in front of my faculty members, whom I kept worrying had their BS detectors on.  I know they weren’t there to check on the progress of my dissertation, but that’s how I felt.  I’m just not a good enough actor or an imaginative enough person to pull it off.

More pros and cons of the mock interview and making a mockery of yourself, below the fold…

PRO — Feeling the pressure: Whether or not I fully bought into the whole deal, I was as nervous as I ever was for an interview.  Maybe it was playing along with my advisor and co., maybe it was just not being sure I’d be able to talk about everything I wanted to, maybe it was trying to memorize and rehearse my responses.  But how is any of that good?: At least, I got an idea of just how nervous I could be before, during, and after an interview, which at least helped me to figure out what was in store for me so that maybe I could come up with a way to deal with things, even if the scenarios would be quite different.

CON — Out-thinking yourself: Again, it was hard to imagine the people in front of me as generic interviewers, especially when two of ’em probably knew me better as an academic than anyone else — and perhaps even I knew my own strengths and weaknesses.   I tended to overthink my responses, since I knew they knew what I was actually doing.  And when your (supposed-to-be) prepped responses to “Tell us about your dissertation” or “Talk to us about your teaching” are already garbled, confusing, and too long to begin with, trying to tinker with them on the fly so as not to look like a phony in front of your advisor doesn’t help in terms of clear thinking or self-confidence.  In turn, seemingly truthful answers seemed to ring hollow and led to a lot more of me trying to dig myself out of ditches.  Or maybe I was actually digging the ditches deeper?

PRO — Constructive criticism: One good thing about the mock interview is, of course, it’s a dry run.  Like I mentioned above, you can learn a lot about how to handle yourself via process of elimination, such as what are the elements of my thought process that I needed to finetune?  In my case, overexplanation — as if you, regular reader of Post Academic didn’t know that about me already!  And I could also be informed of my weird verbal tics by the home team, which gave me something to work on for the interview.  Sure, my advisors probably soft-pedaled the criticism and amped up the constructive part, but that’s why they were my advisors!

CON — Becoming self-conscious: The problem with learning about my own particular idiosyncrasies was that they were mostly unconscious ones and that being aware of them didn’t really make them go away.  Actually, they only magnified them and made me a little too self-conscious.  I tend to overcorrect mid-course as it is, but, with my mock interviewers’ suggestions in my head now, that bad habit only got worse.  The problem with my particular form of self-consciousness is that it tends to highlight when I *think* I made a mistake or said something a little off, which probably shows in my face because I can see it reflected back to me in the expressions of my interviewers.  I swear, you never want to feel like your blushing in the middle of answering a question, or think that you are.  In the end, I rationalized that I was who I was, and that I really couldn’t change myself at that point any way.

In the end, I feel mixed about doing the mock interview, since I’m not sure I’m the type who can make the whole production work.  Then again, I guess it’s a rite of passage or hazing ritual for anyone venturing out on the job market.  After you make a fool of yourself in front of the people you know best and respect the most, it’s not as bad when it happens in front of total strangers, even if there’s more at stake than your scruples.

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  1. Ha, enjoyed this post. In my dept. the faculty were the ones who sucked at playacting — they’d basically just use the mock interview as an excuse to vent whatever frustrations they’d had about you for the five years. But I’ve known other departments that have used it more constructively. I think it comes down to working with people you trust, as do so many other things!

    • Arnold Pan said,

      That’s funny, because I also wonder about the faculty who want to cut into their winter vacays to do mock interviews. The “official” dept mock committees tended to be made up of the assigned job counselor who was probably put upon to do some kind of service and busybodies who are way too into this — well, I guess those are 2 demographics any jobseeker should be familiar with, so I probably should’ve done one. As for getting gotten back at, my issue was that a lot of people in my dept didn’t even know who I was; faculty I took classes with forgot me (one even when I was in class with him!), others never knew me to begin with, and others just treated me like I was invisible. The alterna-mock-interview I did was with people I trusted and liked, which was probably why it could never replicate a real MLA interview!

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