5 Quick, Yet Powerful Ways to Improve Your Interview
Whether you’ve applied for a job and are meeting your potential employer for the first time, or you’re headed into a room to be grilled by a set of judges, interviews are a reality you’ll have to navigate as you take on the world. Interview skills tend to be one of the least-practiced skills (because they're uncomfortable!), yet have the highest return for candidates.
I’ve often heard others remark, or thought to myself after learning the results of a contest, “There's no way. I watched horsemanship and speech. How can those be the results?”, not realizing that what I didn't see is more important than what I did. What happens behind closed doors often carries more weight in terms of points and overall impression of capability than what's shown to the public. Interviews can be make-it or break-it opportunities for contestants. Because interviews are a place to showcase your knowledge and let the interviewer (judge or boss) get to know you, it’s a wonder why girls tend to ignore prep work here.
Even if interviews aren't where you shine, it's not an excuse not to prepare. It's an area which every girl, no matter her level of competition, should gain some level of comfort and mastery in. Use these five interview tricks, tips, and pieces of advice to help you get the most bang for your buck as you prepare.
Do Your Research
The object of the competition is not just to see which girl shines on a given day, but which girl fits the rodeo/organization best and which rodeo/organization fits the girl. That’s right, it’s a two-way street. Just as the judges’ job is to determine who will be the best representative, it’s your job to ensure that the responsibility is a good fit for you. Not every organization’s culture is the same. Non-profit-run pageants operate differently and have different expectations of their representative than a professional rodeo. A girl who represent as a single titleholder versus part of a royalty court will bear more responsibility. These are all things to consider before you sign up to compete. And, this applies to the job-application process, too. If the culture or mission of the company doesn’t align with your personal mission and values, move on. There’s always a better fit down the road.
Know about the rodeo, the organization, and key players. This should be a no-brainer. If you’ve done the initial research to determine if the role is a good fit for you, you'll be well on your way to a base understanding of the organization or rodeo. Is the rodeo a professionally sanctioned event or an amateur rodeo? And, what are the (potentially) unique events that you need to know about because of that, such as rules about breakaway roping, steer roping, or wild cow milking versus the standard seven professional events? How long has that particular event been around, and how did it start? Who are the key contributors to the success of the event, such as the board, committee, sponsors, stock contractors, and other key players? Aside from general rodeo, current event, and horsemanship knowledge, you should prepare for each interview by researching the entity itself.
Sit up straight in your chair, sit at the edge of your seat, lean forward slightly (but, not enough to fall forward!), nod in agreement, and smile. All of these nonverbal communication indicators build trust and convey to the judges that you’re really engaged in the conversation.
Forcing yourself to be engaged also improves your confidence, which may be the primary reason you struggle with, don’t like to practice, or get nervous in interviews. Research indicates that the ‘fake it until you make it’ adage is, in fact, to some extent true. Mood is a choice, which means that if you pretend to you’re relaxed, engaged, and confident, you’ll shed some of those nerves that keep you from performing at your best. Think of an interview as just another aspect of the performance---just as speech requires you to be ‘on;’ you should be ‘on’ for your interview---and you’ll have a better experience.
Stay True to Yourself
Interviews are meant to draw information from girls and to see what she knows. But, it’s also an opportunity for the judges to get to know you. Take this chance to show your personality, have a great conversation, and enjoy yourself. Your knowledge is important, yes, but if you are willing, eager, and enjoyable to be around that’s going to leave a stronger impression than simply knowing all of the answers to the questions.
Knowledge can be taught, but talent cannot. There’s always room to learn over the course of a job or a title. It’s much more difficult to teach someone to be friendly, personable, and inquisitive. Your primary job as a queen is to be approachable easy-to-talk-to so if let the judges see these qualities in you, you'll see more success. Show the judges how you’ll be able to uniquely interact with the public and you'll be a shoe-in.
Practice with Friends
You ride our horses in front of audiences and ask for critique. You may also present in front of people at events, at your job, school, or extracurricular activity and ask for feedback. Few of us actually schedule one-on-ones on a regular basis though. Just like any other aspect of competition, the best way to get more comfortable is to practice. Schedule mock interview sessions throughout the year to keep your skills sharp, and even more frequently as a competition approaches. Practice like you want to perform even if it’s just your friend, parent, or horse that’s listening. If your interview doesn't feel comfortable giving you feedback, or you just want a second opinion, record yourself and watch the video to see where you can improve your nonverbal communication and tighten your questions.
Along with question-and-answer practice, you should also practice how you enter the room, sit, stand, and exit. When you enter the room, you should already have a confident smile on your face. Own these first moments. Approach your seat and either ask to be seated, or wait for them to invite you to sit. As you leave, thank them, and turn around to address them one last time before you leave. Worst-case scenario they’ll be busily taking notes on your score sheet and won't notice. Best-case scenario they’ll have watched you as you walked away and you’ll have one last chance to flash a confident smile before you leave. They’ll remember that. Practice these steps during mock interviews, too, to ensure that it’s habit by the time you see the judges. If it feels awkward at first, that’s okay! Keep practicing!
Manage Factors Within Your Control
Pageant judges come from all walks of life, and various industries and work areas. They may or may not have experience in rodeo queen pageants, other pageants, and they may or may not be a stickler for appearance-related details. This is a part of the research step: know your judges. Depending on the judge, you may be asked to do seemingly silly things, like show your nails or the bottom of your boots. If you expect it, you'll be prepared for it.
While the on-the-spot, appearance-related questions aren’t my personal favorite ways to cull contestants, it happens. So, prepare for it. Make sure your nails are clean and you know how to display them appropriately (daintily lay one hand over the other and present your nails). With your boots, try to blacken the bottoms before an interview. Honestly, I still don't understand the point of this except that it shows you're clean and attentive to detail. No matter, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to respond to this request. Stand, turn so your back faces the judges, hold your chair for support, and pick up your foot like you would your horse’s foot to clean it---donkey-kick style. Don’t sit and put your leg up in the air or you may show off more than just the bottom of your boot.
As you work through these tips, reach out if you have questions or comments. I'd love to hear your favorite interview prep advice!