The assessment centre: for some an absolute nightmare scenario, for others, the most effective selection procedure. Companies can find the perfect employee for an advertised position through intensive discussions with applicants and special examination situations.
Job interviews are a very demanding situation for most people. And with good reason: ultimately, an interview decides whether or not you get the job. You should therefore convince your potential employer that you’re the right person for the job. The interviewer usually decides within the first hour if you’re a suitable candidate or not. However, it’s often not clear, especially to newcomers, what employers really pay attention to. Although this question is difficult to answer accurately, there are some rules and guidelines you should follow if you want to make a good impression.
There are of course certain factors that vary from company to company or that are industry-specific. In some industries, a sophisticated appearance is more important, while in others, a calm and objective manner is crucial. Often, factors like the person’s current mood can influence the conversation. Such factors are outside your control, but what you can work on, is your overall performance at job interviews. The trick is to react confidently to the factors you can’t control. With our interview tips, you’ll learn how to do your best.
- How to prepare for an interview
- Prepare your own questions
- Rehearse the interview
- During the interview
- Follow-up: the importance of your post-interview behaviour
How to prepare for an interview
Being well prepared is the most crucial element of an interview. Additionally, you can kill several birds with one stone: first, you can research information to make sure that the position really meets your expectations (ideally, you have done this before your application, but before the interview, it makes sense to conduct a further in-depth examination too). If not, you can reject the company’s invitation to interview at an early stage and concentrate your time and energy on more worthwhile offers or applications.
If you accept the invitation to interview, you will be much more confident during the interview if you are well prepared. The same principle applies as with important exams. Being well prepared also helps you keep your nerve in a stressful situation.
Ultimately, good interview preparation involves valuable learning: you’ll learn more about the respective industry, the companies involved in that industry, and the current job requirements.
The following interview tips are a great way to prepare and give you the confidence that you’ll need. For most applicants, that’s already half the battle.
Research information about the industry and the company
If you are in the middle of the application phase and are sending out a lot of applications, you may not always be researching all the details that have to do with the advertised position and the company. Sending out numerous applications leaves very little time for hours of research on each individual job ad. However, as soon as you receive positive feedback from a company and an invitation to interview, you should definitely do more research on the company. Try to answer the following questions while preparing:
- What does the company do? Why is it interesting for me? How well is it positioned in its industry?
- How does the industry in which the company operates work? Do I already have experience or points of reference in the company’s field of work?
- What are the typical duties of the job position I’m applying for? How well do I fit the job profile? Which of my previous experiences and knowledge qualify me for the job?
Review portals like Glassdoor and Indeed are platforms whereby previous applicants and existing employees provide interesting information regarding companies and rate them according to certain criteria. However, when reading such evaluations, always pay attention to the date: if the evaluation was made years ago, it may already be outdated – the company may have changed considerably since then.
Determine your key qualifications and strengths
The unique selling points (USPs) of a product should describe the unique characteristics of the product that will impress customers and ultimately make them choose your product in particular. And the tactics used in marketing a product, can also be transferred, in a sense, to personal branding in a job application: consider your key qualifications that set you apart from other candidates. Then you should think about how you can present these strengths clearly and concisely.
Thanks to the following job interview tips, you can present your strengths confidently without too much effort. Discover how to convince your prospective employer in the area of, for example, soft skills, with the following characteristics:
- “I am a good team player.”
- “I learn new skills quickly.”
- “I have many years of experience in the industry.”
- “I am an open and sociable person.”
In many industries however, the so-called hard skills (i.e. the typical professional qualifications) are much more decisive for personnel managers. However, as these vary from sector to sector, we cannot provide any general examples here. Before an interview, be sure to consider which hard skills qualify you for the job.
Additionally, it is also helpful if you have one or two examples that prove your strengths. For example, you may be able to prove that you are a fast learner because of the short amount of time it took you to learn a new language. Highlighting successful team projects you’ve been involved with in the past is a good way to convince interviewers of your team player spirit. It’s important that your remarks don’t just seem like mere claims, but that situations that prove your qualifications come to mind immediately.
When choosing which USPs to bring to their attention, you should choose the ones that best suit the job profile. It’s of little use emphasising your foreign language skills when international communication does not play a role in the company.
Prepare a small cheat sheet with your USPs and go over it again shortly before your interview. This will not only help you remember the formulations of the sentences during the interview, but it will also give you more overall confidence.
Consider why you are interested in the job
A question that always appears in interviews: “Why are you interested in this job?” The answer should reveal more than just financial interest, but also a genuine interest in the job and the company itself. The question of interest is not only a tool used by personnel managers and recruiters to find out more about the applicant’s motivation, but also a way to check an applicant’s expectations of a position. After all, the job should suit you. Answer the following questions before your interview:
- What exactly interests me about this job?
- What motivated me to apply to this job?
- What do I expect from the working environment?
- What do I expect from my employer?
- Why do I think my skills could benefit the company?
With such questions, the decision makers in such companies aim to find out whether the applicant really wants the job and is interested in it or if they just want it for the income. This particularly applies to applicants that have only become aware of the job through job placement. If the interviewer picks up on half-hearted interest in the position, your application will begin to fall through the cracks. On the other hand, you shouldn’t lie to yourself and feign interest in a position you don’t want – this never results in a good working environment. Concentrate on companies that actually interest you.
Identify your weaknesses
In most cases, there are more applicants than there are open positions. Recruiters and HR managers must therefore figure out procedures that filter out unsuitable candidates as early as possible. Otherwise, the recruiting process is long and exhausting. Ask yourself, why the employer might reject a candidate, and if your profile points to some of those reasons (if these reasons were obvious, you wouldn’t have been invited for an interview).
If there are individual points that speak more against your attitude, then you increase your chances by identifying your weaknesses and thinking of a suitable defence. The term “defence” is not always appropriate, because ideally you do not react too defensively (as this might make you appear insecure), but show that you are aware of the weakness mentioned and are already working to improve on the area in question. Depending on the area of weakness and the accumulation of your weaknesses, this can be more or less convincing. But everything is better than admitting existing weaknesses without the intention of working on them. Below are two examples of how to respond well to questions about specific weaknesses:
|You are missing a skill listed as a requirement in the job description.||Make clear that you want to acquire these missing skills quickly. Give a good example of how you have done this in previous jobs. If possible, refer to similar qualifications or skills that should shorten your learning time. If knowledge of a particular program is required, it may be advantageous, for example, if you have already mastered a very similar program.|
|You do not have the professional experience required.||Try to refer to similar experiences in other areas – e.g. a student job, internships, or similar job positions in another industry. Communicate that you can bring a “breath of fresh air” into the company because you bring experience from other areas with you instead of accepting the lack of industry experience as a weakness.|
The interviewer may have already discovered many of your weaknesses from your CV or your profile. However, since you’ve been invited to interview, you must have made a positive impression with your application. Try not to prove this impression wrong in the interview by overemphasising your weaknesses in comparison to your strengths. Concentrate on the positive aspects of your CV and try to transform your negative traits into positive ones. Many interviewers ask specifically for weaknesses in order to get an impression of how confident you appear in your justification. If you succeed well at this, you prove your ability to communicate at the same time. If you appear too hesitant, many personnel experts will regard this as an indication that your weakness is so pronounced that you yourself have difficulty justifying it.
Prepare for the standard interview questions
Every interview is different, yet there are certain questions and topics that play a role in most interviews. You will often be asked similar questions at interviews. For this reason, it makes sense to deal with the common categories and questions. However, you should not memorise general answers that you will then present at each interview. Instead, your answers should vary depending on the industry, the company, or the character of the interviewer.
In the following table you will find some questions that you may be asked during the interview:
|Professional qualifications||Why are you the best candidate for the job?What skills can you bring to the job?Which software/processes are you already familiar with? How well do you master skill X/program Y?What important skills did you acquire during your studies/past jobs/internships?|
|Motivation||Why did you apply for this job?What do you expect from the job?What do you expect from our company?What do you know about our company?What are your career goals?Why did your previous employment end?What did you not like about your previous job?Would you also move for this job?|
|Personal qualifications||How organised are you?How much responsibility did you have in your last job?Which skills and qualities do you think are particularly important for this job?What are your particular strengths?What are your biggest weaknesses?How do your friends describe you?|
|Personality/character||Questions about your background, education, training, career:Where do you see yourself in X years?What are your interests and hobbies?Is family important to you?Do you have role models?|
|Sensitive questions/ “stress tests”||Why did it take you so long to complete your studies?Why didn’t you do any internships?Why have you already done so many internships without being taken on?What has prompted you to terminate your current employment contract (after just X months)?Why did you apply even though you haven’t yet mastered X/don’t bring Y/are at the early stage of your career?Do you think this interview will be successful?|
|Game questions/brainteasers||Note: These questions are rarely about the correct answer, but about how flexible you are in dealing with unforeseen or unknown challenges. However, these kinds of questions are now rarely asked.How much does Berlin weigh?Can you solve the following riddle?You are on a boat. You pull the anchor on board, does the water: a) sink, b) rise, or c) remain the same?Why are manhole covers round?|
Prepare your own questions
Interviewers attach great importance to the fact that the conversation does not only run in one direction. Ideally, you have your own questions to ask, from which you can learn and convey your interest in the company. Technical questions point to a certain level of expertise on your part. If the interviewer asks you if you have any questions, it might be discouraging if you decline. At worst, it indicates disinterest or lack of imagination. It is therefore advisable to prepare a list of questions in advance. Here are a few sample questions you can ask at your interview:
- What does the ideal candidate look like for you?
- What motivated you to invite me to the interview?
- What is the next step in the application process?
- How would you describe the working atmosphere in your company?
- What further training opportunities are required?
- Do you use program X or procedure Y?
- Is knowledge of language X an advantage?
Of course, new questions may arise during the interview, but be careful not to interrupt your interviewer too often. Depending on the interviewer’s character, you may also formulate these questions less formally if you have the feeling that the personal chemistry is right. However, you should not be too brash and should not put the interviewer in an unpleasant situation. Questions like “Do you like working here?” or “Are you paid fairly?” are usually considered taboo. If during the interview you’ve already appeared to lack tact, you usually won’t get a second chance to prove you will have tact in the job itself.
Rehearse the interview
One of our best interview tips is to prepare for your interview with a dialogue game. For example, ask one of your friends to play the role of the interviewer and practice. This way, you can train yourself to react confidently to questions asked without having to think too long about the answers.
Such exercises also show you whether your preparation is sufficient or whether you need to invest a little more time and effort. A practice interview helps you especially if your counterpart can radiate a certain authority. Ideally, this person has already successfully conducted an interview and can draw on the experience. Ask your circle of acquaintances who could fulfil this role well. It is even better if an additional third person observes the conversation from a neutral point of view and shares their observation results with you. An exchange of roles can also be useful to get to know the interviewer’s side.
During the interview
Being well prepared will also serve to boost your confidence during the interview. And as for how to do well in the interview itself, we have even more tips.
Impress your interviewer in the first five minutes
Studies have shown that people often decide whether they like you or not in the first five minutes of a conversation. When it comes to job interviews, this also rings true. If you make a good impression in the first five minutes, this can take some of the pressure off. Pay attention to the following to ensure a good start to your interview:
- Enter the room with positive energy and enthusiasm. A genuine smile can have a huge impact, and so too can an upright and confident posture.
- Express your gratitude for the opportunity that is presenting itself. Shake the hands of all your interviewers with an appropriate amount of pressure – not too much and not too little!
- A positive remark at the beginning of the interview can’t hurt: “Your office is lovely,” “I am excited to be here,” etc. Try not to exaggerate and just be genuine.
Use the right body language
In a conversation between people, it is not just the wording that is important, but also the nonverbal communication – the body language. Our bodies always communicate something and people can interpret certain body language in a positive or negative way. The following interview tips will help you with a convincing body language during an interview.
- Maintain eye contact! This is one of the most important elements of conveying your interest to your interviewers. Try not to spend too much time looking at the desk or floor in front of you. Don’t let your gaze circle around your interviewer – this may make you appear bored or tired.
There’s a small trick for those who are not good at looking people in the eyes: fix your gaze on an imaginary point right behind the forehead of your interviewer. If multiple people are interviewing you, you should try to make regular eye contact with each of the interviewers. You should always look at the person who is speaking with you directly.
- Sit upright and straight, but not too stiff. If you are too reclined on your chair, you may appear disrespectful. Your seat posture expresses a certain something about you. An overly relaxed position and a nervous restlessness (e.g. constant crossing of the legs) can have a negative effect.
- Arms and hands should remain above the desk. Don’t rest your head on your hand as you will look extremely disinterested. Use your hands while talking to emphasise something you’re saying. Try to avoid moving them too quickly as this will make you appear nervous and unsettled.
- Consider what you will wear for the interview in advance. Find out if there is a certain dress code. It’s unlikely that you will look too smart at an interview. Avoid wearing too much makeup or too many accessories that could make you look too showy.
- Avoid wearing strong perfume or deodorant – you don’t want to be remembered for your overbearing smell as opposed to the important things you said during the interview.
Act as though you’re on the same level as your interviewer
Many applicants automatically assume a kind of victim role whereby they justify themselves. However, this is exactly the wrong strategy, as it quickly gives the impression that you are not convinced of your own qualifications. Remember: it is not only your potential employer that is offering you something, you are also offering them your valuable work.
Always sell yourself as expensive as you really are. Make it clear to the interviewer that this application is mutual: you are trying to present yourself to the company as a suitable applicant, while the company should also be convincing as an employer. Therefore, do not act as a petitioner. In any case, a healthy working relationship will only develop if both sides benefit from each other. Consider this before and during the interview.
The interview should be a dialogue, not an interrogation
Many applicants tend to be too passive during an interview. This often happens because they think it is polite to wait for what the interviewer does and says and then answer accordingly. In the worst case, these applicants are only reacting and might appear too passive. Make sure the communication works as a two-way system.
Remember that your main argument, your unique selling points, should absolutely be included in this conversation. Whenever you have the chance to incorporate these into conversation, do so. Your list of questions will also help you set the pace of your interview from time to time. This is exactly how you can do well in an interview and show your initiative and self-confidence.
Respond confidently to personal questions
Interviewers can also make mistakes – whether consciously or unconsciously. For example, some questions are in fact not allowed to arise in job interviews, yet still do. However, you are not, by any means, obliged to answer these. Such questions include those about your origin, relationship status, sexual orientation, or desire to have children. Women, in particular, should pay attention to any questions asked about their desire to have children or pregnancy.
Additionally, since these questions are inadmissible, you are not obliged to answer them truthfully. If you still want a job with a company that asks such inadmissible questions, you can simply answer the way your interviewer probably wants to hear: “At the moment I am concentrating entirely on my career” or “Children are not currently an issue for me.” Questions about sick leave are not only inappropriate, but in many cases prohibited by law. So you don’t have to answer these questions truthfully either. You do not have to fear any legal consequences if you answer such questions untruthfully.
End the interview on a positive note
The final impression is also the one that remains. You should put in the same amount of effort to the end of the conversation as you have done at the beginning. Once again, express your gratitude for the opportunity and make your desire to get the job clear. This will signal that you will most likely accept the job if you are offered it. And generally companies are interested in filling the position as quickly as possible. Add that you are looking forward to hearing from the company. Finally, leave a good impression, because this last impression could be what sets you apart from a comparably qualified competitor.
Follow-up: the importance of your post-interview behaviour
As soon as you have stepped out the door of the company, you have made it – but your efforts should not end there. Especially if several applications are still open or if a single application process takes place in several steps, it is important to correctly process the previous interview.
Critically evaluate the interview
If you draw the right conclusions from the interview, you can better prepare for the next one. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- How satisfied am I overall with the interview? Do I rate it as a success or not?
- At which points in the interview was I uncertain and which ones did I master confidently?
- Did I receive all the information I wanted?
- Did I make my main arguments or unique selling points clear?
- How would I evaluate the personal chemistry between myself and the interviewer?
- What kind of impression did I get from the job itself and the company? Do I really want to work there?
Write down the important findings from above to help you prepare for your next interview.
Try to avoid leaving too long a gap between your last interview and your next application
Even if the interview went very well, you still do not have a job guarantee. Sometimes the employer may opt for a different candidate due to factors that are unknown to you or factors that you cannot change. When you are in the middle of a job application phase, you should of course treat yourself to a break every now and then, but do make sure to retain the tempo and make sure to take the momentum of your previously mastered interview with you into the next one. If you rely too much on having a job safely in your pocket, you may lose valuable time if you are declined.
Don’t give up!
Job application phases can take a toll on our self-confidence, especially if the declines accumulate. However, this does not always indicate that your qualifications were too low – especially not in the case of coveted positions for which numerous other interested parties are applying. If you had a weak interview but still want the job, there is no harm in approaching the potential employer again. In order to find out the areas you could still improve on, it can also be useful to ask your interviewer personally for feedback. As you know, asking questions doesn’t cost a thing, and often interviewers are willing to describe their impressions of the application process.
Always remember that if you don’t try, you can only lose. So don’t give up, but instead, try to continuously improve yourself. Because stamina will not only help you in the job itself, but also in your search for the right job.