How to succeed at job interviews

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If you are invited for a job interview, that's a success you should feel happy about. It should give you confidence for the interview ahead. You were among the best candidates, and your application documents were persuasive!

It means that the recruiters are hoping to confirm the positive impression they gained from your documents and to clarify any open questions. That means job interviews are usually friendly and welcoming. The interviewers want to find out if you would feel comfortable with the corporate culture and the way people work in the company. Will you get along with your future supervisor? Do you fit into the team? Do the general terms and conditions match your needs and expectations?

These are all questions that you should also ask for yourself. Deciding on a job is always a joint process.

How should I prepare myself?

There are different types of job interviews. A casual, almost informal discussion with a prospective supervisor or a team is one possibility. However, sometimes the interviews will follow a strictly standardised procedure using a predefined question sequence. If so, your answers will be reviewed by a committee on the basis of a fixed list of criteria.

First, you should try to find out how your potential employer conducts interviews. Ask the employer directly or research their social network sites, or try and find out using employer assessment platforms such as "kununu", which is popular in Europe.

International organisations or the EU generally use standardised procedures. The procedure is generally transparent, which means you can come prepared. To be successful you'll need to be familiar with the selection process.

To predict what you'll be asked in the interview, you should ask yourself what the requirements of the employer are. Refer to the job advertisement, and research the employer's website and the above-mentioned sources for background information.

Write a list of all the criteria they're looking for: What qualifications, experience and personality traits is the employer hoping for in a candidate? For each point, write down specifically, preferably with examples, how you might fulfil these. When specifically, for instance, have you proven your analytical skills? What distinguished you in the situation?

There's no such thing as a stupid question

At a virtual coaching for Alumniportal Deutschland community members, we discovered that most participants were confident about demonstrating their professional skills. In contrast, participants were more uncertain about answering non-technical questions, whose purpose was not always immediately apparent.

Non-technical questions are every bit as relevant to the requirements of a job as technical questions. Our participants learned that they can prepare for these as well!

Questions relating to your personality

It would be a pity if the first time you think about what makes your personality special – and in particular how it relates to your potential position – were during an interview. As many people aren't used to talking about themselves in a positive way, here are some questions you should ask when you prepare yourself. Write down an answer for each question.

  • What tasks do you find easy? What do you particularly enjoy doing?
  • What do you find difficult / what do you not really enjoy doing?
  • What achievement are you proud of? Why does that make you proud?
  • Which positive characteristics make you stand out? Which five qualities best characterise you?
  • What feedback do you receive from superiors and colleagues? How would they describe you? What criticism do you receive, and how do people suggest you could improve?

Such preparation will help you to answer even non-technical questions fluently and naturally.

What is a good weakness?

If you're asked about your strengths and weaknesses, the interviewer wants to find out more about your personality. Questions about your strengths should be answered in relation to the position you are applying for: What, for example, makes you a good manager?

Questions about your weaknesses, in contrast, are primarily aimed at finding out one thing in particular: your ability for self-reflection. Do you have the capacity to develop?

Answering that you have no weaknesses is likely to result in instant elimination.

If you prepare in this way, you should also be able to answer questions about your personality and your strengths, while avoiding stereotypes when answering questions about your weaknesses. Answering "impatience" or "perfectionism", for instance, is likely to infuriate interviewers.

Some behavioural characteristics can be considered to be both a strength and a weakness, depending on when they manifest themselves. "Helpfulness" can be a strength in one particular situation and a weakness in another (and vice versa).

You should also mention weaknesses that you are learning to overcome and which won't compromise your professional success. "I quickly lose my perspective under pressure" and "my colleagues regard me as unreliable" are not appropriate answers.

Unless you are applying for a position as a moderator, there are better ways to describe a weakness: "I still find it difficult to speak in front of large Groups of people."

Or, if you are not applying for a position as a manager: "I still find it difficult to say no to my colleagues", or "I tend to take on too many tasks."

In describing yourself, be as open and genuine as possible. If you mention a weakness, always mention right away what you would like to learn in order to overcome it.

How to behave in the interview

Consider the interview as an opportunity to express your suitability for the post and your motivation.

  • Convince the interviewer to make the right choice jointly with you. Come prepared with relevant job-related reasons to hire you.
  • Repeat the information from your application documents and highlight specific points as examples.
  • Talk positively about yourself. Make your strengths actively clear: "I'm an expert in …", "I have excellent knowledge of …", "I have many years of experience in …", "I achieved this" and "I succeeded at that".
  • Avoid pointing out potential weaknesses in your application, for example if you have little experience in a particular field.
  • Don't make your answers too short – interviewers can only base their decisions on what they hear or see. Your expertise should be backed up by facts.
  • Show your willingness to learn and develop.
  • Show your ability for self-reflection. What makes you stand out, professionally and personally? What do you see as your strengths? In what ways would you like to improve?

We wish you the best of luck!

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