Preparing for an interview

How to make a strong application – Part 6: Preparing for an interview

In our series “How to make a strong application”, you will find lots of information about applying for jobs and selecting the right job. Topics range from the question of “What do I really want do?”, to qualities of the perfect job application photograph and aspects of job interviews.

 

Did you manage to get an invitation for an interview? Congratulations! However, you should not yet pop the champagne corks: now is the time when the work really starts. In order to leave the best possible personal impression on your potential employer, you need to be well prepared for your interview.

First, you should collect as much information as possible about the company so that you know the most important facts and figures for the job interview. Also pay attention to current events because there is a good chance that a current issue might be a topic of conversation. Or perhaps the company you are applying to is in itself a target of media attention. If so, you should know all the different positions being discussed and have a well-founded opinion of your own.

You should also make sure to print out and review your application documents, and bring them with you to the interview. Since you are probably applying to more than one company, make sure to review exactly what you wrote for this particular job application. HR personnel will refer to this during your interview.

Self-assessment is the crucial factor

Be clear about your motivation and your goals, and think about answers to potential questions from company personnel.

Frequently asked questions in job interviews are:

  • Who are you, what are your distinguishing qualities, what are your strengths, your weaknesses?
  • What do you know about the company and the responsibilities of the job position? What is your previous experience in this area and this industry?
  • How do you tackle tasks or projects, how will you meet the challenges of this job position?
  • Where do you see yourself in the company, where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Why are you the right person? Why should the company specifically hire you?

It is important to answer all questions in an appropriate manner. In response to the question about your strengths, it is inappropriate to sing a hymn of praise about how great you are, in the same way that it is inappropriate to tear yourself apart when asked about your weaknesses.

Here is how to answer job interview questions the right way

“What are your strengths?” The goal here is to convince the HR manager that your qualifications match the requirements of the job position. Your answers should refer to the qualifications profiled in the job description and always be backed up with examples.

Sample answer: One of my strengths is my ability to organise, be it large events or project work. In my current job, I organised a symposium for 200 people for one of our major clients. I am good at keeping a broad overview and bringing all the pieces together.

“What are your weaknesses?” Human resources want to know if you are self-critical and if you deal with your weaknesses honestly. The best answer is therefore based on an honest self-assessment. The classic “I’m a perfectionist” does not usually resound well. Ideally, at this point you can talk about the strategies you are taking to minimise your weaknesses.

Sample answer: In big groups, I tend to stay on the side-lines and try not to be the centre of attention. I have realised, however, that this is a missed opportunity to express my views and make suggestions. I am working harder to be more self-confident and to assert my opinions.

“Why do colleagues like to work with you?” This interview question targets your social skills. Only boasting about the ability to work in teams will not convince any HR manager. Instead, think about where and how you have already successfully proven your competence as a team player in your previous work experience.

Sample answer: I think my colleagues particularly appreciate my strong commitment and motivation. Even with tasks that are difficult and tedious, I can motivate others and always give my best. In my last job, for example…

Any further questions? Your chance to shine!

Finally yet importantly, the HR manager usually gives you an opportunity to ask your own questions. Good questions are a chance for you to earn extra points. Getting answers also helps you to find out if the job position and company meet your expectations. Since you might be too nervous in the actual interview situation to conjure up good questions, be prepared in advance.

When you are initially gathering information about the company, specific questions you want to ask will certainly come to mind. In addition, you can ask some standard questions, for example:

  • Who will be my direct supervisor?
  • Are there regular feedback meetings for employees?
  • What is the emphasis of future tasks and activities?
  • What opportunities for further education and training are available?
  • What are the plans of the department, the company, for the future?

A word of caution: Do not ask questions that were already answered during the interview, only because they are on your list!

Clothes make the person

Once you have been invited to a personal interview you should think about what you are going to wear. Your appearance often has a huge impact on how your counterpart perceives you. As the saying goes: “You never get a second chance for the first impression!”

In addition to an all-round well-groomed appearance, it is important not to exaggerate. Reserve extreme hairstyles, make-up or jewellery for your private life. Your clothing should be neat, clean and appropriate, your shoes polished. Under no circumstances casual clothing! As a rule: better too fancy than too scruffy. One exception is creative professions or start-ups. At a hip advertising agency for example, you would be better off in jeans and sneakers than in a suit.

Punctuality is a virtue

Finally, plan your travel route well. The supreme rule: under all circumstances, be punctual!

To make sure this works, you can, for example, do a trial trip and see exactly where you need to go or where you can park. Definitely calculate extra time for unforeseen delays. For all eventualities, bring the contact information and telephone number of your contact person. If your arrival will be delayed, for example due to a train delay or a bad traffic jam, you can always let them know ahead of time!

On the day of the interview if you arrive much too early, go for a walk. Five to ten minutes too early is okay. If you are even earlier, take a walk around the block and try to calm your nerves.

 

What you need to consider, if you have a telephone interview, we’ll explain you in the next part of the series.

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