With an invitation to a job interview, you have already overcome an important hurdle on the way to your new job. In order to convince your potential new employer of your skills, you should be perfectly prepared for the job interview. In the following sections, you will learn what to expect in an interview, what kind of questions are asked and how to prepare yourself for a convincing impression.
Job Interview - General Information
Different types of interviews are used in application processes. The most common are:
- Telephone interview
- Video interview: Can either take place live or can be recorded based on pre-announced questions.
- Personal interview
- Assessment Center: Stage in the application process in which interviews are followed by further practical exercises and tests.
Furthermore, interviews differ mainly in the Structure. Which form is used depends on the interviewers. The following forms are possible:
Free talk: Interview without fixed framework or standardized questions; the course of the interview can vary greatly from interview to interview.
Structured interview: Interview with a pre-defined framework and standardized questions that allow comparability between candidates.
Structured interview with practical test: Practical exercises or tests complement the structured interview. This form has the highest validity compared to the other interview forms.
In reality you may encounter a rather informal conversation ("drinking coffee"). Such interviews do not have a clear procedure, are strongly CV-oriented and are more subject-related than focused on the personality and soft skills. In some cases, the interviewer might talk for a longer time than the applicant(s), which makes it difficult to evaluate the interview objectively. In such cases, the gut feeling of the interviewer usually decides. When preparing for an interview, you should orientate yourself on the structured interview.
Selection Criteria & Questions
The most important selection criteria in the interview are the personality, motivation, professional knowledge and practical experience as well as personal skills ("soft skills") of the applicant.
By asking specific questions, the interviewers try to find out whether...
- ...the candidate's professional and personal skills match the requirements for the position.
- ...the candidate*has a high level of self-motivation for the position and he/she fits the company.
Dos & Don’ts in Interview
- Take your time for preparation.
- Dress appropriately. Think about what you are going to wear in good time.
- Come on time.
- Be polite, authentic and honest.
- Pay close attention to the questions of your counterpart.
- Show your motivation.
- Know your application. What did you write in your cover letter?
- Do not criticize previous employers/colleagues
- Bring up your own questions.
- Most structured interviews are structured as follows:
- Introduction with presentation of the interviewer and, possibly, the company
- Self-presentation of the applicant with clarifying questions about the CV
- Question section: Professional & personal skills, motivation, other questions
- Comparison of expectations and position
- Conclusion: questions of the candidate, further steps & farewell
- Practice test if necessary (after or during the interview)
The individual components of the structured interview are explained in more detail below.
The Structured Interview
Of course, the interview begins with a greeting. Here you should pay attention to a friendly first impression, a firm handshake and direct eye contact. In order to find the right handshake, it can be helpful to get feedback from friends and acquaintances. After the greeting, a short small talk is usual. Frequent topics of conversation here are drinks, wardrobe, the journey or the weather. It is also polite to thank you for the invitation.
In addition to information on the course of the interview, a brief introduction of the interviewer usually follows at the beginning of the interview. In some cases, the company is also presented in more detail at this point.
The self-presentation is your chance to present yourself positively. Therefore, pay close attention to the interviewer's questions in order to include sub-questions in your answer. The aim of the self-presentation should be to introduce yourself clearly and suitably to the position within a few minutes. To do this, take up the relevant stages of your career and explain them.
- Example: "... during my studies I did several internships, among others at the company ... There I did an internship in the field of ... I was able to gain experience in ... / My tasks were ..."
The self-presentation should not be too long, but also not too short. Relevant points in the career should not be left unmentioned. In any case, it is helpful to practice self-presentation at home in front of the mirror.
Your self-presentation is followed by questions from the interviewers about your career and your CV, which create the transition to the actual question part of the interview.
For preparation for the question section, it can be helpful to be aware of the objectives of the company representatives.
Both HR managers and executives want a tailor-made applicant who can be well integrated into the team and helps to achieve the department's goals. The respective position should be filled as long term as possible, since mistakes in hiring are usually associated with very high costs for the company.
In order to make the right hiring decisions, both HR staff and managers prepare themselves thoroughly for structured interviews: First of all, a job analysis is used to determine what knowledge and skills the ideal candidate* should have for the position and the company. To this end, not only relevant professional skills and practical experience are defined, but also soft skills and personal abilities. Clarifying questions about the CV are based on this analysis.
Targeted questions are used to highlight the skills relevant to the position from different angles, e.g. a view from the past, a look into the future, the view of people involved, one's own approach. Every single skill (professional as well as personal) can be analysed in this form. The following question structure is common:
- Introduction: leading to the ability ("When did you last ... do this?", "Please define ability xy. / What does ability xy mean to you?)
- Specify: Analysis of the ability using concrete examples ("Describe a situation...", "What was your task? Your share?")
- Explain: More detailed information on the situation, e.g. perspectives of the people involved ("Who was there? What would he/she say if I asked him/her how ... worked", "Did you get feedback on Project AB from your boss? What did she say?")
- Dealing with challenges: Problems/obstacles/challenges in the example situation ("Were there obstacles? Which concrete ones?", "How did you deal with them?)
- Results/learning success: reflection of one's own performance in the example situation ("What went really well?", "What would you improve?", "What did you learn from it?")
Useful Tips on Interview Techniques
- A special emphasis in the question is usually placed on situations from the past, as these are more valid than future behaviour.
- This type of question is used in particular for the analysis of soft skills, as these play a particularly important role for employers. While specialist knowledge can be acquired, e.g. through appropriate seminars, soft skills are often part of the personality and are much more difficult to learn or change. They therefore play a significant role for the job and the company.
- Rhetorically, interviewers guide an interview, e.g. through the targeted use of open questions ("W questions"), to which applicants usually answer in more detail. Closed questions, on the other hand, aim at a yes-no answer. In some cases, interviewers also use specific breaks in the interview. As applicants* tend to want to fill such breaks, they will continue to speak and may provide further information.
Tip: Put yourself in the role of an interviewer during your preparation for a job interview. Think about which skills are relevant to the job and what examples you can give to prove exactly these skills. You learn to reflect on yourself and can answer all questions through reflection without having to memorize answers or getting nervous because you cannot think of an appropriate answer.
You can find an overview of soft skills and related sample questions in our overview section.
In addition to the questions developed specifically for the job, there are some standard questions for which you should also prepare. Take these questions as an opportunity to think about yourself and use them as preparation. Examples:
- Tell us about yourself.
- What interests you particularly in this position?
- How do you imagine a typical working day in this position?
- What has been your greatest success or failure so far? Example?
- What are your strengths/weaknesses? Example?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why should we hire you exactly?
Even if you answer these questions, the following applies: Do not learn by heart and avoid stereotypical answers!
Personal questions that are not related to the position should not be asked in the interview. These questions relate to:
- Family matters: marriage intentions, housing situation
- Pregnancy, desire for children and family planning
- Religious affiliation (exception: confessional related jobs)
- Political party or trade union membership
- General state of health (usually critical)
- Question about previous criminal convictions (critical, acceptable in concrete connection with the job)
In the case of inappropriate questions, the right to lie exists in the interview; however, it can be difficult to determine whether a question is inappropriate in individual cases during the interview.
Comparison of expectations and position
After the (main) question section, the real position is usually compared with the applicant's expectations of the job and possibly the company. Here you should bring in your expectation of the tasks and the company. The following questions can be used:
- "How do you imagine your daily work in this position?"
- "What do you think you can expect?"
- "What's important to you in your job?"
- "If you could create a position yourself, what would it look like?"
Following these questions, you will normally receive further information about the job and company and the terms and conditions of the contract.
At the end of the interview the applicant is given the opportunity to ask questions. It is best to think about what else you would like to know about the position, the company or the general conditions in advance and bring your notes with you to the interview. Do not be afraid to ask your questions at this point. Examples:
- How does the training take place?
- Is there a predecessor? Is he or she still there? If so, why is he or she leaving?
- Traveling? How often?
- Contract: unlimited? Conditions? Dealing with overtime?
Finally, the next steps are also discussed. Here it should be clarified how the selection process will proceed and when you can expect to receive feedback.
- In addition to the actual interview, a practical test can take place. The following variants are possible:
- Practical examples are incorporated into the conversation.
- Task is passed and processed after the conversation.
- Task is sent in advance for preparation. In this case, the expectations are very high, as sufficient time is available and tools can be used.
Possible topics include practical tasks such as case studies, presentations, role-plays, simulated conversations (e.g. customer meetings) or parts of conversations in English.
You should consider the following tips for a telephone interview:
- The preparation corresponds to a structured interview (see above). Please note down your questions here in advance as well.
- Keep your desk tidy and have all relevant documents ready: paper, pencil, application forms and job description.
- Make sure that the technical equipment works properly and test it in advance if necessary.
- Avoid distractions and eliminate sources of noise, e.g. by switching your mobile phone to silent mode.
- Wear suitable clothing. What at first sounds like a joke is meant seriously: By wearing clothes like you would wear to a personal interview, you get in the mood for the interview situation and thus appear more professional and confident. And: Even a smile works through the telephone.
- Consider which practical and personal skills are important for the company and the position. Information on this can be found in the job description, but also on the company's website or in social media.
- Find examples from your career that prove that you meet these criteria. Also consider if there were any obstacles, how you dealt with them and what the end result was.
- Think about how you can explain any critical aspects of your career.
- Prepare your self-presentation as well as expected questions. You should avoid learning answers by heart.
- Make yourself aware of what you want to achieve in life. What is important to you? What isn't? What effects does this have on the specific job?
- Find out more about the company and the people you are talking to.
- Nervousness is normal, and the company representatives* know that too. Years ago your counterpart may have been in the same situation as you are now.
- An interview serves both sides. You should also find out whether you really want this job in this company.
- Be optimistic: With the invitation to an interview you have already overcome an important hurdle on the way to your new job - the company is interested in you!
- Even if an interview doesn't go so well - look at it positively: with every interview you get more practice.
- And remember: Your counterpart is also only human!