Meet the other side at eye level right from the start! Some candidates still go to job interviews as supplicants. They are afraid that they will not be able to convince the potential employer of their merits. They would do much better with a positive, self-confident attitude.

In most interviews, the opening remarks are followed by the request “Tell us something about yourself”. Then the employer may ask numerous questions before you can start asking your own questions. This kind of interview is therefore very hierarchical. It is based on the assumption that the employer alone decides how to proceed. Other than that, I recommend preparing yourself accordingly for an interview at eye level: Think about a set of questions and about the dramaturgy of the interview: At which points can you direct the conversation yourself?

What is behind the Standard Questions

“Why should we choose you?” or “Why are you our best candidate?” can be two of the classic questions you will be asked. The point is that you are aware of your personal and professional strengths and that you can quickly identify what makes you stand out. Obviously, it relates to your professional background with all your unique experiences.

I know many applicants who cannot think of anything at this point. That is why we talk about personal strengths and good reasons for being hired for the position they have applied for. Rather than just a brief list of characteristics, this is a matter of well-formulated sentences. We talk about specific professional experiences and describe the tasks and contents very concretely. The same applies to soft skills and personal strengths. Most applicants quickly come up with five to ten points. Some also easily manage 20 strengths, but only a few come up with more aspects in this phase. What you can do here: Ask your best friends, your parents, your relatives, your partner, or even former colleagues about your individual strengths and special characteristics. In this brainstorming session, some applicants will find surprising insights into their personality. The main thing is to become aware of all your abilities and to name them based on solid experiences.

This portfolio allows you to consider how to write your resume and cover letter in an attractive way. Apart from that, your strengths will be of particular benefit to you at the job interview at the latest. Here you stand out with your answers to questions such as “Why do you think you are the right candidate for us?” or “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Best you combine both personal and professional skills with the requirements of the vacant position. If you were to apply for a position as an editor, for example, it would not make much sense to mention your previous employment as a laboratory manager. Instead, briefly outline your hands-on experience as an author of scientific publications and refer to your business blog.

A similar question is “What would your former colleagues say about your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Here you could mention some special achievements in teamwork or refer to content from your letters of recommendation: Did you co-organize an event that was particularly successful? Were you responsible for a work area in which you instructed employees? It is not necessarily a disadvantage talking about one or two of your weaknesses.  These may not relate to the job you are looking for. You could also mention a qualification you are currently acquiring: Are you about to complete a professional training course? Does it meet one of the requirements mentioned in the job advertisement?

Your future employer will probably also test you on your technical skills. One of the classic questions might be “What do you think of the current developments in the field of…?” This can be digitalization, the global economy, the corona virus, climate change or, of course, a highly specialized topic. Here you can prepare yourself in a targeted manner by following the latest news on the one hand. It is even better to pick up business news, follow the employer’s newsletter of the last weeks and months and browse through the latest annual reports. That way you also have up-to-date references that you can point to with counter-questions in the interview.


Turn the Tables and ask Questions yourself

Think about the questions that will give you the most comprehensive information about your future work. Ideally, you should write down about ten questions in advance in a high-quality notebook. Put it on the table during the interview to complete your notes. Some answers will already emerge from the interview, however. In the past conversations, I have hooked on the appropriate places and asked specific questions. This way, I often found out incidentally whether my potential employer adheres strictly to the structure that is usually given: Classic hierarchical, according to which you as an applicant may only ask one or two questions at the end, or they communicate at eye level, where you are welcomed as an actively thinking and proactive employee. I have experienced both sides and felt most comfortable when an open dialog was established. If the other side does not agree, then you bring your questions during the final phase of the interview.

Some of the many questions you may want to ask are:

  • “Why is the job advertised? Was the position newly created? If so, why?”
  • “If I live up to all your expectations on the job over the coming six months: what could happen next?”
  • “As far as I am concerned, I will cancel my other interviews now and take a closer look at your offer. What about you?”

The answer to the first question tells you whether a position that was filled before is vacant again or whether the company is expanding. The second question is about the expected performance of you; here you will usually receive more information than is mentioned in the advertisement text. You can also follow up by asking how satisfied they are with the work of your predecessor. At the same time, it is an outlook on your medium-term future. It is similar to the employer’s question “Where do you see yourself in three years?” By bringing the third statement into seminars, I often get irritated looks and many a contradiction. This proactively performed statement may correspond more to the American style. However, it may be appropriate if the interview is already well advanced yet you have the feeling that the employer is already convinced of you. It also follows on from the self-presentation and corresponds here to the call-to-action in the Elevator Pitch.


Present yourself with Conviction

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tips on the Internet on how to present yourself convincingly in a job interview. At this point, I want to mention five points that my valued colleague and presentation expert Matthias Garten has highlighted for presentations on “Presentation Rocket Day” 2018.

It addresses five common presentation mistakes along with better alternatives, which can be applied to job interviews accordingly:

  • Empathy instead of egocentrism. The interview is not a one-man show, but an open dialog. The fact that you are a proven expert is often less important than your ability to understand your interviewer. Can you put yourself in the position of the HR manager and the future boss? Are you honestly interested in the goals and needs of the employer and are you capable of addressing them in a conversation? Can you tell from body language and voice whether the other person is interested or bored – and adapt your communication accordingly?
  • Focus instead of aimlessness. Are you able to distinguish important from unimportant issues and do you get to the point quickly? Whether in the Elevator Pitch or while answering the questions: avoid thematic digressions that do not relate to the work content, instead focusing on the relevant information. Is there a match between your Elevator Pitch and the company or project goal?
  • Exciting, not boring. Are you able to set content priorities and describe essential information in more detail instead of simply itemizing your past activities? If you present twists and turns of your career in your CV, do you see a common thread and the next logical step in your personal and professional development? In comparison, what are the stories of the company’s development and future goals?
  • Innovative versus old-fashioned. Are you up-to-date with your business knowledge and expertise? Do you know the current business development and the latest news? Is the company open to current developments? What is the position of your specialist colleagues on current trends? Do they communicate with you at eye level? Do they allow an open discussion?
  • Be unique not replaceable. What defines you as a person, as a specific and unique character? What sets you apart from all other applicants? Why are you the perfect fit for the new team? What unique experiences do you bring to the new job that provide real added value? What does the company itself stand for? Does it live up to its slogan – and what do the decision-makers say about it?

Apart from all the standard questions, you thus receive very important information from the employer. This way you can get a first comprehensive picture of the company in no time and check whether you really want to join it.

As a conclusion you can record: You are not the only one positioning yourself in the interview. The employer must also convince you that it suits you and offers you added value.

This post is also available in: German

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