You've been invited to a job interview? Wonderful! That means that you've already gotten a lot right with your job application. Yet the idea of putting yourself in the "limelight" can trigger an unpleasant nervousness in many people.
This is quite normal and no cause for worry. The more practice you have with job interviews, the easier it will be for you to view the conversation as an opportunity for yourself to take a closer look at potential employers.
And another piece of good news: You can prepare for it! There are a number of things that you can do to make the interview a positive experience. That's why we've put together a Survival Guide for you that should assist you with your preparations.
Make sure you understand what the interview is all about. The HR decision-maker would like to get an impression about whether you are a good professional match for the offered position and whether you will personally fit into the team. In other words, expertise and personality.
The first and most important rule is therefore: Know your profile and remain authentic! Who are you, what can you do, what do you want, and how do your skills fit for the offered position? If you can genuinely answer these questions without stumbling over your answers, this provides excellent preparation for the interview. And what is just as important: Don't pretend! Nobody has anything to gain if you're just playing a role. You only create additional potential for nervousness because you've burdened yourself with an additional task. And who knows, perhaps the real you is much more likeable and exactly what they're looking for! So be yourself!
Get informed before the interview! You should at least know the professional requirements for the position and consider how they fit with your qualifications. Inform yourself beforehand about the company/institution – website, annual reports, media articles, etc. It's an enormous help when there is already a common basis for the interview. This allows you to better and more quickly react, to pose good questions and signal your interest.
Plan how to get there well! Showing up to the appointment on time means: Arriving calmly and relaxed, taking off your jacket and having a few minutes to "calm down." Rushing through the door, sweaty and out of breath, right at the agreed upon time is not a good way to start the interview. So be sure to think about all the details of your journey beforehand. Plan for heavy traffic, train delays, orienting yourself on the company premises, and also time for taking a breather.
The renowned first impression is made within seconds and can be very difficult to eliminate after the fact. So how exactly can you "make an impression"? The simple answer: By feeling comfortable and at ease. Try to eliminate all the factors of uncertainty beforehand. Do your clothes fit well and can you move in them without having to tug on them or to correct how something sits? Are your fingernails clean and your shoes shined? Whether your counterpart notices it or not: You must feel comfortable and at ease! Create a "good feeling" for yourself. Particularly if a job interview represents a new and disconcerting situation for you, it's important that you don't also have to worry about dirty fingernails or pants that are too short.
The majority of interviews are structured as follows: Greeting, presentation of the employer/the position, presentation of the applicant, and inquiries from both parties. To what extent an interview is standardized depends on the company itself. For smaller companies, there often isn't any HR department and you can prepare yourself for a very "normal" interview. In larger companies it is more likely that there will be an interview template or even tasks and tests that are included.
Strengths? You should have a few authentic and convincing answers at the ready here. What can you do particularly well and how that fits for the position? Avoid standard answers because they are boring, don't provide any relevant information and are quickly seen through. Provide specific examples for everything that you mention here.
Weaknesses? Please take the question about weaknesses seriously (not: "I get weak for chocolate, ha ha ha.") What this question shows is: How self-reflective are you? Do you know what you aren't so good at doing? If yes, then you're either a helpless victim of your own making or have you thought about strategies to counter these weaknesses?
Don't you think that you've been at university for quite a long time? If you were an animal, which animal would you be?
These types of questions serve to find out how you react under pressure. Don't let these questions phase you. Often how you react to these questions is actually more interesting than the actual answer. Remain friendly and don't respond to insinuations and allegations by trying to justify yourself. Stand by your life decisions and underscore why they were good for you (for instance, longer time at university = self-financed, gained professional experience, used to orient yourself). Tolerate moments of silence (don't be tempted to hold a monologue). If you can't spontaneously think of an appropriate answer you can simply admit it. If you find a question amusing, you're allowed to laugh about it. Stay authentic.
Questions about plans to marry, if you plan to found a family, your health status, religious and political views are taboo. Not only does this mean that HR personnel aren't allowed to ask these questions, it also means that you don't have to answer them truthfully. But what good will it do you if you react angrily and the atmosphere of the interview suddenly changes for the worse? Here we recommend you remain polite and confidently provide an answer that you feel comfortable with. If this answer should not completely correspond to the truth, it should not have any negative consequences for you afterwards.
Please note! There are always exceptions. If the above points are in any way relevant to the position to be filled (i.e., an existing pregnancy for a job in a laboratory), you may be asked about this and then you must answer truthfully.
Absolutely! This gives you the chance to show your interest and demonstrate how well you've listened. You should not ask about vacation days under any circumstances. Good questions apply to the advertised position and demonstrate your ability to think on your toes and to listen. So avoid shooting yourself in the foot and don't ask about anything that's already been talked about. For example: What are the plans for the training period? What opportunities will there be for me to grow in the company? What will be my first tasks?