The Interview

You have received an invitation to an interview – congratulations! You have already cleared the first hurdle in the selection process. Your first impression, which you left with your application portfolio, your photo and, above all, your professional competence, has enabled you to assert yourself against numerous competitors.

It’s all about soft skills

In the second selection round, the interviews, the main question now is whether the “chemistry” is right: The employer wants to know whether you fit into the team and the corporate culture. This does not mean, however, that your professional skills or experience will not be discussed. But first and foremost, your so-called soft skills are put to the test, i.e. your social and emotional skills such as team spirit, initiative, customer and service orientation, leadership skills, etc., and you will be able to develop your own personal and professional skills. The required soft skills are directly related to the job advertisement: fundraisers, for example, need other soft skills as project managers with leadership responsibility. Although the discussions are always somewhat different, there are recurring structures and processes that one should be familiar with. As a rule, an interview lasts about an hour. Sometimes there are also two interviews, whereby in the second round only two or three applicants compete with each other and it is often a matter of drafting the contract, for example the salary question. More and more often, 30-minute telephone interviews are conducted before the first interview in order to reduce the number of remaining applicants and thus save time and costs.

Who sits opposite to you?

As a rule, at least two people participate on the employer’s side – often someone from the specialist department, such as a direct superior, and someone from the personnel department. In public institutions and administrations, the employer side is often represented by considerably more people. On the one hand, the HR department monitors the proper course of the process, and on the other hand, questions often come from this side that are difficult to answer conclusively without preparation – such as the popular question about strengths and weaknesses, which everyone now knows, but which is nevertheless often not sufficiently prepared. Questions about successes and failures, dealing with conflicts or career goals in five to ten years’ time are also popular. The superiors are interested however rather in practical experiences, software knowledge or like one certain technical setting of tasks would work on.

Score points with the first impression

The entry into the conversation is particularly important. Use the small talk before the start of the conversation to “warm up” and arouse sympathy. At the beginning of the interview, the ball is often passed to the applicant with the question: “Tell something about yourself”. In this situation one should not assume that the information from the application portfolio is still present on the employer’s side – this is often not possible if several job interviews take place on one day. Therefore, it is best to present yourself from scratch. The question of one’s own personal background should cover the most important criteria and key terms from the requirements profile of the job advertisement. Mostly the last five to ten years of the working life interest most as well as all practical examples, EZ experiences, foreign stays, further trainings, which have direct purchase to the job advertisement. A clear presentation of about three minutes is usually sufficient. Only if it is expressly desired, chronologically from the end of the school time up to the today’s day should be told. The presentation should be well structured and formulated and invite questions. If the introduction is well prepared and the employer can successfully tick off his catalogue of requirements while listening, this is a good start. From a psychological point of view it is then very difficult to tilt this good first impression into the opposite. However, it is just as difficult to turn a negative first impression back into a positive one.
Any questions you may have about your job, employer, etc. can now bring on at any time. The more you bring in yourself, the more dialogical and equal the conversation becomes. Of course, the rule applies: “Whoever asks leads”. Since the invitation was issued by the employer, he should be respected as the host of the interview and thus receive the greater proportion of questions. Posture, body language and sympathy are also created by adjusting the volume, speed etc. to the host. The applicant’s body language should match what has been said and the position advertised: A manager who speaks with a quiet voice and intimidated posture raises doubts about his or her competence. It is worthwhile to evaluate one’s own body language in coaching with the help of a video recording and to get regular feedback on one’s own non-verbal communication. It is helpful to place both feet parallel on the floor and not to cross your legs in order to have more traction. The hands and arms can be placed on the table up to the elbow. It is best to practise and internalise the posture beforehand so that you can concentrate fully on the contents and the atmosphere of the conversation.

Questions over questions

The list of questions for job interviews is large. For example, there are questions about worst-case scenarios: “Imagine it is your first day at work and your boss is ill. How do you deal with an inquiry to your department? This is about finding solutions quickly and whether you can stay calm and keep track of things. Challenging questions about development cooperation – “And now you want to go back to work after your holidays abroad” – often serve as provocation or are simply based on ignorance. It is therefore worthwhile to coin many practical examples from development cooperation with the requirement profile of the job advertisement. Sometimes it also helps to simply describe a daily routine or successes in development cooperation and which competencies were necessary for the development cooperation activity, for example moderation, leadership or communication competencies. These methodological and social skills are becoming increasingly important for many international employers outside development cooperation as well. It is therefore highly advisable to work these out clearly in the course of the discussion. However, there are also questions that an employer should not actually ask – for example, about private topics such as family planning or pregnancy. If the interview goes in this direction, it is important to remain calm and answer the questions confidently. One should then use examples to demonstrate why, for example, family planning will not play a role in the near future due to career plans. In such a case to refer the employer to his limits destroys the discussion atmosphere. Questions about religious affiliation or party affiliation are only permissible for trend enterprises, for example for church development aid agencies.

It rarely works out at the first attempt

Very few people get their job after their first interview: It is not unusual to go through three to five interviews in the course of a job search. However: If one should register then still no success, it is advisable to be coached professionally. Thus it can be prevented that one leaves too much burnt earth behind with its desire employers and thus reduces the number of its potential employers. It is also important not to get mentally into a spiral of negative expectations, by which one cannot decide then on a long-term basis also positive discussions no more for oneself. It is important to reflect therefore also smaller negative discussion sequences with the help of friends or coaches, so that one goes without „old loads“ into new discussion situations.

Sweater, shirt, tie?

One important question remains to be clarified: What should I wear? Here, too, you can’t give a general answer: One employer is obliged to wear a tie, the next a turtleneck sweater.
Imagine you were representing this employer at a trade fair: How would this institution like to appear to the outside world? The photos of the employees on the employer’s homepage can also be helpful. As a general rule, you should appear over- rather than under-dressed during an interview. Nervousness is, by the way, a normal reaction to this exam-like situation and, of course, the more weight this interview has for you personally, the greater it is. With good preparation and a lot of practice you can reduce the nervousness a bit. It is therefore also advisable to accept invitations to interviews where you are almost certain that you would not take up the position. Simply to practice. After three interviews you have so much practice that you can hardly be shocked by anything. Until then it makes sense – besides good preparation – to practice personal relaxation strategies such as autogenic training, yoga, walks or endurance sports.

Birgit Löding