The beginning of a beautiful friendship
Naturally, you don’t have to expect as much from the outcome of your job interview as this headline (the famous quote from the movie “Casablanca”) proclaims. It was just intended in jest, of course. However, the better you get along with your counterpart at the end of your interview, the better your chances of getting the job. Some factors will always be left up to chance, so you won’t be able to influence everything. But there are various aspects you can control and you should prepare for them well before the interview.
First, I would like to provide you with the basics for understanding this phase of your application process. It is actually misleading to speak of a job interview. A typical feature of an interview is that one person asks questions and the other answers them. But that’s not exactly the goal of a good job “interview”. This is because both sides are applying: not only do you apply to the company, but the company also applies to you. After all, you have the choice of accepting the job or not too. In fact, it’s rather an exchange of information, and you need to prepare for it more comprehensively than you would if it were a simple interview about yourself and your suitability.
The most important prerequisite for a successful job interview is, of course, a good CV, which I have already discussed in detail. The better your CV is, the more likely you can expect questions from the other side which you will have a convincing answer for. Apart from that, you should also prepare for the following topics:
> Information about the company
Just as you can expect that the other side has carefully read your documents before the meeting, you should also have familiarized yourself with the company and its business areas relevant to the vacant position. You will earn bonus points in the conversation if you also present knowledge that is not quite so easy to acquire. So, if you have the opportunity to use other sources of information in addition to the usual search on the internet (e.g. in the form of a friend who is a customer or supplier of the company), you should definitely do so. But don’t take it too far and avoid presenting confidential data that you actually shouldn’t have had any access to. In addition, you should concentrate primarily on positive aspects, although you may of course also address obvious problems (announced job cuts, planned relocations etc.).
> Information about the other participants
Furthermore, you should have as much knowledge as possible about the participants on the company side before you speak with them for the first time. This involves at least knowledge about their positions in the company and their (presumed) goals in the interview. If you haven’t already been informed of this by the other side, it is very important to find out about it yourself.
Ideally, your knowledge about the other participants should also include some basic information about their own career, hobbies, family life etc. A good basis for this is the social network for professional contacts LinkedIn, which I have referred to already.
With this knowledge, answering questions as well as deciding what issues you should address with what kind of wording becomes much easier. I have prepared an example of this as well:
Let’s say you are applying for the position of department head. Your experience is being taken seriously, but you have not yet managed a larger team. You know that your interviewer and potential new boss, Mr. Jérôme Desmarais, is therefore not sure yet to offer you the job. As part of your preparations, you discovered that Mr. Desmarais is an enthusiastic hobby pilot and very interested in the subject of aviation in general. You are trying to use this as a parallel to alleviate his concerns and say:
»Of course, taking over a department of 20 would be a steep take-off for me as a current team leader. Nevertheless, Mr. Desmarais, as a serious hobby pilot, wouldn’t you agree with the statement that the reliable execution of the tower’s instructions is more important for a safe flight than the number of flight attendants in the cabin? And I suppose I could rely on your support as “chief air traffic controller” in mastering the new challenge, correct?«
The knowledge you have about the interviewer enables you to address the other side with a parallel that is of an emotionally positive nature for him. Such an approach stands a good chance to convince him of your suitability better than you would with abstract facts.
Admittedly, the reasoning behind the content of this example may be questioned. But this almost always applies to the use of so-called facts alike. In this example, the focus is elegantly shifted away from managing a much higher number of employees and towards highly effective communication with superiors, where the candidate can improve his score due to his previous work experience. If you as an applicant are sure that you are up to the task, why shouldn’t you present yourself armed with your best resources as a priority during the interview?
Besides this, you can assume that the other party’s decisions (and if you’re not careful, your own as well) are more often made primarily based on a gut feeling, than most applicants and company representatives think is possible in their particular case. You can use this to your advantage by conveying as much content as possible in the form of verbally painted pictures (as mentioned in the example above) and short success stories on the basis of your previous work experience. Both will contribute a lot to a pleasant atmosphere and you should use anything else as well that has such potential. Of course, that’s not possible without some substance. There must always be a certain foundation that can be used to create the show.
> Your salary expectations
As you may have noticed, I have put the subject of salary negotiations into a dedicated chapter, which will be discussed in detail later. However, it is important that you have prepared yourself for it before the first interview too, as the question about your salary expectations may come up in the first meeting already.
> Your questions
This is an important topic because it does not only concern your actual questions which you would like to have answered in the conversation. Of course, you should have notes on those written down beforehand.
You can, however, achieve a lot more with good questions. On the one hand, you can direct the conversation to specific topics in your CV that make you stand out particularly well, and at the same time distract from the things you would rather not talk about. Furthermore, with the right questions, you can also address topics that you couldn’t include in your CV for space or other reasons, but whose discussion would further increase the positive perception of your suitability. I have a little example for this too:
Your focus during the conversation
What awaits you in the actual conversation can be divided into two possible scenarios. The first is that you get lucky and encounter an experienced and well-prepared interviewer. This person will create a pleasant atmosphere right from the start, have read your documents in full and written down relevant questions, give you enough opportunities to present your suitability and, last but not least, openly address any concerns he or she may have and allow you to refute them.
You guessed it: Unfortunately, this kind of interviewer is the exception rather than the rule. This has to do with the fact that most managers conduct job interviews rarely and are therefore pretty inexperienced themselves. When I wrote above that you could expect the other side to have taken a close look at your documents before the interview, this was referred to more as a legitimate moral claim. In fact, you cannot at all rely on the other side a) having read your documents completely, b) having understood them correctly and c) being prepared for the interview with you on this basis. Apart from this, many managers don’t even know what the appropriate questions for their decision-making should be. As a result, the individual interviews they conduct tend to take an accidental and therefore often unsatisfactory course.
This, of course, only describes two extremes. Real situations usually fall somewhere in the grey area in between, although unfortunately rather on its lower end. How it will turn out to be in your specific case, you will only find out during the interview. Therefore, it is important that you are always able to actively influence the course of the conversation and not leave it up to chance. You do this by ensuring that the interview goals relevant to both sides are achieved by the end of the interview, which means that you have to address these topics yourself if necessary. By the way, they are the same as for your cover letter, but of course, the interview is about a detailed discussion of them. Unlike your CV, which is primarily intended to pique the curiosity of the reader, this is now about clarifying all open questions concerning your suitability with a positive outcome. Pay particular attention to this if the other side does not, because anything that is still unclear after the interview is usually little in your favor.
With references to your CV and possible attachments as substantiation, you should therefore convincingly convey the following to the hiring manager during the conversation:
- That you are already (somewhat) familiar with the hiring company.
- That you understand the open position, its respective tasks and especially how to be successful in it.
- Why your career to date provides an excellent basis for this (proof of your competence).
- How you will personally benefit from the new job (proof of your motivation).
- How you will make a significant contribution to the success of the company in the near future already.
It is important to stay in touch with the other side after the meeting. This applies in particular if the decision-making process on part of the company takes a considerable length of time.
It always makes a good impression if you send an email thanking the other party for the invitation and the interesting conversation right after the interview. This is also an excellent opportunity to answer any possibly remaining questions. If you were unable to present an important piece of information during the interview because you forgot or due to a lack of time, you can still do this now. And a good way to conclude your message is always the offer to contact you at any time if there are further questions or the wish for another meeting.
So, to summarize:
During my job interview, I will make sure that I communicate my suitability and the value of my future work for the hiring company comprehensively and convincingly, even if I get asked little about it.
On August 18th, Mr. Kay-Dietrich K. from Hamburg wrote to me after implementing these tips:
»Whatever the task at hand: fine-tuning my CV, cold-calling companies, preparing for job interviews or following up after them, I was always at least one step ahead of the other side.«