Advisory Services Career Service

Personal interview

If you succeed in being invited for a personal interview, your application, your qualifications and your motivation have proved convincing. Remember to confirm the appointment for the personal interview and to thank the contact person. You should now see the personal interview as an opportunity to get to know your potential employer and to introduce yourself in person. A personal interview is always a dialog, a mutual chance to get to know one another during which both parties should ask questions.

In the following sections, you will be given information and tips helping you to prepare adequately for the personal interview and to be convincing.

Specific preparation for the personal interview is essential. The more thoroughly and comprehensively your preparations, the more confident you will feel during the interview. Pay attention to the following points:

Job advertisement

Read the job description again in detail and note which characteristics and requirements the job profile entails.

Information about the company

Find out about the company concerned. You will not make a good impression if you are unable to answer questions concerning the company. At the very least, you should know the following facts about the company:

  • Sector in which the company is active, current economic situation, market position, key competitors, etc.
  • Company's business partners
  • Company's target group and customers
  • Products or services
  • Locations (abroad also)
  • Organization structure (in particular the department for which you have applied)
  • Number of employees
  • Annual turnover
  • Mission statement of the company, corporate philosophy

In addition to your online search, ask about the company among your acquaintances (possibly customers or employees of the company) and use this information to prepare for the interviewer's questions and prepare a meaningful list of questions.

Personal competences and experience

You should know your CV in detail and be able to answer questions concerning your career, your experiences and your qualifications without hesitating. Take care not merely to reiterate what is in your CV (do not learn sentences by heart!). Your descriptions should be short, precise and relevant to the job.

  • Motivation: You should be able to justify what pushed you to follow a certain training course or take a certain decision and, of course, why you are interested in the advertised job with the company in question. Incorporate background information which cannot be found in your written CV.
  • Competence profile: Deal with your technical and cross-disciplinary competences and skills and your previous experience. Think of specific examples you can call on to illustrate your statements during the interview. When preparing the interview, remember that your skills can be expressed not only in your work but also in your training or your leisure activities.
  • You and the company: In light of the information you have collected about the company and your own skills, think about which benefits you can offer the company. Also think about what you expect from the company (e.g. personal development within the company, working hours, social benefits). If you have little experience in a specific area, this can make you even more open and you might also have new, innovative ideas.

Preparing questions

A personal interview is not a one-sided interview in which you merely have to answer the questions posed by the HR manager; it is a chance for you to get to know each other. You should therefore prepare for any questions you might be asked as well as preparing questions you would like to ask during the interview. Make sure that you do not ask any questions that you could have answered yourself by conducting your own research beforehand. You can find more information concerning questions during the personal interview here.

Preparation for questions you might be asked

Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions during a personal interview (e.g. concerning your career, your qualifications, your strengths and weaknesses, the company). Often, in addition to predictable questions, more targeted questions are asked which are intended to challenge you considerably. For such questions, it is not only your answer that is important but also your reaction. Can you keep your cool or do you become unsettled? Do you dare to ask a question? Do you dodge it? 

  • If, for example, you do not want to provide details about your private life, you should not simply say that you refuse to answer the question. It is better to stress that you would prefer to focus on your professional future. In doing so, you steer the discussion back towards professional aspects.
  • Your weaknesses: Try not to hide your weaknesses but admit to them and show that you can deal with them or that you can turn them into strengths. If you tend to lose yourself in the details, you can say that you are always willing to do overtime in order to complete a task. You should nevertheless not mention more than 1 or 2 weaknesses.
  • Your strengths: When describing your strengths, you should be sure not to over-exaggerate. Be aware that any strengths you mention may subsequently be required in your day-to-day work exactly as you describe them. HR specialists are quick to detect when you are exaggerating your skills.

Preparing your own questions

A personal interview is not a one-sided matter. Naturally, you should also ask your potential future employer a number of questions. Make sure that you do not ask any questions that you could have answered yourself by conducting your own research beforehand. Questions can, for example, relate to the following topics:

  • More precise details concerning the job profile (e.g. competences, responsibility, team work, etc.)
  • Classification of the job within the company (organization chart)
  • Development opportunities
  • Questions about the workplace and working hours
  • Travel opportunities
  • Social benefits

Your external appearance (personal hygiene, clothing, haircut) is an important factor in every personal interview. A neat appearance not only shows that you believe that the interviewer and the interview are important, but also proves that you are capable of adopting an appropriate appearance in a professional environment. Pay attention to the following points:

  • General cleanliness and care (e.f. shoes, fingernails, haircut).
  • Think about and ask yourself what style is usual in the profession/sector concerned and what is particularly important. Comply with this style (clothes, shoes, haircut, etc.).
  • Make sure that you feel at ease in your clothes. You shouldn't feel like an actor because of your appearance (e.g. wear a new suit at home before attending your personal interview).
  • If the job involves representative tasks, you must wear a suit. If you are unsure, visit the company's website first to see how the employees shown are dressed. It is better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed.

The following list of non-job-specific clothing includes the most common clothing for personal interviews:

Men

  • Suit or jacket and a freshly-ironed shirt. A freshly-ironed pair of trousers.
  • Subdued colors (e.g. gray or black)
  • A tie can be colorful, but without wild patterns and unusual motifs
  • You should shave thoroughly
  • No piercings or earrings

Women

  • Opt for a suit, a trouser-suit or a combination
  • A skirt should not be to short, even when sitting
  • Blouses and necklines should be discreet
  • Stockings are better than bare skin, even in summer
  • Shoes: No high heels or boots
  • Make-up and perfume should be unobtrusive
  • Carry a briefcase or a large handbag
  • Avoid extreme color combinations and garish colors
  • No piercings, subtle jewelry

Bring with you

  • Comb, subtle deodorant or perfume, lint roller
  • A briefcase with all your prepared content with the most important on top
  • A change of clothes (extra shirt or blouse) so that you are prepared for little accidents

No Go

  • Checked tie with a striped shirt
  • Baggy pullover
  • Flip-flops, sandals, sneakers, dirty shoes
  • A shirt or blouse that is too tight
  • Mini-skirt
  • Low neckline
  • Too much bare skin
  • Too much jewelry
  • Overpowering perfume
  • Dirty glasses

When planning your journey, make sure that you arrive on time for the interview (not too late but not too early).

  • Prepare a travel plan including alternative routes and means of transport in case there are traffic delays. You should also think about the means of transport: With a motorbike or bicycle, you run the risk or arriving at your personal interview soaked with sweat. If you have a very long journey, it might be better to spend the night in a hotel. Calculate precisely how much time you need for the journey and include some spare time.
  • Take all the necessary information with you concerning your journey (preferably printed out).
  • It is advisable to carry the telephone number of the relevant HR manager (and/or their secretary) with you. If, despite your planning, you arrive late, you can notify the company of this by telephone.
  • It is worth familiarizing yourself with the area around the company's premises by means of a map or in person beforehand - with any luck, you will be working in this area. Last minute difficulties in finding the right entrance cause unnecessary stress.

Personal interviews can be conducted in a number of very different ways. From one-to-one discussions to interviews before a committee while observed by psychologists, everything is possible. From the standpoint of the company, a personal interview serves to get to know you both personally and professionally (while preserving your privacy). In light of your social competences and soft skills, HR managers can assess whether or not you will fit into the team.

Greeting: Make a positive and open impression during initial small talk. Seemingly secondary questions or statements can often be more important than you might expect: If, for example, it is necessary to move to another town for the job, it makes a good impression if you are already familiar with the area and have come to terms with moving house.

Body language: It is important to approach a personal interview with a self-confident, open, curious and interested attitude. By doing so, most people automatically adopt a correspondingly self-confident posture. Do not, therefore, try to control your body language but focus on the interview. A certain degree of nervousness is entirely normal and prevents you from being too nonchalant or unfocused. In terms of non-verbal communication, pay attention to the following points:

  • A firm handshake (but not unpleasantly so)
  • Don't fold your arms in front of you and don't put them under the table
  • Adopt an open sitting posture
  • Talk with a calm voice
  • Indicate your agreement or understanding when listening, e.g. by occasionally nodding your head
  • Use your hands to underline your verbal statements (but not by wild gesticulation)
  • As a general rule, maintain eye contact with your contact partner when talking or listening (but avoid constant fixing; your eyes can and should wander from time to time)
  • Be friendly, smile occasionally

Ask you own questions: During discussion phases when the company and the job are being explained to you in greater detail, actively think about what this information means for both you and the company. This enables you to ask meaningful questions and provides you with valuable information for the rest of the interview. When you ask one of the questions you have prepared, mention your prior knowledge and explain exactly which aspect you want to know more about. In principle, follow the course of the conversation and adapt youer answers and questions to the current content of the discussion.

End and taking leave: The last minutes of a personal interview in particular can imprint themselves on the memory of an HR manager. Thank them for the interview and the interest the company has shown in you. Make sure you take your leave in a friendly and positive manner. You should never ask how you have been rated.

Analyze the personal interview and reflect on what you noticed. When and why did you feel at ease or unsure and stressed? How did you answer the questions and how did you envisage yourself? Reflect on whether you were able to present your preparation and whether your preparation was sufficient. If you are rejected, try to discover the reasons behind the rejection by means of friendly inquiries.

Good follow-up is important as every personal interview can make you more confident and competent with regard to future personal interviews.