What are the most commonly asked questions in German job interviews and which answers are well received? As I am asked this question a lot, I want to address the typical questions as well as strategies for responding to them. In order to arrange a personal coaching to prepare for your job interview please
Typical interview questions
1. Please introduce yourself.
2. What qualifications do you have for the position?
3. Why did you apply for the position?
4. Personalized question (s) about your CV; these can be questions of interest, such as
- Why did you move to Germany from your home country?
- Why did you choose your course of study?
- What lessons did you take with you from your year abroad in the USA?
Stress questions that pick up on a negative point from your résumé, e.g.
- Why did you not complete your studies in the standard period of study?
- Why did you only stay in your first job for three months?
5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
6. How do you deal with criticism?
7. Technical questions or estimation questions.
8. How do you deal with difficult situations in your professional life? Give us a specific
example of a difficult situation in the past and how you dealt with it.
9. Tell us about a situation in which you made a mistake in your professional life and how you dealt with it.
10. What is your greatest achievement in your professional life?
11. How would you describe your own work / leadership style?
12. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
13. Do you have any questions for us?
Please introduce yourself.
The self-presentation is almost always the first question of the interview. Your performance here will greatly contribute to the first impression the interviewers will have of you. Since the first impression is often the most important, you should prepare yourself very well for this part of the interview.
With this question, HR professionals and managers want to find out more about you and your résumé. Give an overview of your CV, but make sure to only describe the points relevant to the position and company. Particularly interesting for the company are e.g. your work experience in the area of the position and relevant university or professional degree. You should highlight these parts of your résumé. You do not need to mention any areas of your résumé that have nothing to do with the position (e.g. a degree in another area that you didn’t finish). Introducing yourself should take 3-5 minutes, depending on how much experience you have.
What qualifications do you have for the position?
You should also prepare particularly well when asked about your qualifications for the position. Think about which qualifications from your studies or training and professional life you have for the position. To do this, analyze the job description: which of the hard and soft skills mentioned do you have and in which tasks do you already have work experience? Emphasize these.
The company wants to know exactly why you are the perfect candidate for the position. The ideal case for any company is that you are already so qualified that you don't need a lot of training. It is therefore important to go into detail about the qualifications mentioned in the job description.
By the way: don't be discouraged if you don't have all of the mentioned qualifications. The job description portrays a completely ideal candidate; the company does not expect the candidates to actually have all of the qualifications. The fact that you have been invited to the interview shows that the company considers you to be are a suitable candidate for the position. You should present yourself with according confidence.
Why did you apply for the position?
It is important for companies to have motivated and enthusiastic employees. Therefore, a classic interview question is why you applied for the position. When answering this question, you should address both: what inspires you about the position and about the company. If you already have a lot of work experience in the relevant field, you can also mention this as a motivation. Find out more about the company in advance of the interview. Use sources such as the company website, YouTube and social media. You should know both the key data of the company (size, area of activity, locations, latest developments, etc.) as well as the guiding principles and the company's vision. Also make sure to be well-informed about the company's latest developments.
Personalized question (s) about your CV
It is very likely that the interviewers will ask you questions about your résumé. These can be questions about interesting parts of your résumé, but also critical questions. In preparation for the interview think about which parts of your CV offer potential for these questions and how you want to answer them.
Interested questions about your résumé mostly relate to extraordinary points on your résumé or to why you made certain decisions. This could be for example questions about semesters abroad or, if you have moved to Germany from abroad, what were your reasons for doing this. It could also be questions regarding certain decisions, such as changing jobs or choosing a course of study.
Of course, there may also be critical questions asked about your résumé. Very few people have a “perfect” résumé. Many résumés offer "point of attacks" for critical questions, for example due to gaps, very short employment periods or not finishing a university graduation. Before the interview, identify which parts of your résumé offer such “vulnerabilities” and think about how you can explain them. As long as you give reasons for your decisions in a comprehensible and reflective manner, they will usually not be a problem. However, you should not mention weak points of your résumé by yourself.
Personalized question(s) about your résumé may be interested questions, such as
- Why did you decide to move to Germany?
- What lessons did you take with you from your semester abroad?
- Why did you choose your course of study?
Stress questions that pick up on a negative point from your résumé, could be
- Why do you have a gap in your résumé?
- Why did you only stay for three months in your first job?
- Why did you not complete your studies?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
The question of strengths and weaknesses is a classic. Nowadays it is not asked in every job interview, but you should be prepared for it nevertheless. In terms of your strengths, you should choose those that are relevant to the job. Ideally you can name strengths that are listed as soft skills in the job description. Give an example from your previous professional life that emphasizes the strength. If you e.g. apply for a position in marketing and creativity is mentioned as a desired skill in the job posting, you could name this skill (only if it really applies to you of course). As an example, from your professional life that emphasizes this skill you could e.g. describe a creative advertising campaign that you have designed.
Regarding the weakness, you should be careful to name a weakness that is forgivable for the job. For example, no company will tolerate being unpunctual or lazy. Take a weakness that is actually a weakness and not a strength disguised as a weakness such as perfectionism or impatience. Pick a trait that you would actually describe as one of your weaknesses, but that is "moderate" and does not disqualify you as a candidate. It is smart to choose a weakness that is not highly relevant for the job. For example, if you come from abroad and do not speak German very well, but the company language is English, you could name your knowledge of German as a weakness. This weakness is suitable because it is actually a weakness, but it is not too relevant for the job. The trick in answering this question is to emphasize how you are working on the weakness. If your weakness is that you don't speak German very well, you could e.g. emphasize that you are currently taking a German course, read German newspapers and practice your German as much as possible in your free time in order to learn German quickly. In this way you “turn” your weakness into a strength by showing that you are motivated and ambitious to work on it.
I recommend naming three strengths and one weakness. It is clever to think of one or two more weaknesses in case the interviewer should ask about further weaknesses.
How do you deal with criticism?
The question of how to deal with criticism is popular because companies want to make sure that employees can deal with criticism. Companies appreciate employees that see criticism or feedback in general as an opportunity to develop themselves further and improve their skills. No company wants employees who take criticism personally or react defensive.
The message should be that if criticized in a constructive way, you see it as an opportunity to improve and develop yourself. With your answer, you should show that you are able to deal with criticism and that you do not take it personally, but are willing to accept it in order to further improve yourself. You can also say that you are actively requesting feedback, for example after completing a project, to find out which points you can improve in the future.
Technical questions or estimation questions.
Of course, technical / professional questions (“Fachfragen”) are often asked in order to evaluate your suitability for the position. Using the job description, take a close look at which areas of work the position includes and think about which professional questions may be asked and how you can answer them.
Sometimes employers ask estimation questions. For example, if you are applying for a job at an airline, you could be asked how many flights the airline operates per year. It is usually impossible to know the exact answer to these questions and companies don’t expect you to. What companies focus on is that you stay calm and demonstrate your logical thinking skills.
Let the other person participate in the derivation of your solution. For these types of tasks, it is important that you have previously familiarized yourself with the company and its products. In order to answer the example question you could e.g. demonstrate your knowledge of how many aircraft the airline has. Then you could estimate what percentage of the aircrafts are in use on one day, taking into account the resting periods, repair work etc. You could then extrapolate this to the flights per month and finally per year. Even if your answer is far from reality, you have proven that you approached the question in a calm, structured and logical manner.
How do you deal with difficult situations in your professional life? Give us a specific example of a difficult situation in the past and how you dealt with it.
Companies often ask about difficult situations you have experienced in your professional life and how you dealt with them. The company wants to make sure that you keep your cool and work in a focused and solution-oriented manner even in difficult situations and under stress.
The more difficult the situation was and the more competently you solved it, the better will be the impression that the company gets of you. Of course, it is also clever to choose a difficult situation you didn’t cause. Your answer should be focused on how competently you solved the situation and – if applicable – how this has helped the company. It also makes sense to describe what you have learned from the situation.
Tell us about a situation in which you made a mistake in your professional life and how you dealt with it.
Like all negative questions, asking about a mistake you've made in your professional life is one of the challenges of an interview. It is crucial to choose a mistake that was not too serious and to highlight how professionally and creatively you solved the situation. It is also important to describe what lessons you have learned from the mistake. While answering the question honestly, you should try to leave a positive impression by emphasizing your problem-solving skills and reflective personality. It is also smart to choose a mistake that is not too relevant for the position.
What is your greatest achievement in your professional life?
Talking about the greatest accomplishments in your professional life is your chance to shine. Think of an accomplishment that is both impressive and relevant for the job. Best case it should be an achievement that was performed in the area of the intended position. Of course, accomplishments that have measurably contributed to the profit for the company or a cost reduction are always appreciated.
How would you describe your own work / leadership style?
Sometimes interviewers want you to describe your work style or – if applicable for the position – your leadership style. In order to answer this question, it is also worth taking a look at the job description. If the job description mentions soft skills that relate to the work or leadership style and apply to you, it makes sense to name them and to give an example from your professional life. For example, if the job description mentions “independent working style” as a desired competence of candidates, you could name this quality together with an example from your professional life.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
The question of where you see yourself in five years is also often asked by recruiters. On the one hand, companies want to have motivated and ambitious employees, but on the other hand they want to make sure that they want to stay in the company and do not want to use the company as a “stepping stone” into another company. Since the training period is time-consuming and costly for companies, they are looking for employees who commit to the company long term. With your answer, you should show that you are ambitious but also plan to stay in the company. A good answer could for example imply that you picture yourself in the same area and company, but in a higher position. Make sure that your answer doesn’t sound aggressive, because companies are looking for ambitious employees but don’t want to get the impression that you are a threat to their own position.
Do you have any questions for us?
At the end of the interview, applicants are asked if they have any questions themselves. It is very important that you prepare a few questions as this shows that you are interested, critical, and prepared. You also have the opportunity to “turn the tables” and get to know the company. At the end of the day, not only the company makes a decision, but you should ask yourself if you want to work for this company. Having the company respond to your questions will give you insights that will be valuable for your decision making.
As it is common to ask 2-3 questions at the end of the interview, it makes sense that you prepare 4-5 questions, as some questions will probably be clarified in the course of the interview. Feel free to bring the questions with you on a piece of paper and pick it up in case you can’t remember all questions.
The questions should not be chosen strategically, but rather help you to get a clearer picture of the position and the company. Therefore, think about which questions you want to be answered in order to make your decision for or against the position.
Please find below some examples of questions that are commonly used by candidates:
- How does the job training (“Einarbeitung”) in your company work? Who is responsible?
- How will my areas of responsibility / day-to-day tasks look like specifically?
- What possibilities for personal development and on-the-job training does the company offer?
- How big is the team?
- Is it possible to meet some colleagues and see the workplace?
- Is it possible to work from home?
- What are the next steps in the application process? When can I expect a decision?