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Job interviews in business and industry

A job interview can often feel like an exam. But bear in mind that you were invited to the interview because your application and CV have already suggested to the company that you are qualified for the job. However, this does not mean that you are guaranteed the job. If you want to be successful at your interviews you should begin preparing long before the interview date.


Steps to prepare for a job interview

1. Learn more about the company

You have, of course, already studied the company when writing your application. But it may be a good idea to research the company even more or to refresh the information you have already gathered. At the interview, your knowledge of the company will show that you are thoroughly prepared and interested.

2. Prepare questions

You should also prepare some questions you can ask at the interview, for example about the working environment, challenges and scope for development. The questions can pertain to the position, the department and the company, such as the social life, the management style, the company's future plans, further training, career opportunities etc. If you do not think that it has been made clear enough in the interview, you can also ask about what kind of results you would be expected to deliver. Avoid asking too many questions about pay, pension, holidays etc. – you want to show that it is the job you are after, not the pay package. You might choose to make a list of your questions, but it is best if they come up naturally during the interview.

Clearly express your career wishes. Why do you really want this job, and what are your expectations? Also consider what you generally expect of a workplace. And you should consider your future career. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

3. Typical questions companies may ask you

The questions companies ask during a job interview typically fall in different categories; they can ask about your motivation , your career, the move from academia to industry, your competences as well as behavioral questions. The attached guide will give you examples of such questions, that you can prepare your answers to. Pick the ones that seem most relevant for the position, you are applying for.

4. Practice

Make sure to re-read the job ad and your application carefully. Especially the parts where you argue that you are perfect for the position. Expect these areas to be covered in more detail during the interview. You may be asked to give three good reasons why they should hire you.

It is a really good idea to practise the questions you might be asked during the interview. Pretend you are an actor going on stage to perform. Imagine the questions and practise your answers. Say them out loud rather than in your mind – that will force you to string together complete sentences. When you prepare, it is a good idea to think about your life so that you can account for your choices. You need to have personal insight and an ability to describe yourself and your competences.

5. Professional qualifications

Prepare questions about your professional qualifications and your theoretical and practical background. You need to be able to justify our choice of education – why have you gone in the direction you have? You should also touch upon other professional experience you possess, possibly from work experience or extra-curricular courses.

You should not expect the interviewers to know your course of study and its content, so take care not to sound too technical. Explain what you have done and how it can be used in connection with the job in question. You should make an effort to show that you can utilise some of the qualifications you claim to possess. Therefore, avoid listing your qualifications, but rather provide examples. Talk about your results and reflect on what you have gained from these experiences. You could, for instance, talk about a difficult assignment you completed or a situation where you took the initiative. Think through your good stories and successes.

6. The negative sides

If, on the other hand, you have experienced negative situations, such as a dismissal, you can be sure that the interviewer will ask about it. You will not be disqualified just because you have been fired, but be prepared to explain why and what the reaction was. Never speak negatively about others – not even about a previous employer who may deserve it. If you talk about conflicts you have experienced, then give yourself part of the blame. It shows that you can reflect on your own performance.

7. Personal qualifications

In your stories, you can also incorporate your personal qualifications and highlight, e.g., your independence, your cooperation skills or your excellent ability to handle stress. If not, you can expect such questions to be asked. Interviewers are particularly interested in learning about your personal characteristics in relation to the position in question, and they will typically ask how you work with others, the role you play in a group, what you most enjoy working with and anything else that is relevant in relation to the position.

8. Interests and your private life

Personality is often strongly emphasised, so be prepared to talk about yourself, your private life and your interests. For instance what do you enjoy doing? The interviewer will generally want a complete picture of you as a person. While there are areas upon which an evaluation cannot legally be based – such as children, religious persuasion and political stance – these things will sometimes come up anyway. The interview may touch upon children and family life when you expand upon your flexibility and your attitudes towards overtime.

9. Three strengths and three weaknesses

Listing three strengths and three weaknesses, while practically a cliché, is still very useful. It shows your aptitude for personal reflection. The weaknesses are, naturally, always the most difficult. Avoid the banal "I am really bad at saying no to assignments". If you mention a semi-weakness, you can expect the interviewer to ask more questions and try to get you to go into more detail. You need to try to be honest without shooting yourself in the foot. You might name some weaknesses as areas with potential for improvement. Again, it is important to support your statements with examples.

10. Attire

Wear something presentable. Your attire should suit the company and the type of position. Find out whether they have a very informal atmosphere or whether they are a suit-and-tie company. When in doubt, dress up. You can usually come a long way with a classical, presentable outfit without overdoing it. For men, a button-down shirt and trousers – although jeans are not always appropriate. For women, take care not to dress too provocatively, avoid wearing too much perfume and jewellery – it can detract attention from your personality. Wearing a young and 'fresh' outfit can be risky. Above all, remember you should be yourself and feel comfortable in what you are wearing.

11. What to bring

It is a good idea to bring copies of your diploma and any letters of reference. The interviewers may not ask to see them, but at least you will have them with you just in case. You can also bring other things that may be relevant to the position, for example an article which you have had in a journal etc.

How to handle tests

Because hiring the wrong person can have huge financial and human costs, many companies today supplement the job interview with a test in order to have a broader foundation upon which to base a decision. The chances that you will one day be asked to take a test are very high.

Types of tests

There are several types of test, but they can generally be divided into the following three categories.

Intelligence or IQ tests

This test measures logical, linguistic and mathematical capacity. For instance, you may be asked to sort shapes according to a specific pattern or to calculate simple problems. The objective is to test your ability to make commonsensical conclusions. An IQ test says something about your reasoning skills – your ability to come up with a concrete solution to a problem. But it is not necessarily the applicant with the best test performance who is chosen, as the test does not say anything about, e.g., social skills, creativity or ability to see the big picture.

Aptitude tests

This type of test attempts to find out what skills you possess and how strong your command of them is. The test is often very concrete and can take the form of, e.g., a spelling test, a language test or a translation test. This type of test can show whether the applicant possesses the necessary skills for the job. It can also show how quickly and efficiently a person can acquire new knowledge.

Personality tests

This type of test seeks to give an idea of personal qualities, e.g. independence, cooperation skills, preferred working methods and leadership skills, just to name a few. This is often a multiple-choice test consisting of approx. 100-300 questions. The structure of the test may require you to answer questions about your behaviour in various situations. This type of test shows what kind of personality you have – your typical behaviour and key characteristics. There are many types of personality tests, and they have a variety of names, including cognitive tests, profile tests, motivation tests and interest tests.

The first two types of test describe your professional qualifications, while the third type focuses on your personal characteristics. For many companies, personality is very important – they want to know whether the applicant matches the company. That is why the personality test is the most common and is often taken as a point of departure for the personal interview.  

Preparing for the test

Many think that it is impossible to prepare for such tests. But if you try similar tests beforehand, you can demystify the process. You may not feel as much pressure during the real test if you know beforehand what it is about. That way you can relax and concentrate on your answers. However, you need to know what type of test you will be taking – you can ask when they invite you to the interview.  

What is the process?

Sometimes you will be asked to take the test at the company's offices or at the offices of a headhunting firm. The approach varies from computer testing to written tests. Sometimes you will be asked to take the test before the actual interview. In those situations, the test may take place online. One advantage of online testing is that you can take the test at home and at your own pace. A disadvantage is that you can't ask questions if you do not understand the instructions – should this be the case, you must not hesitate to call the employer or the headhunting firm.

Being tested can feel a bit strange. It is almost like taking a written exam, except that focus is on your personality. But it is important not have a negative attitude – if you say no to a test, you will most likely not get the job. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the quality of the test.

If you are critical and want to know more about the test, ask positive and interested questions about the entire procedure. You can ask who designed the test and collates the results, what kind of feedback you can expect, the weighting of the test in the final assessment and whether the test results will be kept on file and for how long. It is important that you get to see the entire test and the subsequent test results. It is also important that you get a chance to discuss the results with the assessment committee.

When your professional skills are tested

When you take an IQ or aptitude test, it is okay to be a little nervous – in fact that can improve your concentration. If you were very nervous, then talk about it at the subsequent interview, but avoid using it as an excuse for a poor performance.

During the test, it is also okay if there are questions you are unable to answer. Ask before the test begins whether you will have the chance to go back to questions you have skipped. Or if you don't know the answer, whether it is best to guess or leave it blank.  

Give direct and honest answers for the personality test

There are no right or wrong answers in a personality test, and the worst thing you can do is try to 'cheat', for example by trying to guess how the company wants you to respond. There are usually a variety of questions that cover the same area, and it will be noticed if you give conflicting answers.

Another pitfall is if you try to make yourself more confident than you actually are. This can quickly be exaggerated and will most certainly be brought up at the subsequent interview. If you take the test online, it is also a bad idea to get others to help you with the answers. You run the risk of giving the impression of being a completely different person than you actually are. You also risk actually getting the job even though you are not suited for it. So answer honestly and without thinking too much. Off-the-cuff answers often give the most precise picture of you.

Use the test results

Once you have agreed to take the test, you may as well make the most of it and have faith in the test and in its usefulness. If you take a personality test, be honest and open yourself up to the assessment committee. But you don't have to view the test as the ultimate truth about yourself. It cannot provide a complete picture of you as a person, so if you do not agree with the test results or if you do not recognise how it portrays you, say so at the subsequent interview. That way you can view the test as a starting point for a discussion about you and your development potential.

A personality test can actually be a very useful tool. It turns your personality into something relatively tangible and objective, and it can enable you to talk about areas that are otherwise be difficult to grasp. The test results can also give you a chance to deliver clear, positive messages about yourself. And you can view the test as an advantage if you get the job – the chances are high that your personality is a good match for the position.