GERMAN INTERVIEW MISTAKES: THE DOS AND DON’TS
Job interviews are probably one of the single worst things we have to endure in our lives.
I talked about this with my friend recently, as she is searching for a job in Berlin right now and really struggling with the effort it involves. She told me she feels like an actor auditioning for a play, expected to go out there and perform to the best of her ability only to be judged by complete strangers about how she behaves in a handful of sessions, where it’s impossible to show your current worth and future potential. People who barely know you get to make a decision about whether or not you get a job, your livelihood, and the thing you spend 40 hours a week doing.
It’s more complicated and difficult when you live in a country other than your own and you find out the hard way that things you’re used to at home may not work well in your new one. I personally experienced culture shock when I first moved to Germany and started interviewing – I was surprised when they asked me about my preferred salary range so early in the process. Back home in Canada, salary wasn’t a topic until the time of the offer. Things in Canada may have changed in the time since I left in 2014, but this is how it usually worked during the early part of my career.
While I’ve already written an extensive guide about job interviews in Germany (including how to ace them!), I thought it was time to break down some of the biggest mistakes people make in German job interviews.
DON’T MAKE THESE GERMAN INTERVIEW MISTAKES
So just what are the biggest German interview mistakes that people make? There are plenty of them so buckle down and get into it.
1) Showing Up Late
People always go on about punctuality being important to Germans, but if you’ve been reading our guides for long enough now, you’ll know we avoid stereotypes at all costs.
Being on time for an interview is a no-brainer for anyone, anywhere. In fact, you should show up at least 10 minutes early so you can get settled in and take a few moments for yourself before the interview starts. This way, you go into the interview feeling more relaxed and ready versus coming into it stressed and rushed.
If you’re doing a video interview, you obviously won’t jump into the call 10 minutes early, but you can ensure you’re looking good, have a coffee or water beside you, and take some time to focus. It’s also a good idea to ensure your internet connection is stable and of all your equipment is working like your microphone or camera. Try connecting to the chat for test purposes in case you need to install software or unlock permissions on your computer. The last thing you want to happen is for the interview to be delayed due to technical reasons.
Of course, things happen and you could be late for an interview in Germany. Don’t panic and get in touch with your contact right away (so make sure you have that information noted beforehand). Send an email or text, or make an old-fashioned call to explain your reasons and discuss how to proceed. If the hiring manager or recruiting doesn’t show understanding for your lateness, it’s a HUGE red flag and likely not a place where you’d want to work.
2) Forgetting to Say Thank You
The simple act of saying thanks can go a long way after you’ve had a job interview and could potentially make you stand apart from other candidates. All you need to do is fire off a quick email thanking the interviewer(s) for their time, share details about what you liked, and reaffirm your desire to take on the given role.
Check out our guide about sending thank you notes after a job interview.
3) Pretending to Know Something You Don’t
Many people think that admitting to you don’t know something during a job interview makes you appear unprofessional and/or unknowledgeable and that this could ultimately, cost you the job. Everyone can’t know everything and it’s perfectly acceptable to say you don’t know much about a topic or have so much experience with it. If deep expertise was required on it, you likely wouldn’t have landed the interview in the first place.
If you’re asked about something you don’t know much about, just say so. You could follow that by mentioning you’d be open to learning more. Your honesty will only be appreciated, as will your keenness for learning.
Nothing is worse than a candidate pretending to be an expert on something when they clearly aren’t. It’s such a waste of time for everyone involved and makes you appear disingenuous and arrogant. It’s the pretending that you stop you from getting the job, not your honesty.
Another thing to be mindful of is your self-awareness about how much of an expert you are on any given topic. Baking cookies a few times doesn’t make you a pastry chef, taking one Codecademy course doesn’t make you a software engineer, or suffering a few weeks on Duolingo doesn’t make you fluent in a language.
For example, I’ve seen candidates apply for an agile coach position but also claim to be a UX designer, product manager, and software engineer. Are they also a CTO and office manager? No doubt that people can possess a huge range of skills and maybe you’re that unicorn, but it comes across like you’re trying too hard and that you’re likely exaggerating. It’s also confusing for hiring managers who need to know what you’re really good at doing and what you really want to do with your career.
Be purposeful and intentional about how you present yourself when it comes to your levels of expertise. Make it obvious what you’re good at, what you don’t know so much about (yet), and what you’re keen to learn. More importantly, be able to speak as a confident subject matter expert who truly knows their stuff.
4) Looking Like You Just Rolled Out of Bed
More German interview mistakes to avoid? Whether or not you’re doing the interview in person or by video, you need to make an effort with your appearance. You can choose to go all out by spending hours getting ready, but in the very least you need to meet the bare minimum of requirements.
Video interviews are thankfully much easier to prepare for, but definitely still take the time to make your hair look nice, brush your teeth, wash your face, put on some makeup, etc. You won’t really need to dress up, but it would be good to have on a nice sweater, blouse, shirt, etc.
In person interviews will require a more rigorous effort, including a head-to-toe outfit. How formally you dress depends on the company culture and vibe, so try to find that out ahead of time. If you’re applying for a job at a German law firm, an academic institution, or a very traditional company, a suit will be needed. If you’re applying at a startup or an innovation hub, jeans, sneakers, and a nice shirt will likely suffice.
Looking put together will show that you care about yourself and the job to which you’re applying. While appearance really should not matter, unfortunately, it does in the case of job interviews.
5) Being Unfamiliar with the Company
It’s not going to look good on you if you can’t answer questions about the company you want to work for.
Do your research so you can be ready to provide a good response to general questions like “Why do you want to work here” or “What do you admire most about our company?” Imagine not being prepared and they lob out tougher questions like “How do you see our company being able to achieve a greater market share?” or “Do you feel comfortable working for our team considering the company’s current financials?”
You need to be in a good position to be able to meaningfully answer those questions. So before going into any interview, be sure to complete in-depth company research. Luckily for you, we have a guide about how to complete research on German companies.
6) Failing to Ask Good Questions
Another big mistake that people make during German job interviews is not asking any thoughtful questions. Asking questions helps you better inform yourself about the role, team, and company and provides valuable insight that will guide you in your decision about whether or not to accept a potential offer. It also shows your potential employer that you’ve thought about things, shown your interest, and have done your research.
While the context of your questions will vary depending on who’s interviewing you, be sure to always have some good questions prepared ahead of time. Check out these articles for inspiration about what questions you can ask during German job interviews:
7) Taking a Long Time to Answer Questions
I’ve seen it with candidates I’ve interviewed when I asked the classic interview question, “Tell me about yourself.” and 15 minutes later, they’re still talking. They go on for so long, they lose my attention pretty quickly. I feel bad when I have to gently interrupt them, so I can ensure we cover all of our agenda topics.
As a general rule of thumb, you should never talk for more than a few minutes. If an interviewer wants to know more, they will ask you to elaborate. Alternatively, you can also stop talking and ask the interviewer if they’d like to hear more. This is a great tactic to gauge their interest and also gives you a moment to breathe before sharing more information.
One tip for ensuring your answers will be short and to the point is to write them down beforehand and practice with a friend or even alone in front of a mirror. Keep your answers structured, beginning with a leading sentence that’s supported by a more detailed example.
8) Neglecting to be Prepared
When you don’t prepare for an interview, it shows. If you don’t ask good questions, know nothing about the company, or don’t have good answers prepared, you’ll appear careless and that won’t impress anyone.
So follow our advice outlined in other parts of this article and have some thoughtful questions prepared, make sure you know something about the company by doing comprehensive research, and be sure to have some responses to commonly asked questions at the ready.
If you do this, you’ll come across as a highly motivated candidate who’s likely to score another interview or even better, a job offer.
9) Telling Tall Tales
It’s so basic that you’d think that it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned, but candidates lying during an interview is pretty much a given. One Havard Business Review article cites 81% of people admitting to misrepresenting themselves at some point in their career with study participants telling 2.19 lies per 15-minute interview.
While little falsehoods aren’t a big deal, exaggerating too much can see you get into piles of trouble. Don’t take credit for someone else’s work, don’t lie about your experience, don’t change your job title, etc., as all of these things are big no-nos. I’ve seen it all in my time with colleagues giving themselves promotions on LinkedIn and even, another one saying they led a project that didn’t even start until after they left the organization. Everyone who saw the changes on LinkedIn knew this and those people became a big joke, losing any trust or credibility they may have once had.
These events can follow you for years to come and that’s because people talk. When organizations are interviewing new candidates, they may glimpse your CV history and see that you worked somewhere where someone they know worked as well. They may informally check with them to see if they knew you and what they thought about you. I’ve had people message me for these reasons and I’m sure that the same has been done for me as well. It won’t look good if a former colleague says “Don’t hire that person. They took credit for work that didn’t even start until after they left the company. It was a betrayal to everyone who actually worked on that project.”
So yeah, don’t be that person.
10) Talking About Yourself Too Much
During a job interview, you’ll obviously be talking a lot about yourself as you tell your potential employers about your education, skills, and experience. However, when answering questions, you need to not answer from your own perspective but from the company’s point of view. You need to position yourself as someone the company needs by explaining in a convincing matter how you either meet or exceed the job requirements. You also need to tell them about what motivates you to work there, be it you want to be part of a start-up at the beginning of their journey, you want to help a company meet its sustainability goals, achieve innovation, or something else.
Say their office is close to where you live, they pay high salaries, or you have friends that work there – while all of these are valid reasons for wanting to be employed by them, keep that to yourself. When you frame your responses to interview questions, take your own needs out of the equation for the moment – you can address your specific needs later on in the recruitment process.
11) Being Too Honest and Spilling Your Guts
We’ve advised you not to exaggerate during job interviews by telling lies, but you must also be careful and avoid being too honest.
While it’s illegal to ask certain personal questions, some interviewers at German company may ask for details like your age, marital status, or family plans. Under no circumstances should you answer these questions, as that’s information they could use against you when they’re making a hiring decision. See this video for more information. If you’re asked such a question, tell them it’s not something you feel comfortable discussing and that you’d rather stay focused on questions that are relevant to the job.
A common question is “Why did you leave your last company?” Say you had a terrible boss, the company overworked you without compensation, and/or the company had limited career advancement opportunities, avoid telling them anything about this. Again, these are all truly valid reasons to leave a place, but depending on how you word it, it might not come across that well for different reasons. So to avoid falling into a trap, keep your answers factual, forward-looking, and to the point.
If you were laid off or you quit because of the company’s poor financial outlook, you can just say it as it’s something everyone understands. We work for money and when those prospects diminish, you naturally move on. If it’s something more along the lines of the examples above, say something like, “I’m seeking out somewhere to grow my career in a new environment. While I enjoyed my time at company X and learned a lot there, it’s time to start fresh.” Whatever you do, don’t complain about your last company or any of your former colleagues, as it won’t look good on you.
This is usually enough and will allow you to continue on to more important interview discussions.
12) Failing to Articulate Your Unique Value
The biggest mission of any job interview in Germany is being able to convince the employer to hire you based on the unique value you bring through your education, skills, and experience. Having a positive attitude and showing a keenness to learn and grow helps too. As you answer their questions, ask them questions, and engage in a back-and-forth discussion, it’s your time to show how you clearly are the ideal candidate who is capable of doing the job well.
There are lots of other people applying for the same jobs, many of who are just as qualified or even more qualified than you. This is when you need to think about what makes you different. It could be your level of education, your sales records, your ability to learn fast, your skill in influencing others, your deep experience, the industries you’ve worked on, what projects you’ve led or contributed to, and/or the number of languages you speak.
Before any job interview, write all of these things down and know that these are your unique selling points. Then look at the job description and think about how to take those points into consideration when answering questions in the interview. Think about examples to support all of your points and note them down too as being able to add context to any interview response is key. Don’t just say you’ve done something, be able to talk about it in more detail.
We hope this list of German interview mistakes helps you not only prepare for your interviews but ace them as well. If we’ve missed any vital tips, drop them in the comments below. Questions are of course welcome there too.
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Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life
Hi, I’m Cheryl. My mission is to help you move to Berlin and find work.
A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin – not once, but twice. During my time in Berlin, I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee for numerous Berlin companies. I even managed to find a new job during the pandemic and again in 2023, during Germany’s recession and massive layoffs in tech.
My day job has involved work as a hiring manager, overseeing the recruitment of countless people, as well as a team coach helping teams and individuals work better and find happiness in their careers. Through my side projects, I’ve also shared my personal experiences by publishing a series of helpful blog posts, creating a thriving community of job seekers, and hosting events to help people find work in Berlin. In 2021, I decided to put my coaching and recruiting talents to use by creating The Berlin Life, bringing my existing content and community together in one spot.
The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.