The job interview
thorough preparation and self-presentation are standard
Despite all of the innovation and new technologies that have revolutionised the job search process in recent years, one thing remains the same: in almost every interview, your interviewer will pick up your application documents, quickly leaf through your cover sheet and your cover letter before reaching your CV, and then ask you say something about yourself. “Run me through your CV and tell me what you did in your previous jobs,” is often the opening gambit. This is why preparing for your interview is so important if you want to stand out.
Storytelling in job interviews
One approach you can take for convincingly presenting yourself in a job interview is storytelling. With storytelling, it’s all about telling a story in the interview, following one common thread as you outline the key facts from your CV. This keeps things more lively and interesting, and allows you to show off your personality during the interview. Be it an employer or a recruitment agency, no one wants to hear their candidate say in the interview that everything ‘just turned out like that’. They want to know more.
Use the storytelling approach to run through your CV, and mention some examples from your working life that are relevant for the respective industry, company and position you are interested in. You can also demonstrate why you would be a perfect match for the position based on your current job, and why you are looking to move. In other words: you need to say a lot about what is important for the advertised position, and ideally impress the recruiter during the job interview.
The frequently used term ‘USP’ (unique selling proposition), also known as your unique selling point, is important to remember when you describe your professional career in the job interview. Based on your personal strengths, qualifications, experience and your value, your USP is crucial for succeeding on the job market. Your USP can be the deciding factor for your employer when it comes to choosing you for the job over all of the other applicants.
Storytelling: presenting your CV
We recommend going through your CV in chronological order in the interview. Adhering to this system lets you tell a cohesive and positive development story in your self-presentation. In most cases, this means starting with the most recent educational institution, e.g. university, and then working your way through your CV up until the present day. It might be worth practising your self-presentation when you’re preparing for the interview. Ask family and friends to listen to you present your CV and then give you some feedback. You should also focus on your body language when doing this, and get some feedback on this as well.
Be concise when you describe all of your experience as part of your self-presentation. This is particularly important when you are talking about positions that were a long time ago or which you only held for a short period of time. Explain how one position led to the next. This will eventually bring you to your current situation. In the next section, we’ll show you exactly how you should go about working on your CV storytelling in preparation for your interview.
Work out your story
If you haven’t yet thought about your story, first think about what skills you have. You can use the following template to do this:
Ask your colleagues
Ask your current and former colleagues to see where they think your talents lie. Reflect on what you can do well and what you’re proud of.
Back up your strengths with examples. One easy option here would be to find out how much money you helped your company to save. If that isn't possible for your current position, mention examples that show how you successfully applied your skills or introduced innovations. Think about several examples – ideally you should have one example for each skill, experience, area of responsibility and any other competencies that you can use to stand out and impress in the interview.
What work can you do that no one else can?
Think about your current work. Is there anything that only you and no one else can do at your current workplace?
Look through previous application documents
Take a look at your old application documents and skip to the performance assessments. Which of your skills were praised in these assessments? Read through your old cover letters as well. Old cover letters will sometimes remind you about previously formulated thoughts that you have long since forgotten about and which can be useful for your job interview and impressing HR professionals when presenting yourself.
Which jobs are you particularly good at?
Go through each of your previous jobs. What duties and responsibilities did you have? Identify areas in which you have particularly in-depth skills and which you enjoyed.
Analyse the job description before the interview
Some parts of your education and professional experience are more relevant for the job you are applying for than others. It is therefore important to highlight certain parts of your education and professional experience which match the job description when preparing for the interview. Non-highlighted parts require less attention.
For example, you studied computer science for three years at university and worked as a trainee in sales for a year after graduating. You then spent two years as a sales employee before moving to a new company as a key account manager. Now you’re applying for a position as a sales manager. In this case, you should allow for more time to talk about your experience as a key account manager. However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore the other aspects of your career.
Parts of your CV you should only touch on
You should still briefly mention any professional experience that is not, or only very slightly relevant for the position you are applying for (e.g. time spent as a trainee in the above example). Completely ignoring these sections of your career could give the wrong impression that you are trying to hide something. You should therefore briefly touch on these positions and explain how you ended up there. Something like:
‘After successfully completing my computer science degree, I didn’t really know which direction to go in. That is why I focused on jobs that would allow me to gather a wide range of experience and gain transferable skills when I was searching for positions on job sites. I also wanted to work with people. After many unsuccessful searches across lots of different job portals, I was sent a job offer by a recruitment consultant for a trainee position in sales for one of their customers – it seemed like a sensible entry position and it all started from there.’
Professional experience that you should highlight
If you would like to highlight a part of your CV when presenting yourself in the interview, outline the position and areas of responsibility that match the position you are applying for. In the above-mentioned example, this would be the experience as a key account manager. You don’t have to talk about every minute detail of your skills and successes – there will be plenty of time for that during the rest of the interview, especially if you have to answer any competency-based questions. It’s also highly likely that the company has access to your application folder containing all of the information they need. You should therefore only use this self-presentation portion of the interview to explain how you came to the position, your duties there that are relevant to the job description and why you decided to move on.
Explain any gaps in your CV
Make sure to explain any gaps in your CV as part of your interview preparation. Again, you don’t need to go into detail here, but if you have a gap in employment of three months of longer in your CV, you should at least explain what you did during this time. Breaks in your career are OK as long as you can explain to your interviewer what you did during this time (e.g. studying, family obligations or travel). You could explain these gaps in your CV using storytelling as follows:
‘Between my jobs at X and Y I went travelling to expand my cultural horizons and become more independent. I spent three months backpacking in south-east Asia.’
The interview often falls flat on just one bad answer
The fact that the question about your CV is actually always asked during interviews does not mean that it is always answered in a particularly good way. Quite the opposite: since many people think that this question is one of the easiest to answer (‘I know my own work history, I was there after all!’), it is often overlooked in preparation for the interview. However, it is incredibly important to do your homework – plan what you would like to highlight when presenting yourself in the interview and how you would like to illustrate this. Adapt your style and focus to the company and position you are applying for in order to impress during the interview.
Your answers to these standard questions can make or break the start of your self-presentation. If you fall at this first hurdle, you can quickly cancel out any positive impression that you made by sending a well-written application. Thinking about how to tell your story and the parts you wish to showcase in advance will help you to give your interviewer a concise, coherent overview of your personal and professional background and lay a solid foundation for the rest of the interview.
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