The assessment interview is a set part of every assessment and in many respects appears to be the first introductory interview during the application procedure. It makes sense to be a bit nervous for an assessment interview, but realize that you have freedom to direct the conversation. It is not a one-way street.
Your interview partners (usually one or two behavioral experts) will look at your personality, background, career, ambitions, and motivations during the interview. In a relatively short time (2 to 3 hours), they try to form as complete a picture of you as possible. The trap that many people get caught in is that they think the selection expert/psychologist is also a psychic. They know that I’m right for the job, don’t they? My résumé says it all, right? You have to help them get a clear picture.
The first impression is important. You are being judged before the conversation has even started. Studies show that how you come across is at least as important as the content of your answers. Your clothing, behavior, attitude, voice, and non-verbal communication all play a part.
In almost every interview, you will encounter questions such as: “You say that you have experience with advising people … can you give an example?” Or “In your application letter, you write that you have experience with … can you give an example?” It is important to prepare well for such questions, because it is difficult to come up with these examples during the interview. You can use the STAR method for this. STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. An R is sometimes added to the abbreviation STAR, which stands for Reflection. By reflecting, you add conclusions to your actions.
Recent past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. That is the core believe of the STAR method. The bottom line is that you need to make clear why you are suitable for the position you are applying for by referring to actual (work) behavior.
In preparation for the job interview, it is wise to practice the STAR method at home, e.g. with a friend or partner. Try to connect the skills and characteristics required for the position to your experiences. Choose three or four skills or characteristics from the job profile that are the most important in your opinion. Describe an appropriate (work) situation from the recent past for each skill or trait. Next, consider the role you had in it, what actions you personally took, and finally, what the achieved result was. You can still reflect on how effective you were and what you might do differently in the future.
You will be asked a lot of questions during the interview but it is also very important to ask questions yourself: to obtain more information about the potential employer but also to express your interest in the job and the company.
Tips for a successful interview
- Know what is in your application letter and résumé.
- Do not tell lies or half truths.
- Use specific examples from the recent past.
- Listen carefully and make contact (nod and take notes).
- Remain having eye contact in a relaxed manner; this ensures keeping the interviewers attention.
- Don’t allow yourself to be provoked: say what you want to in a mature and assertive way and if necessary ask for clarification.
- Show interest.
- Use humor if you are comfortable with it; know that you can create a relaxed atmosphere in doing so.
- More than one interviewer? Maintain eye contact with both interviewers.
- Take initiative and ask questions: genuine interest really works. Think about this beforehand as well. A candidate who does not have any questions seems less motivated.
- Be enthusiastic and positive.
- Don’t gossip or overshare about previous jobs or superiors.
- Give a firm handshake to exude confidence but an excessively strong handshake may just seem arrogant. In addition, a “bone-breaking” grip can be quite painful for the other party.
- Prevent yourself from constantly selling yourself and do not constantly attempt to persuade the interviewer.
- Avoid the tendency to dilute the impact of your points. I did well, but it could be better because…
- Speaking too much and being too subtle creates a less powerful impression. Be clear and to the point.
- Good insight into your own weak points is important; think about what weaknesses you want to share and how you will do that in advance.
- Spontaneity and authenticity are preferred over mechanical, pre-programmed behavior.
- Read the room. Sometimes you can speak casually and sometimes you can’t. Acting too familiar often does not go over well.
- Keep your posture upright and open: do not sit bent over and do not hold your arms like a shield in front of you.
- Providing too much irrelevant background information is not recommended. Use the KISS principle; keep it short and simple.
- If you really do not know, indicate that you need a bit more time to be able to give a good answer. You do not have to know everything and have an answer to every question.
- Indicate without irritation why you do not want to talk about a certain topic.
- Analyze the job requirements and the blueprint of the company (it can be a good starting point).
Preparing for the interview
Good preparation is half the job. Interview preparation is just like the many intelligence-assessment problems that you have been working on. Practice helps! Recording yourself with a webcam is useful and puts you face to face with yourself.
Choose a question that you want to prepare. Choose an example from the list below:
- Why do you think you are suitable for this position?
- Can you briefly explain a strong point and a less strong point with examples from practice?
- Judgment is an important competence for this function. Can you give an example where an appeal was made to your judgment?
You will notice that the answers don’t simply roll off the tongue at the first attempt. Even in a completely relaxed situation, it is not common for people to “present themselves” in this way. How does this become more natural and smooth? Simply by doing it. You have to do it more than once: don’t stop until it’s second nature.
- Additional information about the interview
What types of interviews are there?
Many different terms are used for interviews and each expert adds their own terminology. The most important aspect of an interview in an assessment setting is that all questions are criterion focused. This means that the answer contributes to the question of whether someone is suitable for the job. Roughly, three types of interviews can be distinguished. 1. The position-oriented interview. In these, the main question is about behavior from the past that is relevant to the job. A great deal is already in the résumé, but the interviewer is particularly interested in your own answers. 2. The situational interview. The questions are mainly about behavior that you have shown in the past. As a rule, this involves communication and managerial skills. You will notice that there is overlap with the position-oriented interview, but one difference is that the situational interview can also be about situations that are completely independent of the position or the work, yet say a lot about your future performance. 3. The psychological interview. You guessed it, this interview is all about you. It does not have to be immediately clear what the interviewer intends to do with certain questions. Often these are major events that you have experienced and that have shaped you.
What topics are covered?
The content of the interview depends of course on the type of assessment that you are participating in. An interview usually takes about an hour and the following issues are discussed: Brief introduction (2 minutes). Explanation of the reason for the interview (3 minutes). Work experience up to the current job (10 minutes). Motivation regarding the desired position (15 minutes). Competence-related part, strong and less well developed competences (10 minutes), free time and private life (8 minutes). Conclusion (2 minutes). Mind you, this is only an estimate. Every psychologist has their own style.
What interview techniques does the psychologist use?
Consultants have their own preferences to determine to what extent someone is suitable. Depending on the purpose of the assessment, the interviewer will use different techniques that vary from highly structured to completely freeform. By far, the most used technique is the STAR method. This method is mainly used for position-oriented assessments. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. With situational techniques, you are confronted with imaginary situations. The key is how you respond to them. Confrontational techniques are mainly used to gather information about someone’s resilience (stress resistance). This technique can come across as blunt. Do you really think you are suitable for this position? Non-directive techniques are mainly used when the psychologist is curious about the candidate’s personal approach. Being able to talk freely is somewhat deceptive because there are indeed conclusions to be drawn when you elaborate on irrelevant matters. Be careful when answering open questions and think about how you want to portray yourself.
What non-verbal behavior does a psychologist see?
Despite the fact that the studies differ, some value is always placed on someone’s non-verbal communication. The values differ from 50% to 90%. Whatever the exact value, it is very important to be aware of this. When the verbal and non-verbal components don’t line up, the non-verbal component will be given the most weight. For example, imagine a candidate who says with trembling hands that she feels completely relaxed. Eye contact is very important because it creates a bond of trust in a short span time. Look at the interviewer for a few seconds every so often. Laugh and nod at the right moments, but don’t overdo it. Too much laughing and laughing at inappropriate times works against you. For example, laugh when the interviewer does. Your voice should be clear and not too loud or too soft. Leaning forward makes it obvious that you are involved and interested. Leaning backwards can seem arrogant and too relaxed. Focus your full attention on the conversation. Keep your hands still. It can help to take some notes if you know your hands are moving uneasily during an interview. Put your feet directly on the ground and do not wobble. Make full contact with the floor. Record yourself a few times with a video camera. People often think they know how they come across, but reality is often different from perception.
How do you make a good first impression?
The cliché that there is only one first impression is certainly true in an assessment. In just a short time (also for the psychologist), a judgment must be formed about your suitability for a certain position. Do everything possible to leave a good impression. A first step in this process is “strategic self-insight”. Do you know how you come across to others? Are you aware of the behavior you exhibit and the effects of your behavior? How do you behave when you are tense? The better you know how others perceive you, the better you can control this first impression. Ask family, friends, and fellow students to concisely describe you. Does this correspond with how you are? Ask someone that you just met, e.g. at a party, what kind of person they think you are based on their first impression of you (ask them to use traits in the description). Evaluate this information and remember that you should be helping the psychologist get an impression in a short time. People form a first impression after the first few seconds. The strength of the handshake, but also the deepness of the voice are linked to reliability and self-confidence. Many studies indicate that successful applicants more often laugh out loud, show more expression on their faces, frown less often, and nod more frequently. This translates to a relaxed and open attitude. Avoiding of eye contact and uneasy movement of hands actually increases the chance of rejection. It’s all about balance, though. Laughing at inappropriate moments will work against you. Corresponding verbal and non-verbal (body language) behavior provides the greatest impact and the strongest impression. Despite the differences between studies, it is always striking that less than 10% of first impressions are determined by what you say. The remaining 90% comes down to your body language (posture, tone of voice, gaze, clothing, hairstyle, basic expression, etc.). To make a good first impression, you have to spend a lot more time on the 90% body language. Try your best to form a bond with the interviewer. Excessive flattery is too much, but selling yourself with your charm and humor is essential. Be well-groomed (breath, haircut, clothing, etc.) Adjust your clothing to the job you are applying for, but remember that too formal is less jarring than too casual. Wearing formal clothing shows that you take the job seriously. Walk and sit upright. The advantage of good posture is that it also affects your emotions. By walking with hunch and slouching, you start to feel small internally too. Correct posture increases your confidence and you breathe more freely, so you feel less nervous. Maintain an open stance. Closed arms come across as defensive, like you have something to hide. When you call the assessment office, your first impression is already in action. Clearly express what you are calling for and when you answer a voicemail, do so courteously and clearly. This information probably will not find its way to the psychologist, but better safe than sorry. Be yourself and try not to come across as someone completely different. Unnatural behavior comes across poorly. It usually demands too much energy because you have to think about it.
What mistakes can interviewers make?
Psychologists are also people and people sometimes make mistakes. Although they are trained to avoid assessment biases (biases are tendencies to prejudice), this turns out to be quite difficult in practice. By becoming acquainted with these mistakes, you can prepare better as a candidate. The primacy effect has to do with the first impression you get from someone. Within a very short time, this first impression has been formed and later information is hardly used for the judgment process. In short, make sure you make a good first impression, because much of that first impression lingers. Halo and horn effects are related to the primacy effect, but it is now also the case that a certain positive characteristic (hearty laughter) or a certain negative characteristic (bad hygiene) is extrapolated to other characteristics. For example, if you are very neat and polite, you will also be reliable in the eyes of the interviewer. Contrast effect. You cannot do anything about this error of assessment, because it has to do with candidates who came before you. If three exceptionally poor and unmotivated candidates were interviewed before you, then you will register very positively, even if you are just determined to be average in terms of suitability. The contrast with previous candidates is therefore decisive for the assessment. The reverse can apply too, of course. With the negative information bias, negative information weighs more heavily in the final assessment than positive information. Examples of negative information are suspected lies or, slightly less serious, that you are overly managing the impression you create. Lying is out of the question, but you still have to put in the effort. Present yourself in a convincingly positive way. Similarity effect occurs when an interviewer uses his or her implicit preferences. When you as a candidate resemble the interviewer, there is a chance of this assessment error. Stereotyping plays a role in forming impressions for everyone and interviewers are no exception. They went to a rich-kid school, probably still live off daddy’s money, and so on. Stereotyping makes the world black and white, so it is tempting to apply. Help the interviewer move past a stereotype that you might appear to fit, but actually do not.
What things about the interview should you consider at a minimum?
As with every assessment component, the key is good preparation. Interviews are no different. Unfortunately, the interview is often underestimated and verbally gifted candidates think that they can talk their way out of it. Know the job requirements, gather relevant information about the company, and think about how you can implicitly communicate that you are suitable for the position. Think about good examples, because standard answers will work against you. Create a clear and compact curriculum vitae that suits the organization. A résumé for a financial institution is tighter and more business-like than a CV for an advertising agency. Be well-groomed. Go to the salon, make sure your clothes are ironed, and don’t wear scuffed shoes. Better to look a little too groomed than like a total slob. The organization where you are looking to work makes a difference here, too. Give a short, firm handshake – no sweaty palms! If necessary, use special powder to keep your hand dry or put a handkerchief in the pocket of your trousers. Do not sit down if you are not offered a seat – always ask if it is all right to sit somewhere before you do so. Maintain an open and active posture – it makes you look confident and curious. Articulate clearly and do not speak too softly. Mumbling and speaking softly can be seen as signs of uncertainty. Use the KISS principle with your answers. Keep it short and simple. Long explanations are usually not helpful. Eye contact ensures that you build a bond with the interviewer and that your story is received better. This does not mean that you cannot look away to think. Relaxed eye contact means looking at the interviewer most of the time, but still blinking regularly. If the interviewer tries to provoke you, be reasonable about how you respond. Be assertive yet polite. Humor can leave a pleasant impression. The tricky thing is that people differ in their sense of humor. Adapt your humor to the situation. Don’t make bad jokes – be sharp and smart in your remarks and delivery.