How to speak to German counterparts in job interviews
From time to time we introduce software developer candidates to our clients in Germany. Before we hire them, we usually have a conference call, where the client in Germany, us from YUHIRO and the candidate will be attending.
Many times over there are some communication issues, mostly arising from cultural differences. In this article I am going to explain on how to conduct oneself/ or answer questions during a job interview, when a counterpart from Germany is involved.
In India there is a tendency to give “Yes/ No” answers
During many of our interviews, candidates will just answer with a “Yes” or a simple “No” to questions posed by the interviewer from Germany.
Question by German Interviewer: “Do you have experience with Bootstrap? If yes, what kind of experiences have you made with that technology? And do you think Bootstrap is a suitable development tool?” (Remark by author: Bootstrap is a tool for creating Web applications)
Answer by Indian Candidate: “Yes”
This has happened many times before. I guess that it also a different perception of questions, by people in Indian and in Germany.
Germans usually tend to give elaborate answers. Therefore they get very much irritated if they get a very short answer.
They will think that the candidate has given a short answer because of the following possible reasons:
“The candidate might just be saying “yes”, but actually has no deep understanding of that technology. That is why he/ she is not elaborating on that”
“The candidate is a bad communicator and is not able to express ideas. But expressing ideas and giving input to the project will be crucial for project success”
“The candidate might be just lying, so as to get the job”
To avoid confusions and give a good impression, the Indian candidate should elaborate on his answer. He could answer to the question regarding Bootstrap Technology:
“Yes, I know Bootstrap. I had the chance to develop in that technology on some of my projects. Although I did not use it to its full extend, I am confident that I would be able to pick up the technology very quickly.”
With this answer the German interviewer would know much more about the ability to use Bootstrap by the candidate.
Preparing questions in advance
One of the best solution to avoid “Yes/ No” answers is by preparing questions and answers in advance, so as to be prepared to give a good reply, when asked by the interviewer. In the following there are some examples of questions which will be asked by, especially, German interviewers and some example answers:
Standard question 1: “Could you tell a little bit about yourself?”
This is a standard question, which German interviewers tend to ask in the beginning of almost all interviews. The candidate is then expected to give an overview of his career so far, starting with the higher secondary education, going up to the current position he/ she is pursuing.
A possible answer could be:
“I went to a school in South India. There I had the main subject of science. After finishing higher secondary school in 2006, I joined an Engineering College in Coimbatore, where I studied Electronics and Communication Engeering. I graduated in 2010, after which I joined a software company in Cochin. There I was responsible for programming PHP modules in the areas of Customer Relationship Management, Human Resource Management and E-Commerce for medium sized companies in the United Kingdom. I worked there for two years, after which I joined XY company. There I progressed to become a Senior PHP developer and was able to lead a team of two developers. We were programming an online platform for a company in the automobile company. Now I am looking for a new position where I can learn more about the newest technologies and progress in my career.”
The special thing about this answer is, that it will not be difficult for the candidate to remember that whole paragraph, as those things he/ she will be most probably remembering easily.
Also important to note is, that the words like “Customer Relationship Management” are not given in abbreviations, like CRM or “Human Resource Management” as HR. Not everyone is used to these abbreviations, therefore one should in general always use the full forms.
Standard Question 2: “What is your opinion about technology XY?”
With this question they want to know whether you are really passionate and interested in this technology and whether you would be happy to use it on a regular basis.
An answer like: “Yes, I would use it” would suggest, that the candidate would use it, but with no real interest. He “would just use” it to get the project somehow finished. But what the German Interviewer mostly is looking for, is someone who is really excited to use this technology (usually it’s not common to be “excited” about technology or anything at all in Kerala. That is just a cultural difference. Here in Kerala, people are expected to keep their calm at all times. Whereas in Germany people are used to express if they feel excited about something.)
A better answer would be:
“I have used this technology for about one and a half years. It is really easy to use and also easy to learn. Especially for complex taks it is useful, so as to keep the systems performance high. I think I will be able to handle this technology properly so as to get the required results”
Now the German interviewer gets an idea, about what the candidate thinks about this technology and whether he/ she would be able to handle it.
Standard Question 3: “Tell a little about yourself”
Here the Interviewer from Germany wants to find out “Who is that person I am speaking to?”, “What are his ambitions?”, “What makes him/ her tick?”, “Can he/ she fit the organizational cultur”, etc. etc.
Here it is important to give some insight to one’s inner working.
A possible answer could be:
“I am currently 32 years old, and I live in Cochin in my own department. I am married and have 1 child. My father was an government clerk. My mother is a housewife. I started my career as a PHP programmer and really like to learn new programming languages. For example, I learned .NET so as to get an idea about that platform. Also I am reading books regarding those topics. I would also say that I am pretty good in working in teams. I also worked as a team lead in one of the companies I have worked for. Apart from that I enjoy having a walk in the mornings to stay healthy and enjoy spending time with family and friends”
With this answer the candidate can achieve a type of bonding with the German interviewer. The interviewer now knows, who is that on the other side. Even though it is not a lot of information, the candidate has given, it is still possible for the interviewer to get a first picture about the candidate, which will be crucial in making a positive decision in favor of the candidate.
Standard Question 4: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
The interviewer wants to know where the candidate is strong and where he is rather weak. This is important as to know where and how the candidate should be placed in the team. Remember to answer it from a professional standpoint, it’s not necessary to elaborate about personal strengths and weaknesses.
A possible answer could be:
“First of all I would like to start with my strengths. I think that I am very good at gathering requirements from clients. I will try to get the requirement in as much detail as possible, so that the project will start smoothly. My other strength is, in helping my team members to get the tasks at hand properly done. That is also a reason, why the previous company gave me the position of team lead in our team. Another strength is my strong desire to learn new tools and technologies. I always want to stay up-to-date with the newest trends.
When it comes to my weaknesses, I would say that it is sometimes difficult to understand the business requirements. This is also because, we as IT guys have a more technological approach to the project, and the business side, tends to look at it from their non-technology standpoint”
The interviewer now knows, that the candidate is good at gathering requirements and also that he could be a possible team lead in the future in the new team.
Through the weakness, which is rather a strength, shows that the candidate is understanding that there is a different perception of the IT people towards business requirements, and that of the business side, who usually do not have a strong technology focus.
A collection of other standard questions:
Here are some other standard questions which will be asked in interviews, which involve a German counterpart (I am not writing an example answer to all those questions, because this article would become to large then):
“What do you like to do in your free time?” – Explanation: The German interviewer wants to know you better personally.
“Where do you want to be in 4 to 5 years time?” – Explanation: The interviewer wants to know what your ambitions for your career are.
“Why do you want to leave your current employer?” – Explanation: This is a very tricky question. The interviewer wants to know, whether you are leaving the current employer because of some negative experiences. Its best to answer to this question, that one wants to learn new things and make further steps in one’s career. Telling about negative experiences, would irritate the interviewer. Therefore avoid saying negative things about your current employer.
“Why should we hire you?” – Explanation: This is also a tricky question. The interviewer wants to know, why the candidate feels, that he is the proper person to fill out this open position. Its best to give an answer which is about the technological competencies and his personal abilities, which make him/ her a good fit for the position.
“How would your friends/ work colleagues describe you?” – Explanation: The interviewer wants to know, how others perceive the candidate as a person.
When candidates in India meet German interviewers via phone or Skype, there can be some confusions on both parts. The candidate will be wondering “Why is this interviewer asking personal questions? Should he not be asking questions pertaining to technology only?”, whereas the German interviewer will be wondering “Why is the candidate only answering with Yes or No? And why is he not giving proper answers to my Non-Technical questions?”.
In the end both sides will not be satisified, as both will have negative feelings about each other. Therefore, both sides have to understand, that there are cultural differences.
The Indian candidate needs to understand, that the German interviewer wants to know more about the candidate, before hiring him/ her. Knowing more, also means, to get to know how the candidate “ticks”, what excites him/ her, and whether he/ she would be really interested in this position.
And the German interviewer needs to understand, that there is a difference, on how interviews are conducted here in India, where there is a stronger focus on technology, than on inter-personal skills.
So to be successful in an interview where a German interviewer is involved, the Indian candidate should prepare the answers for the most important questions, which are also mentioned in this article. By doing so, he will be able to answer the questions with four to five sentences each, instead of just saying “Yes” or “No” as an answer.
Looking forward to meeting you in the next job interview.
Pictures: Flickr.com/ Photo Monkey/ Mann/ sunshinecity
The author: Sascha Thattil works at YUHIRO and supports companies from Germany to establish software teams in India. YUHIRO a German-Indian IT company, which provides software developers for IT companies, agencies and IT departments.