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I've been living in Germany for about 10+ years. I know the culture very well and speak fluent German. I've also lived in several other countries.

However when applying for positions in Germany I'm normally surprised by the confrontative style presented by the interviewers.

Examples of that:

  • The (well-known, market leader) company I currently work for was incredibly criticised. The interviewer spent 5 minutes talking about its problems and why it's doomed to fail. When I tried to add a few words he didn't let me screaming over me.

  • Interviewers pose a doubtful thesis ("you don't need a marketing strategy for innovations, innovations sell themselves very well without marketing") and are angry when I say I'm not sure if I would agree with them on that. They don't let me say a word.

  • Interviewers who interrupt my every answer.

  • Interviewers who ask simply incredibly detailed questions about their company or some tool/ working methods. I do prepare for interviews but I've already had an interview for which I prepared one week long - yes! I took a week off and prepared 8 h a day, reading all news about them, their strategy and structure, their sales figures etc. - and during which I was still surprised by a very detailed question. And they always react as if I committed a crime because e.g. I didn't guess correctly what % of their sales is in Asia. This is for me confrontative as I always have the impression they are questioning me as long as they need to fail me. And honestly, applying for several positions it's not so easy to prepare that well for interviews - and it's a waste of time given I've already had interviews for which I prepared really a lot and when the interviewer came in it was immediately visible they hated me.

  • Interviewers who react very badly to my questions. My questions are quite standard I would think. They concern the team, company structure, sometimes some current event affecting the company. I've already been told I should have googled that (it was an answer to my question about the organisational culture)

I don't know whether it is about the recruiting culture, maybe it is really harsher than in other Western countries. Or maybe I have bad luck/ unrealistic expectations.

But how to react to such a behavior? I'm not a sensitive snowflake but after every interview in Germany I feel totally worn-out and every other interview I feel like getting up during the interview and telling the interviewers I would never want to work with them anyway. I work mostly with Germans so I know the direct style and I have rarely had problems with it. But the interviews are killing me.

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    I'd say you just have a row of bad companies ... in my experience the majority isn't like that – deviantfan May 24 '18 at 16:13
  • @deviantfan, the problem is, these were all well-known big companies. So if I just tell myself "I don't care, I don't want to work for them anyway", I'm not left with much - since I prefer working for big companies. (Actually I have much better experience from tiny companies, where people were normally quite friendly even if I didn't get the job). – 13442136 May 24 '18 at 16:16
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    @13442136 Big companies usually have a high number of candidates for one position, thus they can afford applying a harsh filtering regime. – Arsak May 24 '18 at 17:47
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    Can you provide some information regarding what kind of positions you are applying for? For example, if it is a position in marketing/public relations they might be deliberately confrontational to see how you handle this. – Roland May 25 '18 at 6:55
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    Just a comment, but: I'm German and know the work culture, and what you describe would be unacceptable in my industry (software development, service and training). I don't think it is representative of German companies in general. However, culture varies a lot between different industries. What domain did you interview in? – sleske May 25 '18 at 7:24
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First of all, a general remark:

However when applying for positions in Germany I'm normally surprised by the confrontative style presented by the interviewers.

As a German who knows the work culture and had a few interviews - I have never encountered what you describe, and I would consider it unprofessional and unacceptable in my industry (software development, service and training). I don't think it is representative of German companies in general.

However, culture varies a lot between different industries. In some domains, as I have heard, the style is indeed more confrontational (though not always). In particular, I have heard that PR / marketing work (which seems to be what you interviewed for) often has a problematic work atmosphere, so maybe it's your particular industry that is difficult.

To address your question:

But how to react to such a behavior? I'm not a sensitive snowflake but after every interview in Germany I feel totally worn-out and every other interview I feel like getting up during the interview and telling the interviewers I would never want to work with them anyway.

As a matter of fact, if you feel "totally worn-out", getting up and leaving may be the best option. As explained in other answers, an interview is a two-way street, and if you feel the communcation style and treatment of people is a no-go for you, that's not the right job for you; see e.g. Is it rude to leave an interview early if you have already made your decision? .

If you don't want to completely abandon the interview (and the job), there are some other strategies:

  • Refuse to be intimidated: Before the job, mentally prepare yourself for a (possibly) confrontational style. I find going into a tricky situation with realistic expectations helps a lot. During the interview, keep calm with questions that seem intended to provoke them. You can only provoked if you allow it to happen :-).
  • Directly address the communication style: If your interviewer shouts or interrupts you, say something like: "Excuse me, I find it highly irritating to be [interrupted, shouted at, etc.]. Would it be possible for you to stop this, I feel the interview would be more productive this way." The reaction to this will tell you whether it was just a (ill-advised) "test" by the interviewer, or whether that is really their style (in which case see first bullet point :-) ).
  • Finally, you should treat refusing to answer reasonable questions (e.g. about work culture) like you would unsatisfactory answers - if you don't get a good answer about work culture, you'll have to assume the work culture isn't all that great (otherwise why not mention it). Then go from there.

All in all, it sounds like you had interviews at places where the work culture (or the boss) were not great. Maybe it was just bad luck, maybe it was the industry you were looking in - hard to tell. My advice would be to keep trying, and maybe do some research on work culture in advance (review sites, personal network, possibly calling the employer), then decide whether this is a good fit for you.

Of course, if all jobs you are interested in are like that you may have to live with it, but I'd assume there are alternatives.


Finally, about interview preparations:

I've already had an interview for which I prepared one week long - yes! I took a week off and prepared 8 h a day, reading all news about them, their strategy and structure, their sales figures etc. [...]

From my point of view, this seems rather excessive. Yes, your are supposed to know something about the company - what they do, what kind of clients they serve, what sets them apart from the competition, but you don't need to be an expert. Certainly, knowing details sales figures is not usually expected (though things vary of course).

A few hours of preperation seem ok, maybe a full day, but IMHO anything more than that is superfluous (and if a company expected this, I'd be wary of it).

Your time would probably be better spent finding more job offers to chose from (to increase the chances of finding one with a good culture).

Thanks to AllTheKingsHorses for this point.

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    This! If I can suggest an addition: OP writes " I took a week off and prepared 8 h a day". 5x8 or even 7x8 hours to prepare for one job interview - to me, that sounds completely over the top and really really desperate. This time would be better spent finding more job offers to chose from (to increase the chances of finding one with a good culture). Also, OP should examine if they've somehow introduced a bias towards companies with bad culture in their selection process. (But, as you mention, it may be the whole industry.) – AllTheKingsHorses May 28 '18 at 8:22
  • @AllTheKingsHorses: Good points. Sounds like an answer in its own right :-). – sleske May 28 '18 at 8:44
  • If you don't want to add it to your answer, I can write my own, sure. So I take it you don't want it in your answer? – AllTheKingsHorses May 28 '18 at 10:53
  • Hm, I'm not sure how to integrate it. I'll see how to add it. I proposed writing your own answer as mine is quite long already. – sleske May 28 '18 at 12:26
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    @13442136: Ok, so it was (or looked like) your dream job - that makes sense. Still, what you describe sounds very weird - once you work for the company, there's plenty of time to get to know it. I've never heard of a company requiring details company knowledge of new hires. – sleske May 30 '18 at 7:24
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I am an American from a German immigrant family, so still immersed in the culture.

The German culture is very exacting. What you are describing would not be considered as confrontational to a German, simply direct and professional.

When I say direct, we Germans take that up to 11. We don't like formalities or niceties in business.

That said, your experiences seem to be a bit rude even by German standards, but it could be that the company or industry cultures tend to be more rough in the interviews but more accommodating once you are on board. I tend to be that way myself.

The way to react is not to. This is not meant to be rude, only direct.

If you react, you will just knock yourself out of the running as you will be seen as easily offended.

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    The way to react is not to. This is not meant to be rude, only direct. There really is no other way to handle it without doing a whole lot more harm than good. – Mister Positive May 24 '18 at 22:21
  • @sleske if you're German then you should know how we're often misinterpreted as shouting when we are not, and how harsh we can seem to others. – Richard U May 25 '18 at 14:23
  • @Crossedtheriverstyx: Well, I personally have not encountered this, though I have heard of it. And the behaviour described seems unusual to me, even if you grant that some loud talking is misinterpreted as "shouting". – sleske May 25 '18 at 17:47
  • @sleske I think sometimes the combination of the guttural German, especially the High German, combined with cultural factors and some loud talking can give that impression. – Richard U May 25 '18 at 18:40
  • So Richard I can just rockup to an interview in jeans and use the informal "du" :-) – Neuromancer Sep 20 '18 at 21:11
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In big companies in Germany sometimes the big picture gets lost. Some of the interviewers don't show the right respect since they believe that they have more than enough applications. However, some of the things could be explained:

  • some of the interview questions - the one about your current employer - are to see if you chime in into bad-mouthing your current employer. A good response could probably be to make a very general statement like "I wish them good luck, my reasons for leaving were only related to my personal career development". A bad answer would be "yes, things are going downhill since department head X changed and they are away 2 months from bankruptcy.

  • interrupting you: tests if you persist in transmitting a message even when people try to disrupt.

  • impossible to answer questions could have the following purposes:

    • Testing how you make an educated guess (do you try to analyze or do you try to apply knowledge)

    • Testing how you react to pressure

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    "Testing how you react to pressure". Such comments always surprise me. How OP reacts to this kind of behavior doesn't actually show how they react to pressure. It shows how they react to their potential boss being an asshole. And it makes a world of difference. Even people who react well to pressure don't necessarily want to have an asshole boss. – BigMadAndy May 26 '18 at 15:21
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It might just be a culture thing. My answer is unrelated to German culture, but I am part Korean, and while speaking to native Koreans, they tend to ask very invasive questions like if I am married, my education level, and things like that when such things aren't relevant.

Also in Korea, the job market is very tough. Everyone has college degrees so it comes down to dedication to the job and company culture. Interview process is intense with many of them having "camps" that you attend for days going through boot camp like indoctrination. In the end, they only select one or two. My cousin was going to work for LG, and he had to stay in this dorm room running this boot camp for a solid week. Bitter fighting and in the end he wasn't selected. This was for a delivery driver position, too.

  • lol that story is amazing – atxgis May 24 '18 at 18:51
  • Yeah, it's not entirely uncommon too. I've heard of bridge inspectors having strange "boot camps" dorms where they stay for a few days all competing to show their dedication to the company and they select only one. The work culture is very bizarre but it's understandable since higher amount of the population has a college degree and they're all competing for the same job but they're all just as qualified as each other. – Dan May 24 '18 at 18:56
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    This doesn't really seem to address the question; it simply comments on the culture without answering the OP's question of how to react to the interviewers' behavior. – V2Blast May 24 '18 at 20:06
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Companies expect you to cope with stress on your job. Marketing and sales jobs can be stressful at times, with customers yelling at you. How to find out whether you can cope with that?

By provoking you. Germans call that a Stressinterview.

They try again and again until they find something to stress you out. The better you are doing, the deeper they will dig. And once you explode, you failed the test.

You shouldn't need a full week of preparation for a single interview. You want to present yourself as someone who does his basic preparation, yes, but not as someone who takes too much time doing so.

Instead, keep calm if they ask you details you don't know, tell them you don't know, ask whether they could explain it to you. If they yell at you, don't take it personally, ask them to stay calm and productive, and if they keep yelling, be prepared to thank them for their time and leave. At least that's what I did (but then, I am not in marketing).

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