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"We value people who have the courage to be honest"

HR manager Dirk Neumann explains how applicants can score top marks with Talanx

Mr Neumann, you conduct countless job interviews every year. Do you still ask candidates the classic question – the one about personal weaknesses?
Dirk Neumann
: In job interviews I am more likely to ask the question about areas of personal growth potential. What matters to me is that candidates remain genuine and do not resort to standard formulaic answers. By asking this question and with subsequent follow-up I am able to get a good impression of personal weakness and also strong points.

What answer would you not consider satisfactory?
One answer that we often hear is that candidates want to improve their language skills or presentation techniques. But these are not really weaknesses, since such things can be changed through appropriate training and hands-on learning. What would constitute a weakness, for example, is if I were to be applying for a managerial position with some initial management experience and remarked that colleagues frequently overload me with specialist concerns and that I need to learn to delegate more. This shows us that a candidate has taken a critical look at his or her own character and wants to grow more as a person.

How do you react if you have the feeling during an interview that an applicant is responding with formulaic answers?
I follow up and inquire about practical examples. This is a quick way of finding out whether the applicant was just giving a standard answer. For example, if a candidate claims to be particularly impatient, I would want to hear about specific examples and discover what conclusions he or she has drawn from this behaviour. Or to give you another example: in response to the question about particular strengths, the classic qualities of "reliability", "team skills" and "resilience" are very popular. Above and beyond these, however, I am more interested in what other strengths a candidate can point to and what experience he or she has to back them up. Applicants always make a more genuine impression when they refer to practical experience gained in the past that did not bring them to their desired goal and then describe what they would do differently today. Needless to say, it is also good to be able to reflect on one's own areas for development with a self-critical eye and give thought to how these can be worked on. We value people who have the courage to be honest in this way.

What else does a candidate have to offer in order to get a job with Talanx?
Candidates should be able to communicate precisely what it is about the advertised position that attracts them and the reasons why they are suitable for the role. Certainly, this includes everything that underpins their professional qualifications. But we also pay close attention to the soft skills that are needed for the vacant position. These may encompass, among other things, good powers of communication, team skills, flexibility and the willingness to continue growing as a person. Ideally, relevant statements will already be contained in the informative, well-structured application documents submitted by the candidate.

And how can Talanx score points with job applicants?
In our interviews we find that many applicants are attracted by the size of the company. After all, this means a diverse range of subject matter and interaction with many different occupational categories. We employ not only qualified insurance practitioners, but also engineers, legal experts and IT specialists. The fact that we operate worldwide is another plus point, since this often necessitates cooperation across national borders – something which some applicants find particularly exciting. As an insurer, we also pay remuneration commensurate with performance, offer opportunities for further development and facilitate flexible working hours: these are, of course, further strong arguments in the eyes of potential applicants.