Interviews, tests and assessments give employers a chance to consider the following outstanding questions they'll have about hiring you:
- Can you do the job? – An employer can see you have the required qualifications from your application form, but do you have the skills to transfer what you have learned to the day to day requirements of the job?
- Will you do the job? – Do you have the motivation and enthusiasm to add value to the organisation? Will you work efficiently and with drive?
- Team fit – You look good on paper but how will your personality complement the team? Are you warm, confident, friendly? First impressions matter
Preparation really is the key to a successful interview.
You'll need lots of evidence to demonstrate your skills. Think of different scenarios in past roles or volunteer positions you could use as examples. Spend some time thinking about what general questions and role-specific questions you may be asked. How would you reply to them? You will feel more confident entering an interview if you have predicted – and practised – some of the questions.
How we can help:
- Hold a mock interview – book a 45 minute mock interview with a careers consultant
- Ask us questions – drop in to a 20 minute session to run through some key questions or concerns
First impressions count towards your overall success at interviews and assessment centres:
- See some sample interview questions and answers on Engage
- See our tips on how to make yourself comfortable and at your best in interviews on Engage
Personal safety is also important with an increase in smaller companies, studio offices and working from home:
Before the interview, make sure you familiarise yourself with the CV, application form/cover letter you submitted to the organisation.
You should prepare for telephone interviews with the same care as for face-to-face ones, but there a few extras to keep in mind.
Organisations select employees in a number of different ways. They will all be looking for someone who has the skills (competencies), abilities and personal qualities to do the job well but the method of selection used will vary from perhaps a single interview to an extended form of assessment generally known as an assessment centre.
Assessment centres may last one or two days, sometimes longer. They are considered a fairer and more accurate way of choosing candidates because they offer an opportunity for a larger number of selectors to assess a greater range of job-related competencies over a longer period of time. Some assessors are willing to provide feedback on your performance, so if you are unsuccessful, it is useful to request feedback in order that you can improve your performance at future assessment centres.
Assessment centres may involve the following:
- Social events – such as lunch or dinner with other candidates, recent graduates and more senior management. This is an opportunity to find out more about the organisation in an informal setting, and also to display your interpersonal skills and present a positive image
- Information sessions – to update you on the organisation, its activities and job opportunities. Take advantage of the social events and information sessions to make sure you are fully briefed on the organisation and the job roles prior to your interview
- Presentations – You might be asked to bring along a prepared presentation or prepare one at the assessment centre
- Simulation exercises – to simulate a job-relevant task and/or elicit your job-relevant skill or competency
- An interview
- Psychometric tests – to measure a range of human characteristics including intellectual ability/aptitude, personality, motivation, interests and values
Read our tips below for how to prepare for presentations and simulation exercises.
Further information and advice on assessment centres:
Giving a presentation is a well-established feature of assessment centres and there are a number of ways in which this can be organised by the selectors.
It is usually short – five to ten minutes. You may be asked to bring along a prepared presentation or have to prepare it at the assessment centre.
You may be allocated a topic (usually from a selection) or given a free choice (take along one already prepared unless it is clear from the joining instructions that you will not be able to choose freely).
Things to remember
- Keep to the rules you have followed for your academic presentations concerning structure, content, style of delivery, body language, supporting your ideas with anecdotes, evidence etc
- Make sure your subject is not too technical or too mundane; pitch it at the right level for your audience
- Engage your audience rather than lecture them
- Keep to time! (rehearse beforehand to check)
- Invite questions; know your subject well enough to handle them confidently
- Don't be afraid to use humour appropriately
Remember the selectors are more interested in your communication skills and how well you can structure a talk, than in the subject matter itself.
Case studies and report writing
In this case you would be given a set of documents relating to a particular (often job-related) situation and asked to write a brief report or proposal. Time is usually very tight.
Employers are looking for your:
- Ability to work under pressure and prioritise
- Logical/analytical ability
- Decision making skills; and
- Written communication skills
In this business simulation, you would be a member of staff in a hypothetical organisation. To complete the exercise you'll be given an in-tray full of memos, faxes and other messages from different parts of the organisation, perhaps relating to a particular problem which has arisen and which requires immediate action.
You'll be expected to respond to the items in the in-tray, make decisions, prioritise actions and delegate tasks in order to deal with the situation. You may have to justify your actions in writing, as part of the exercise, or expand on the reasoning behind your decisions at an interview later in the assessment centre.
Employers will be looking for the following competencies:
- Analytical ability
- Written communication skills
- Decision making
- Ability to work under pressure
- Time management
Try a sample in-tray exercise from www.assessmentday.co.uk.
As a group, you may be asked to construct something from materials provided, eg a Lego model or a load-bearing bridge. The process is usually more important than the outcome. Make sure you get involved, however silly the task may seem.
The employer will be assess your skills in the following areas:
- Social/interpersonal skills
- Oral communication
- Self-motivation and energy
Discussions and role plays
These range from leaderless discussions where the group is allocated a topic or an issue relevant to the employer's business to a more structured role-playing exercises. For example, you'll be given a briefing pack and assigned a particular role (typically, of a departmental manager within the organisation) and an individual objective for that role.
Employers are looking for evidence of your:
- Team working
- Oral communication
- Interpersonal skills
- Negotiating/influencing skills
Here's how to make a group first impression in a group assessment exercise:
- Quality of contribution is more important than quantity
- Ensure that the group establishes objectives, formulates an action plan and sticks to time
- Be assertive, persuasive and diplomatic, not domineering and aggressive
- Don't be destructively critical of others' ideas, instead acknowledge their contributions
- Listen carefully to other candidates and try to elicit contributions from everyone
- Keep calm and use humour where appropriate
Psychometric tests are assessment techniques designed to measure a range of human characteristics including intellectual ability/aptitude, personality, motivation, interests and values. Of these, only tests of ability, and to a lesser extent, personality, are likely to feature in graduate selection.
Psychometric tests are structured, written or computer-based exercises. They should have been carefully designed to measure whether you have the specific abilities or personal qualities in relation to the job specification. Your score (or profile) is compared with the scores of previous, successful applicants and/or successful employees, to predict your potential for performing effectively in the job.
Psychometric tests may be used as an initial filter, to determine whether you will proceed to the next stage of selection (usually an interview). In this case, there is a fixed cut-off score (pass/fail).
Alternatively, psychometric tests may be used at the final stage of selection, as part of an assessment centre. In this case, the tests may not carry any more weight than the other elements of the selection procedure.
These tests measure your logical reasoning ability. There are a number of different reasoning abilities, but the ones most commonly assessed in graduate selection are:
- Verbal reasoning
- Numerical reasoning
- Diagrammatic reasoning
Ability tests are strictly timed and taken under examination conditions. They are usually multiple-choice, and there is always a right answer. These tests are usually designed to be too long for most people to complete in the time allocated: don't worry if you don't answer all questions, it is the number of correct answers which counts.
The tests are meant to be challenging, but will not depend on you having prior knowledge of the job. Before each test begins, you will have the opportunity to work through some examples which will not be marked, but will help you understand the nature of the test questions.
These are self-report questionnaires which explore the way you tend to react to, or deal with, different situations.
Unlike ability tests, there are no right or wrong answers, and questionnaires are not strictly timed. A personality profile is usually compiled from your answers, but there is no one right profile: selectors will be looking for a good fit for the particular job and organisational culture.
The best way to tackle these questionnaires is to answer them as straightforwardly as you can and record your immediate response. Trying to guess what a specific employer is looking for may well be counter-productive.
After all, you do not want to be recruited into a job which doesn't suit you.
How to prepare
Improve your verbal reasoning skills by regularly playing word games such as scrabble, crosswords, anagrams etc. Or read complex literature eg instruction manuals, textbooks, quality newspapers.
Brush up on your basic maths: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and percentages are commonly required. Most jobs do not require mathematical genius, but the selectors will be looking for numerical reasoning ability, ie the ability to extract information from charts, tables and graphs. This ability is not reliant on having studied a numerate degree.
Practice makes perfect. Make use of the 'My Potential' online Tests. Read books, buy practice test leaflets and access websites which offer sample tests, see useful resources and links for more details.
Discuss tactics with a careers consultant.
If English is not your first language, or you are dyslexic, or you have a disability which necessitates special provision, let the selectors know well in advance so that appropriate adjustments or adaptations can be made to suit your needs and ensure equality of opportunity.
On the day
Get a good night's sleep the evening before, leave yourself plenty of time to travel to the test location, and try to eat something before you go.
Take a calculator in case you are allowed to use them. If you usually wear glasses and/or a hearing aid take them with you.
At the start of the test
Pay careful attention to instructions, and ask for clarification if you don't understand them.