Preparing for interviews, online tests and assessment centres
Although some employers may still select candidates on the basis of a single face to face interview many graduate employers will use a process consisting of a number of stages and a variety of activities. Some for example use online testing in the initial stages, and early interviews are often conducted by telephone, Skype or video link. The final stages can involve an assessment centre: typically a day which might include written tests, interviews, and group activities or presentations. For all of these, thorough preparation is critical to success – use the information below and the resources suggested to develop your skills and extend your knowledge.
The purpose of the interview from a selector’s perspective is to assess whether you have the skills and knowledge they need, if you are an enthusiastic and well informed candidate and if you will fit into their team. From your point of view the interview provides a chance to find out more about the role and organisation, and to decide if the opening meets your needs and expectations.
For interview success preparation is essential, and this should include:
Considering what you have to offer:
- Look again at the job description and/or person specification and use this to reflect on what you can bring to the role.
- Highlight your strengths in relation to this post and be ready to talk about these. Similarly consider if there are any aspects of your experience that the organisation might perceive as a weakness. How will you deal with questions around that topic?
- Identify the key skills the employer is looking for and think about examples you can give to illustrate these skills. These examples can be taken from experiences at work, study or leisure activities and you can use the STAR model to help you structure your answers.
Situation (a brief outline of the circumstance)
Task (what was your goal)
Action (what you actually did)
Result (what was the outcome)
Researching the organisation and the sector:
- Review any information you have on the organisation: what services do they offer? who are their clients? what are their aims/values? have there been any recent news items?
- Extend your knowledge of the sector: who are the main players? does the organisation have any particular partners or competitors? what consumer trends might influence their market share or what government legislation might impact on their business environment?
Making practical preparations
- Plan the journey including an alternative route if possible. Leave plenty of time, but take a note of the interviewer’s details so you can inform them if you feel you might be late.
- Consider dress – what is appropriate will depend to an extent on the type of organisation.
- Think about the range of questions that might arise based on the job description and your application.
- Practice interview technique. As well as using the resources below, remember that you can book a mock interview with a Careers Consultant if you wish.
Most people feel nervous in the interview situation, but adopting a polite friendly manner and establishing eye contact with the interviewer(s) will create a positive impression at the outset. Try also to be aware of the speed and tone of your voice: take a few moments to collect your thoughts before beginning your answer, and if you are in a face to face situation and uncertain as to what the interviewer is asking it is quite acceptable to seek clarification.
Your Careers Portal contains an “interviewing” module. There are video resources giving an employer perspective, advice on preparation and typical questions as well as guidance on how to respond to challenging questions. There is also an interview simulator which allows you to record your responses to computer generated questions, giving you an insight into how you might come across. If your interview is by telephone, Skype or vieao, you can refer to the "remote interview" section.
Come along to one of the regular interview skills workshops offered by the Careers & Employability team– see Eventbrite for details
Book a mock interview with a careers consultant. Call Student Services reception for details: Aldgate 020 7230 2380, Holloway 020 7133 2094
Download the Interview Skills Information Sheet
Visit the Prospects website which provides comprehensive information on all aspects of preparation including anticipating possible questions.
The Target Jobs site has a focus on different interview formats (eg Skype, video) as well as information on typical questions and interview techniques.
Current students can access the interview folder in the “My Career” area in weblearn. This also gives access to the “Skills to Succeed” Academy: refer to the interactive interview resources and in particular the module on preparation for panel interviews.
Online tests are used by employers at various points during the selection process. Some will use them at an early stage to select candidates for interview, others will test later as part of an assessment centre activity, in which case test results will be viewed alongside other information gathered. In the main these tests are designed to assess an individual's aptitude/ability, or their personality traits. The employer using such tests will have conducted research which establishes a clear link between their desired test profile and success in the job role being offered.
Aptitude tests assess an individual’s thinking style and in particular their logical reasoning ability. Employers will often test for a series of aptitudes, most commonly verbal and numerical reasoning, with diagrammatic reasoning or logic also being assessed for technical roles. Each test is strictly timed and typically consists of a series of multiple choice questions. Another test commonly used is to assess situational judgement – here you are faced with a work related scenario and are asked to choose from a given list the most appropriate course of action to take.
If you are invited to take a test you will often be provided with a set of sample questions to give you some idea of what to expect. Preparation is key and should be started well in advance: below are some suggestions which will allow you to approach the test with more confidence.
- Make sure you have used any practice materials provided so that you are fully familiar with the format of the test and know what to expect. Time yourself so that you can gauge the pace at which you need to work.
- Work as quickly and accurately as you can. Remember that there is a balance to be struck between rushing to complete the test with the risk of significant numbers of wrong answers and going so slowly that you do not have enough correct answers to score well. Do not spend too long on any one question – if you are not sure it is fine to record your best guess, but it is not a good idea to make wild guesses as in some tests incorrect answers attract a negative score.
- Questions can get harder as you go along and these tests are meant to challenge you, so do not be discouraged if you are unable to answer every question.
These are used to gauge your typical reactions and attitudes towards a variety of situations and employers are seeking to identify characteristics appropriate to a specific job role. Unlike aptitude tests, they are not usually timed and there are no right or wrong answers so the best approach is to be yourself and to record your first reaction to the questions without trying to guess what the employer is looking for. Tests often contain consistency checks so employers may realise if you are not being honest, and remember too that there is little to be gained in securing a post to which you are not well suited.
If you have a disability you may want to inform the employer of this in advance so that adjustments can be arranged, eg extra time may be allocated or testing materials can be provided in a different format.
Below are a number of websites which offer information on testing and provide free sample questions for you to practice.
Your Careers Portal - refer to the "practice tests" in the Career Assessment module.
Diagonal Thinking (used in the advertising industry)
Institute of Psychometric Coaching
Practice Aptitude Tests includes an infographic on the testing process, preparation and tips for success as well as free practice test resources
McKinsey & Company provide access to a number of business problem solving tests used in their recruitment process.
Price Waterhouse Coopers also provide a free e-learning resource which explains how and why tests are used as well as providing some practice materials.
WikiJob provides an introduction to a variety of different types of tests, test tips as well as practice materials
Job Test Prep
Situational Judgement Tests
Norton Assessment is in the process of developing new psychometric testing materials and is inviting undergraduates to trial these online. All participant data is anonymous, and if you would like to take part in these trials use the links below:
Also available as part of the preparation for those who feel the need to brush up on their numeracy skills is a free online course offered through an organisation called "Future Learn". These courses "Numeracy skills for employability and the workplace" run for a period of three weeks and involve a commitment of approximately 4 hours per week.
Assessment Centres are a common feature of the graduate selection process, particularly amongst larger employers. Usually it is the final element of the process and is likely to be an all-day activity, sometimes held on the employer’s premises, sometimes a hotel or conference centre. You will normally be given an outline of what is involved in advance but activities are likely to include some of the following:
Ability tests or personality questionnaires
E-tray or in-tray exercises
A site tour.
Your Careers Portal offers an assessment centre tool featuring information on the assessment centres of a number of major graduate employers. This gives you an insight into what is involved along with tips from the employers on how to succeed.
Target Jobs provides an overview of typical assessment centre activities as well as tips on what employers are looking for in candidates
Prospects outlines what to expect and how to prepare