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 that 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)
Tips on how to use the STAR method can be found on the Novoresume career blog.
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 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. For more tips on positive body language read the article on the Resume.supply website.
Your Careers Portal contains a 'preparing for interview' learning pathway. 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 that allows you to record your responses to computer-generated questions, giving you an insight into how you might come across. There are specific materials to help you prepare for an interview by telephone, Skype or video.
Come along to one of the regular interview skills workshops offered by the Careers and Employability team– see Eventbrite for details
Book a mock interview with a careers consultant.
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.
See our "top tips" video on Interview skills
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 that 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 number of aptitudes, most commonly verbal and numerical reasoning, with diagrammatic reasoning or logic also being important for technical roles. These types of tests are timed and generally consist of a series of multiple-choice questions. They typically last for 15 to 20 minutes, although they can be longer. Questions appear on the screen in sequence and for some tests (although not all) a time frame, eg 60 seconds, will be allocated for each question. At the end of this period, the system moves to the next question whether you have answered or not, so it is important to work as quickly and accurately as you can.
Situational judgement tests are also commonly used in graduate selection. Here you are given a series of work-related scenarios and are asked to choose the most appropriate or effective course of action to take from a given list. Some tests also ask you to select the least effective or even to place all of the suggested actions in order. These tests are not normally timed.
If you are invited to take an online test you will be given a link to follow to the test site, and a deadline by which the test must be completed. Below are some pointers to allow you to approach the test with more confidence.
- You will almost certainly be given a set of sample questions for preparation purposes. Make sure you use any practice materials provided so that you are fully familiar with the format of the test. Time yourself so that you can gauge the pace at which you need to work. For additional practice materials, see the suggestions below.
- Work as quickly and accurately as you can. If you are not sure of the answer it is fine to record your best guess, but making wild guesses might not be helpful as in some tests incorrect answers attract a negative score.
- These tests are meant to challenge you, so do not be discouraged if you are unable to answer every question, just keep going!
- If you have a disability and need some adjustment to the testing process, contact the employer to ask for support.
- Have a calculator to hand for the numerical reasoning tests and scrap paper and a pen if you feel that will help. If necessary, refresh your knowledge of working out percentages and ratios, converting currencies or reading data from graphs and charts. The mathcentre website provides some free resources which you may find helpful.
Pencil and paper formats.
If you are invited to an assessment centre you may be asked to complete these types of tests in paper format. Prepare in the same way, but remember that you need to set your own pace. Be clear on the length of the test and how many questions there so that you can aim to complete as many as possible within the time frame. Listen carefully to any instructions given and avoid spending too long struggling with a single question, instead move on as you may find the next question easier. Download the information sheet on How to prepare for psychometric tests for additional suggestions.
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. You can also access practice aptitude tests on the Careers Portal.
Institute of Psychometric Coaching
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 psychometric testing as well as some practice materials
Practice Aptitude Tests (by test type)
Practice Aptitude tests (by employer)
Situational Judgement Tests
Test Partnership Includes "gamification" test practice
Practice Reasoning guide
Practice Reasoning 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 see our "top tips" video on Psychometric testing
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 includes a section on assessment centre advice which provides an overview of typical activities as well as tips on what employers are looking for in candidates.
Similarly, Prospects outlines what to expect and tips on how to prepare.
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