Interviews and Assessment Centres

Interviews and assessment centres are used by employers to determine your suitability for a job role. Preparation is vital.

 

Interviews

 

The job interview is a key part of the selection process.

If you are selected for interview, it means that you meet the basic requirements of the role and the employer is eager to meet you to see if you are the right person for the job.

The interviewer will be looking to assess your understanding and motivation for the job, suitability for the role and fit for the organisation. There are many types of interview, and you may be required to undertake one or more of these when applying for a role:

Telephone

Large recruiters may use telephone interviews as a part of the earlier stage of the recruitment process. They are just as formal and important as face-to-face interviews and the questions asked in a telephone interview will be very similar to those asked in a regular interview. You should also structure your answers the same way.

One-to-one interview

One-to-one interviews can take different formats, either a formal process where the interviewer will take note of your answers and assess these against the key shortlisting criteria, or a more casual process where you will be invited to an informal chat.

Panel

Panel interviews are conducted by two or more people who are involved in the selection process. Often there will be a panel chair, who will explain the format of the interview, and then each panel member will ask you questions in turn, although one person may be there just to take notes. Ensure that you make eye contact with the person who asks you the questions, but also with the other panel members as well.

Video interviews

Video interviews are becoming increasingly popular with graduate recruiters as one of the first stages of the recruitment process. The candidate is likely to be invited to log on to a system where they will be prompted to answer a series of pre-recorded questions. The employer is testing how well you understand the role you have applied for and what you know about the business/sector.

You can practise for upcoming video and face-to-face interviews using Manchester Met’s video interview software. This is free to use and provides a great opportunity for you to experience a video interview and assess yourself. To access this service email videointerviews@mmu.ac.uk with your:

• Name
• Student ID
• Preferred email address
• Any information about the role/company you are applying for

Skype

Skype interviews are relatively easy to set up, allowing the employer to see the candidate (and vice versa) and are sometimes used by an employer interviewing across international boundaries. Again, the questions may be similar to those in a face-to-face interview. For students not familiar with using Skype it can feel a little strange at first. Therefore, practice holding Skype conversations in advance with friends and family.

Preparing for an interview

Thorough preparation is key. The employer will have decided on the selection criteria for the job, and will then ask each candidate questions to determine whether they have the skills to do the job effectively. You need to research the employer, the industry sector and the job role. You will need to clearly relate your own skills and experiences to what they are looking for.

View the MMyou Careers Centre module on interview preparation (log in through My Career Hub using your student id and password):

Interview preparation

Read as much as you can about the company or organisation to find out:

View resources on MMyou Careers Centre on researching employers (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Research before an interview

Be sure that you have a clear understanding of what the job involves. Look at the job description and person specification, see which skills or qualities are required.

Think of situations where you demonstrated these skills, choose examples from all areas of your life including academic work, outside interests, placements/work experience.

MMyou Careers Centre provides a wide range of resources to help you prepare for interview (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Preparing for interviews

Answering interview questions

The STAR format is the most effective way of getting your answer across in an interview. It is the clearest way to help the employer understand in what context you have the desired skills and attributes they are seeking.

View the MMyou Career Centre resource on answering interview questions using the STAR technique (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

STAR Technique

Depending on the role you are applying for, you may also get asked a mix of technical and case study questions that are related to your particular vocation or industry.

You can also practise answering interview questions using the simulator on MMyou Careers Centre (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Interview simulator

 

Types of interview question

Strength based questions

Strength based questions are focused primarily around what you enjoy doing and what your interests are. If you are struggling to think what your strengths are, think about what you enjoyed most out of your various experiences in university, societies, part-time work, travel, hobbies and volunteering. Strength questions are particularly helpful if you have limited work experience as you can show your passion and enthusiasm for a role.

Some examples of strength-based questions are:

  • Tell me about an activity or task that comes easily to you.
  • What unique qualities could you bring to the company?
  • Describe a successful day.

It is hard to predict what strength questions you may be asked. Research the strengths or values the company is looking for; check their website, job description and person specification as initial preparation.

If employers are focusing on your strengths, they may ask about your weaknesses too. Think of some weaknesses you do have, but balance these out with strategies that you are using to overcome them.

Competency based questions

Competency-based questions appear regularly in almost all interview scenarios. Employers identify the skills and abilities (competences) that are vital for working in their organisation and they use these as selection criteria when recruiting. Job descriptions and person specifications often list the key skills required for a role and many graduate employers highlight the core competences they look for on their recruitment websites, so this will be a good starting point when preparing for potential questions.

View the MMyou Careers Centre resource on competency-based interviews (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Competency based interviews

Questions to ask at an interview

Interviews are an opportunity to find out more about the company.  At the end of the interview you are likely to be asked if you have any questions for the company - say yes!  This shows you are enthusiastic about the role and prepared.  Ask 2-3 questions. Questions you could ask include:

Ask questions about the interviewer, for example:

After the interview

You could consider sending a thank you email or letter after the interview, as this shows you are keen and interested in the role.  Keep it brief, but you would reiterate that you have the skills for the role.  If you do not get the job, it could be that your interview needs improvement.  On the other hand, you could have been fantastic and someone else just had the edge.  Many employers will provide feedback if you request it.  It can be difficult to hear the reasons for the rejection but this can provide valuable insight into why you did not get the job and help you to reflect and perform better next time.

 

Assessment Centres and Psychometric Tests

Assessment Centres

Assessment centres evaluate your suitability for a job through various tasks and activities, allowing employers to test skills in a way that may not be possible in a traditional interview. They are usually hosted over a full day, and sometimes 2 days including an overnight stay. Occasionally, the candidates need to pass the morning activities to be invited to return for the afternoon. Assessment Centres vary in size with anything from 6 to 25 other candidates.

Assessment Centres are a good way of predicting your potential, as they give a number of assessors a chance to see you over a longer period of time and in different situations.

What to expect

Assessment centres are frequently used among large recruiters and are typically the final stage of the selection process. They usually involve a combination of individual and group tasks; some are designed to mirror the job you are applying for, while others focus more on the desired competencies or behavioural characteristics required for the job. Below is a brief summary of the potential exercises that may make up an Assessment Centre:

In-tray/e-tray exercises

In-tray exercises are designed to measure how effectively you manage your workload. You will be given a range of emails, memos, messages, reports and correspondence, together with information on the organisation. You may be asked to prioritise tasks based on the information provided, including drafting replies, delegating and recommending action to supervisors. There will be a time limit to complete the task. E-tray versions of the exercise will involve dealing with a series of emails which arrive on your computer.

The exercises assess your problem analysis and judgement skills, together with your communication and time management. You can practise an in-tray exercise at www.assessmentday.co.uk

Social event

It is likely that there will be an informal event such as a lunch or a coffee break at some point; whilst you are not being formally assessed, you may be under observation. Use this opportunity to find out more about the company culture and the experiences of staff within the organisation.

It is quite common for candidates to have lunch with current trainees and/or hiring managers. This is your opportunity to find out more about the job and the company. Have questions in mind and talk to staff.

Consider how your behaviour appears to the employer. Make an effort to speak to the people you meet and bear in mind that assessors have been known to ask for the opinions of other company personnel who have met you.

Group Exercise

Group exercises can take different forms, you might expect to find a problem solving or work-simulation exercise, followed by discussion around the problem solving process. Remember this is not a competition, the purpose is to see how you interact with others and how you perform under pressure.

The assessors are looking for how individuals function as a member of the group; this may include participation and contribution, the ability to present reasoned arguments, effective communication, listening skills, or negotiation and co-operation. Your own contribution to the team process will normally be more important than the outcome of the exercise.

Do

  • Try to develop a relationship with the group – use names and encourage quieter members.
  • Remain calm when challenged.
  • Be confident to speak out tactfully and assertively if you disagree.
  • Have opinions, but listen to others.
  • Be prepared to debate/discuss.
  • Provide clear and logical arguments.
  • Keep an eye on the time to ensure the task is completed.
  • Remember that the quality of what you say is more important than how often you speak!
  • Try to give structure to the group discussion by setting objectives and sticking to the brief. If appropriate, take stock, summarise where the group are up to and what still needs to be achieved in the time remaining. This can help the group to prioritise.

Do not

  • Keep reiterating the same point if the group is not listening – if you feel it is important, wait for a quiet moment then raise the point again.
  • Be impatient or angry with other team members.
  • Talk over others.
  • Blend into the background – the assessors cannot give you credit if you do not speak!

Presentations

Presentations can be challenging; but practise and preparation can help a great deal. You could be given anything from 30 minutes to several days to prepare for a presentation. It is common for assessment centres to start with an introduction to the group, where you will have to talk about yourself.

Role-play

Role-plays are a business simulation exercise where you are given a brief and assigned a role to be maintained throughout the exercise, they are usually related to the type of work to which you have applied. For example, it can be a popular method of assessment for sales and customer service roles, where the assessor may adopt the role of a difficult customer.

Assessors will be watching the way you analyse the situation, how well you think on your feet and how you are able to express your ideas. You will be judged on your interpersonal skills, how you listen to and understand the other person, whether you develop a relationship with the other person, and the extent to which you are able to influence them and come to a mutually agreed outcome to the situation.

Interview

Prepare for Assessment Centre interviews as you would for any other. Research the organisation, keep in touch with current events by reading newspapers, journals and watching the news, follow their tweets and take time to view the assessors profiles on LinkedIn.

View the MMyou Careers Centre resource on assessment centre tasks  (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Assessment centre tasks

Your preparation

Go back to the company web site and identify the skills, abilities, personal qualities they are looking for. They will be assessing these at the Assessment Centre.Read back on your application/CVIf given a presentation topic in advance, research and prepare thoroughly (but do not neglect your other preparation).If in doubt about anything, call the employer to clarify.Try and get a good night’s sleep the night before and eat some breakfast!Research the company thoroughly. This is the second top tip students feedback to usThe top tip they feedback is “enjoy the day, and be yourself”.And finally, if you want to discuss your preparation, go through your presentation etc. book a Careers appointment.

See the MMyou Careers Centre resource on tips for assessment centre success (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

Tips for assessment centre success

Psychometric Tests

Many graduate employers now use psychometric tests as part of the overall selection process, whether at an assessment centre or during the preliminary screening stage. Psychometric tests are used to assess the abilities and personality traits of job applicants and are often completed online.

There are two main types of test:

Personality tests

These tests are used to explore your interests, values and motivations, analysing how your character fits with the role and organisation. You will usually be presented with statements describing various ways of feeling or acting, and asked to record how much you agree on a scale. They have no right or wrong answer and are not usually timed. Your answers are used to predict how suitable you are for a job.

See the MMyou Careers Centre e-learning resource to the big five personality test (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password):

The big 5 personality test

Aptitude tests

These tests are also known as reasoning or cognitive ability tests. They look at how you process and reason with different types of information, such as verbal and numerical, and are timed.  Your results are compared to a standard, chosen by the employer, which could be the general public or other students/graduates, meaning that you must achieve a certain score to progress.

Aptitude tests can include:

  • Numerical reasoning: assess your interpretation of charts, graphs, data or statistics, investigating your ability to deal with numbers quickly and accurately. These tests may also measure your knowledge of ratios, percentages, trends and currency conversions.
  • Verbal reasoning tests: measuring your understanding of written information, evaluation of arguments, and communication of   concepts. These tests often assess your ability to construct accurate conclusions from written information and may also assess your spelling and grammar.
  • Non-verbal/diagrammatic reasoning: measuring your ability to follow information or spot patterns. Questions often consist of a series of pictures, each of which is slightly different. You must then choose another picture from a number of options to complete the series.
  • Logical reasoning tests: examine your ability to deal flexibly with unfamiliar information and to solve problems.  Intended to measure your capacity for conceptual and analytical thought.
  • Situational Judgement Tests: explore how you respond to a series of work-related scenarios related to a role you are applying for.

Practise tests using the Graduates First Test Portal

Practising tests can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and can allow you to consider aspects of your personality and how this might be important in your career choice. Practise tests should also give you a good idea of how you are likely to perform during the graduate recruitment process.

The Careers and Employability Service offers you the opportunity to practise realistic personality and aptitude tests online, via the Graduates First Test Portal, and also gives feedback.

Register for the tests:

  1. Visit the Graduates First Test Portal.
  2. Complete the registration form using your MMU student email address.  Providing more detail in registration will make your results easier to compare to others.
  3. You will receive an email providing you with a link to confirm your email address.
  4. Sign-in using your username and password.

You will have access to a Work Style Personality Questionnaire and nine free sessions for Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Reasoning and Logical Reasoning practice tests.

In the top right hand corner, you will find the ‘Help’ button where you can get detailed information about how to use the tests and interpret your results.

If you have graduated and no longer have access to your university email address, please email careers@mmu.ac.uk and we will be able to create an account for you.

Other graduate level tests

MMyou Careers Centre provides a range of aptitude tests (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password).

Practise aptitude tests

Other test sites include:

Top tips for taking a psychometric test

See the MMyou Careers Centre e-learning resources to overcoming fear of psychometric tests (log in through My Career Hub using your student ID and password).

How to overcome your fear of psychometric tests

Improving your results

After completing the practice tests, you will receive detailed, personalised feedback on your performance and tips on how you might be able to improve. You will also be able to look at fully worked solutions for all those questions that you answered incorrectly.

If you would like to review your practice test performance and discuss how to approach these in an interview or assessment centre, you can book an appointment with a careers consultant.

Improving and revising your numerical skills

 

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