Okay! This where we get down to the nitty gritty. If you haven’t already read my journey in getting my graduate position then that’s floating around my blog in the culture section. So, lets get down to it!
Online assessments are notoriously difficult so don’t be disheartened if you get rejected from them. I know, easier said than done right? You normally have an aptitude test which is logic and numerical. I found this incredibly annoying because as someone who loathes maths I found it frustrating I might get rejected from a job that involved little numerical skills. You’ll also probably be asked to do a situational judgement test which is supposed to test if you’re the right fit for the company. These are usually the first hurdle to over come after you’ve filled out an application form. There are practice tests online and reading about the company culture helps a lot for situational judgement tests. The bench marks for these tests are very high because its just one of the many ways to cut people unfortunately.
This is probably my least favourite thing. Sometimes you’ll get an interviewer who will prompt you to help you out and interact with you, others will stay silent. Silence is the worst, you can’t gauge how you’re doing or if you’re saying the right thing. I’ve failed a few of these for big companies and convinced myself I just wasn’t good at them. I did eventually pass one so it really does depend on the company sometimes. My advice for this is don’t have too many notes in front of you. One time I had a sofa covered in double sided notes which became impossible to navigate once I’d started the call. Interviewers can also tell when you’re reading from your notes because your voice will probably change, even if you think it doesn’t. It’s hard to wing it because you worry you won’t give your best answers, just try to have confidence in your preparation.
These are exhausting. Sorry I’m not more positive about the process but who likes being judged for hours on end? Not me! Assessment Centres normally consist of a group exercise, an hour long interview and a presentation. You’ll find you’re better at some areas more than others. I thought I’d struggle most with the presentation but It turned out I got really thrown off in group exercises.
The first group exercise I did was the first exercise at my first assessment centre. As soon as the exercise started, the girl next to me completely smacked down what I was supposed to be defending. She just said everyone should discount my thing immediately because it wasn’t feasible. Safe to say I was taken aback. I knew I was meant to defend my position but not be argumentative at the same time which is difficult to do. I thought I’d handled it well but apparently not as my feedback said I was defensive and quiet at the same time. Who knew you could be both! As a result, I passed the assessment centre but got waitlisted for a position. It was a highly desirable job at a popular company so I knew it was unlikely anyone would drop out.
- Group exercises are hard to prepare for but my advice is don’t be the leader. Instead aim to move the discussion forward. Contribute a few points but focus more on getting your group to a unanimous decision. Assessors LOVE flip charts! If you see a flip chart in a room make sure you’re the one who suggests putting everyones ideas down on it for clarity. Ask people for their opinions. Also make sure you’re keeping track of the time, I always ask who wants to take the time as someone will normally volunteer.
- For the presentation have a hook to introduce it. The hook will be something more light hearted that is related to the issue you’re discussing. For example, I did a presentation for an app for eBay and my hook was ‘There is nothing more frustrating than when you’re in a bidding war on eBay, the timer is ticking down to the last second, you’ve ran out of the office to make that final bid to clinch that designer jacket and then your app glitches out!” From there I then went on to cover all the ground they’d asked me to in the brief. It makes it more interesting and grabs the assessors attention. They hear so many of these presentations so you have to be a little different. Again if there is a flip chart use it but use it for small bits of information, like an important figure or a key word. Smiling and eye contact are the basics but an easy thing to let slip is tone of voice. Practice varying you pitch when you talk, nobody wants to listen to you drone on for half an hour in a monotonous tone. Raise your pitch when you’re introducing an idea and lower it when you discuss a problem perhaps.
- You can prepare the most for the one-to-one interview and I advice that you do. I spent hours practicing interview questions. You might have a mixture of competency based, strength based and motivational based questions. You can find companies competencies on their website, usually in a bullet point list. They will be things like Team Work, Leadership, Confidence, Drive and Resilience etc. These are key points you’re expected to hit in your answers. Competency based questions normally follow a format like “Tell me about a time when you lead a team”. If we’re looking at the competencies I just mentioned you might respond with something like, “When I worked at (insert name), our store had a large influx of customers due to the festive season and my boss was off sick at the time. It was a high pressure situation because we were having an inspection that day. We had some new people that started at the time so I delegated tasks that I knew they were confident at and managed the customers on the till. As the store quietened down the inspector came forward and complimented us for doing so well handling the busy period. As a result we got a good mark on our inspection and my boss thanked me for stepping in while they were away”. That answer hits all the competencies mention. You probably won’t be able to hit them all with every answer but you should aim to hit a few.
You may have noticed that answer followed a structure, this is called the STAR structure. SITUATION, TASK, ACTION, RESULT. It will sound fake to talk like this at first but it’s what they are looking for.
Strength based questions will question whether you handle stress well or ask whether you enjoy working in a team or alone (it’s usually wise to say you like a bit of both but pick the preference closest to the position).
Motivational based questions will be like “Why this company?” or “Why this role?” So do your research on the company. Does it care about Corporate Social Responsibility (good buzz word)? Does it work with something specific that you’re interested in? Are there rotational placements that give you opportunities to learn new skills? All that jazz!
Finally you can be thrown a real curve ball and have an unstructured interview which is more conversational. Usually you can feed your prepared answers into some of these questions but you have to give more varied responses here. If your interviewer asks what you liked about your previous job, you don’t want to go all STAR on them and sound unnatural. They’re probably just looking for a positive response and giving you an opportunity to identify a time you did something good in a less structured way.
So! I think that’s enough information to chew on for now. I apologise if you’re not looking for a graduate job and found that a bit of a task to read. I hope this is helpful to those of you who are or will be looking for a job on a graduate scheme in the future. I’d also like to thank my boyfriend, Omar, who taught me all that I know about this process and listening to me practice interview questions over and over again.