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Interviews and assessment centres

Interviews and assessment centres are usually one of the final steps of the recruitment process. If you have been invited to attend one of these, be confident, you have already impressed on paper! The challenge now is to impress in person and to set yourself apart from other candidates.


What to expect

Interview processes vary by company and by role. You may be interviewed by one person, or by a panel. Your interview may be face-to-face, over the telephone, or via Skype or video. It is important to find out as much as possible about what format your interview will take so that you can prepare yourself fully for the experience.

How to prepare

Being well prepared for your interview will help you to feel more confident. You should thoroughly research the company and the role that you have applied for. Re-read the job description and person specification and visit the company’s website and social media links.

Try and anticipate some of the questions that you might be asked around the role (and your suitability for it) and the company, based on your research. Employers will be looking for your motivation to do the role and work for their company, as well as your skills and competencies which will enable you to do the role.

Some employers use strengths based interviewing which tests your motivation and drive. Employers will use your answers to determine whether or not you would be a good fit for the role, team and company. This style of interviewing is becoming more popular.

Questions might include:

What are you good at?

What comes easily to you?

What things give you energy?

Do you prefer to start tasks or finish them?

Describe a successful day that you’ve had.

Many employers use competency based interviewing which assesses whether you have the skills and competencies needed to be able to perform well in the role. Questions will usually be based around the skills listed as key requirements in the job description and person specification (hence why your research into the role is so important).

Questions might include:

Can you tell me about a time when you’ve worked as part of a successful team?

When have you used your problem solving skills to form a creative solution?

How do you effectively manage your time and conflicting priorities?

The STAR technique is an effective method to use to answer competency based questions. STAR answers enable you to provide the employer with evidence and examples of how you meet their criteria.

S – Situation. Outline the situation, where were you working? What project were you involved with? Set the scene for the employer.

T – Task. What was your task? What was the purpose or aim? What were you trying to achieve?

A – Action. What action did you take, what was your contribution? Focus specifically on you rather than the team.

R – Result.  What was the outcome, thinking both personally and about the overall project? What was the impact?

The Interview Simulator on Careers on Blackboard (link to careers on BB) has a bank of hundreds of common interview questions for you to practice your answers.

You also need to prepare the practicalities – double check times and locations and ensure that you have planned your route and transport to get there on time. Find out where you need to report to and who to ask for.

Prepare your outfit – do your research into the industry as some companies will be expecting full business wear whilst others would find it very odd if you turned up in a shirt and tie. If you’re unsure it is always best to err on the side of caution and go for a smarter look.

During the interview

It is natural to get nervous in an interview situation, but try not to let your nerves get the better of you. Stay calm and focussed and listen to the question that you are being asked. Ensure that you remain focussed on giving the answer to the one question, don’t waffle or go off on a tangent.

If you don’t understand something that is said, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat or rephrase. Equally, if you need time to think, pausing for a moment is acceptable too.

Keep your body language positive – maintain eye contact, smile and be friendly.

At the end of the interview you will usually be asked if you have any questions. It is a good idea to prepare some questions in advance as having something to contribute at this point helps you to come across as motivated and interested in the role. Avoid asking questions about salary or benefits at this point, save that for when you’ve got the job offer! (hyperlink to accepting job offers)

After the interview

After the interview it is natural to overthink and worry about the outcome. It is a good idea to make some notes for future reference about what went well or didn’t go so well in the interview. Try to keep yourself distracted as you wait to hear from the employer. If you are unsuccessful, try to obtain feedback from the employer on your performance at interview, as this could help you with future preparation.

Telephone interviews

The principles of attending a face to face interview apply equally to telephone interviews: ensure that you have done your research, anticipated and practised questions and prepared strong answers. In addition, due to the nature of a telephone interview, the following hints and tips might be useful:

Video interviews

Video interviews are increasing in popularity amongst employers. Sometimes video interviews are done in real time and with real people, e.g. skype interview, but most are conducted remotely using software which requires the candidate to record themselves answering set questions.

Usually, you will be given the opportunity to have a go at answering a practice question. This will allow you to check the set-up of your web cam or camera, see how you come across on screen and familiarise yourself with the software.

Typically, the questions will appear on screen and you will be given a set amount of time (usually around 90 seconds – 3 minutes) to answer each question. Once you have started recording your answer you are usually unable to stop and start again.

Speaking to a blank screen can be quite unnerving! Without feedback from another person, it is even more important to ensure that your answers are well structured (see advice on the STAR method) so that you don’t begin to waffle.

Hints and tips:


Assessment Centres

What to expect

An assessment centre usually comes as one of the last stages of the recruitment process. It gives the employer the opportunity to see how each candidate behaves in certain situations.

It is also used to test your competencies to see whether you are right for the role, and give you a chance to meet the team and gain a better understanding of the company and whether you would like to work there.

You should expect to take part in a number of assessments designed to test your ability, skills, and experiences which could comprise informal networking, group work, case studies, interviews, presentations, role-play, and in-tray and written exercises.

Assessment centres may last for a half day, full day or number of days. Be aware that you will be being observed throughout the whole experience, even during dinners and networking events if the assessment centre is residential. Approach the free bar with caution!!

How to prepare

Research is key. Refresh yourself with the role specification and example answers you may have already used in previous stages of the assessment.

Thoroughly read through any literature sent to you by the company and conduct your own research as well – read any relevant newspaper articles or blog posts they may have written.

Stay up to date on current affairs, particularly affecting the sector or industry in which the role and company are based.

Make sure you find out where the assessment centre will be held in advance – you might want to do a dummy run to ensure that you get there on time on the day.

Dress smartly as you would for an interview, unless instructed otherwise. Make sure you read any instructions given to you thoroughly as some employers, such as the emergency forces, will expect you to bring a change of clothes for physical exercises.

The Careers & Employability Service regularly run mock assessment centres which you can take part in. Visit our events page (hyperlink to events page) for forthcoming sessions and dates.

You can also complete mock online assessment centres through test provider Graduates First. Find out more information and how to access the site here needs link to where the graduates 1st info will be

During the assessment centre

Be aware that you will be being observed throughout the whole assessment centre experience. Employers will be looking for a certain type of candidate who they believe will fit their business and role the best.

Assessment centres, and particularly group exercises, can be nerve wracking because you are competing directly with other candidates. Remember to showcase your own qualities and skills in the best possible light.


Issues you may encounter

The following tips should help you feel more comfortable and make meaningful contributions;


After the assessment centre

If you are unsuccessful in getting the position, it is always a good idea to try and obtain feedback so that you can use it to prepare yourself better for the next opportunity