Applying for Jobs

CVs

What is a CV?

Whilst 'curriculum vitae' is a Latin term meaning 'the course of your life', it is more useful to think of a good CV as the 'edited highlights'.

In a CV you are not actually telling your life story - you are selling yourself!

If you remember this you will be well on the way to composing a CV that has a realistic chance of getting you an interview (which is what we are all after when we sit down to write one...).

What a CV should contain

Graduate employers have a 'shopping-list' of the knowledge, skills and experience they are seeking in candidates, so your CV is your opportunity to provide evidence of these attributes. (Their recruitment literature as well as your own knowledge of the requirements of the particular career for which you are applying should help you to do this.) Remember that you are not only seeking to inform employers about yourself but also to persuade them that you are worth interviewing.

An employer might well be reading a stack of CVs and will certainly be appraising them quickly (very quickly!) so this means you should work on the presentation as well as the content.

Highlight the most appropriate information and present it in a way that has most impact. Having said all this, some essential details must be in your CV, although the exact order in which you put them depends on you:

Personal Details:

Include - your name, address or addresses (if living away from home; telephone and mobile numbers; email address/es). Details such as your date of birth, nationality, gender or place of birth are discretionary and, depending on your circumstances, you may either include these or not.

Education and qualifications:

Only as far back as secondary school and in reverse chronological order with more space devoted to details about qualifications that matter most, normally your degree. If you feel that the content of your degree will not interest an employer, write about the skills that you developed whilst studying it.

Relevant Skills:

This section is increasingly common on CVs. Start by identifying which particular skills the employer is seeking and then give details. Use specific examples from your course, work experience, voluntary work and interests; in short, from any area of your life that seems appropriate.

Work Experience:

This can include paid jobs either during vacations or in term-time, paid and unpaid work placements, voluntary work - in fact, any situation in which you were working! They may all be used legitimately to show your suitability for the job in question by virtue of the particular skills and experience you developed.

Interests:

These can show evidence of suitability through reference to the skills you have learnt. Being involved in sports can demonstrate team working ability, for example, or travel can show your adaptability and independence. Don't give a long list of interests but concentrate on two or three and write about what you have learnt from them.

Referees:

It is normal toinclude two of these, unless more are requested. One should be an academic referee, probably your tutor, and the other someone who can comment on you from a different perspective such as an employer or long-standing family acquaintance. Do not use family or people whose relationship to you is not clear and always get their permission first.

Tips on presenting your CV

  • Two sides of word-processed A4 is normally sufficient.
  • Use good quality paper and paper clips, not staples.
  • For your education put your most recent course first.
  • Summarise qualifications that were achieved some years ago, for example, GCSEs.
  • For your work experience try and make your most relevant experience stand out. You may want to consider having a separate section for this.
  • Make your CV clear and consistent and leave plenty of white space.
  • Make your headings stand out by using bold or italics.
  • Use a legible font with a minimum size of 11.
  • Use positive/action words which describe what you did.
  • Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Use a laser printer for a better quality finish

CV checklist

The following information is designed as a quick test for you to check your CV. The checklist questions are split into the main categories that should be included in your CV. Why not print off this page and check it against a draft copy of your CV?

Personal details

  • Will the employer be able to contact you easily at this address?
  • Do your personal details account for no more than one third of a page?
  • Is your nationality and work permit situation clearly stated? (international students). Make this stand out if you feel this will work in your favour. However, you do not need to include this information on your CV. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of doing so bearing in mind the employer to whom you are writing and the likelihood of their recruiting an international student. If you are in any doubt about this, seek advice from a careers adviser.

Education

  • Does this section include more than a listing of qualifications and grades?
  • Have you listed your most recent or important qualifications first? Have you listed relevant modules/projects? (Law firms like to see all results)
  • Is there a team project that you could discuss?
  • Have you stated the equivalence of any internationally obtained qualifications? (international students)


    The UK National Recognition Information Centre (UK NARIC) provides information and advice on the authenticity and comparability of international qualifications, courses and even institutions. They provide an advice line for simple queries from students - Tel: 01242 260010.
  • Have you received any scholarships or awards that would show relevant skills?

Work Experience

  • Have you included a broad range of relevant experience? What about work in a family business, voluntary work or involvement in university societies?
  • Have you included greater detail on more relevant experience?
  • Have you undertaken a period of national service that you could talk about? (international students)
  • What have you done to integrate yourself into your host community? (international students)

Skills

  • Have you clearly demonstrated evidence of skills outlined in the advert, job specification or employer's promotional material?
  • Have you used examples to demonstrate these skills? Remember, evidence can be used from any area of your life including home, academic, work, hobbies, university societies, etc. What about fundraising, group projects or societies you are involved with? Have you mentioned the skills you have developed on your course and given examples of how you developed them?
  • If you are sending your CV speculatively, have you identified the skills that are needed for your chosen area of work?

Interests

  • Can you use this section to demonstrate examples of skills and competencies that the employer is looking for?
  • Have you concentrated on a few key interests rather than giving a long list?
  • Have you lived/worked abroad or done some travelling?

References

  • If you are including addresses of referees, have you asked them for their permission and explained what sort of opportunities you are applying for?
  • Can they be contacted easily?
  • If you have run out of space you may want to add the line: 'The names and addresses of referees can be supplied on request'.

General

  • Has your CV been thoroughly checked for spelling, grammar and correct use of language?
  • Does it follow a consistent layout? Do the dates follow in the same order for your education and employment sections (reverse chronological)?
  • Is the most relevant information given priority on the page / the most space?
  • Do your section headings clearly reflect what information the sections contain?
  • Have you checked that there are no gaps in your history?
  • Is it clear to read, and fonts are consistent and not too small?
  • Does it fit on to two pages without looking crowded? Have you checked that you have not split a section over two pages?
  • Would you want to read it?

Remember: your CV may only be scan read by a busy employer.

This could be for just 20 seconds - would you be impressed?

CV resources

Useful CV resources can be found from the following websites:

Covering letters

When should I send a covering letter?

1. To accompany a CV

You should always send one to accompany a CV. This can be when an employer specifically asks for a CV or when an advertisement says 'apply in writing'. The covering letter is used in this instance to encourage the employer to read the accompanying CV and also to draw together relevant facts from your CV and shape them to the needs of the employer.

2. 'Speculative' applications

Speculative applications also require covering letters, which are used to explain why you are sending a speculative CV.

3. To accompany an application form

It is sometimes necessary to send a covering letter to accompany an application form. If you have had very little space or opportunity to sell yourself on the form, or there is something that you particularly want to emphasise, the covering letter can help you do this.

4. Letter of application

If you are asked to send a 'letter of application', you might treat this as an extended covering letter.

What should a covering letter include?

It should provide a logical sequence of information designed to capture the reader's attention.

You can also use it to explain special circumstances or draw attention to a particular aspect of your experience.

Tell the employer:

  • who you are;
  • what you are applying for and where you saw it advertised if applicable;
  • why you want the job or opportunity and why you are attracted to the organisation;
  • how you feel that your qualifications and experience make you a suitable candidate;
  • what you want them to do for you, e.g. ask about the possibility of arranging an interview or a visit (this will depend on your circumstances and whether you are making a speculative application or responding to an advertised vacancy);
  • what you hope will happen next, e.g. a polite, positive closing statement, saying you will telephone to follow up your letter or that you look forward to hearing from them.

By the end of the letter the employer should be really impressed by what you have to offer and be encouraged to find out more from your CV or application form.

How should a covering letter be laid out?

Your letter should usually adhere to the following layout:

  • your address and contact details usually on the right side at the top;
  • the employer's name and address usually on the left side;
  • the date;
  • 'Dear Mr or Ms Employer' (or, if you don't know who you are writing to, 'Dear Sir or Madam');
  • a reference number for the job (if you know it) and/or the job title;
  • the main body of the letter, justified to the left hand margin, with a line between paragraphs;
  • 'Yours sincerely,' if you know who you are writing to, or 'Yours faithfully' if you don't.
  • a space for your signature;
  • your name.

Tips to remember

  • Covering letters are not easy to write. Try brainstorming some ideas first before trying to construct full paragraphs.
  • It is worth spending some time experimenting with different versions before adopting a style that suits both you and the organisation you are writing to.
  • Try to keep your letter to one side of A4 word processed text, printed on good quality plain paper, ensuring that the layout looks balanced.
  • Use a legible font (e.g. Arial, Times) with a minimum size of 11 point.
  • If you are asked for a handwritten letter, write as clearly and neatly as possible. Presentation is very important so it is a good idea to practise first.
  • Use positive and active words where possible, e.g. achieved, organised, negotiated.
  • Sell yourself and emphasise your enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the opportunity or profession.

Example covering letters

The following examples are given for guidance only and you will need to write your covering letter based on your own particular circumstances and experiences.

EXAMPLE 1

389 Mile End Street
Leicester LE1 6RJ

Ms Sarah Miles
Graduate Recruitment Manager
Smith, Jones & Coopers
12-15 Regent Street
London EC1 6PY

10th August 2008

RE: Graduate Accountancy Training Scheme

Dear Ms Miles

I am writing to apply for the Graduate Accountancy Training Scheme as advertised on my Careers Services’ website and in its current vacancy bulletin.

I first became interested in a career in finance through attending a series of careers presentations by employers at my university. The talk on accountancy by your colleague David Rome impressed me most and led me to feel that training as an accountant would combine my skills and interest in business, problem-solving, and working with people. The work experience I obtained last summer at XYZ Bank was extremely useful and I greatly enjoyed being in a financial environment. I am now particularly excited about fulfilling my potential in accountancy and my choice of career has been confirmed by wide reading of careers literature on the profession.

I feel I have a range of relevant skills that I can bring to Smith, Jones and Coopers. My communication skills have greatly developed both through my work experience at the bank and through my degree. During my course I have not only written essays but frequently presented papers and arguments orally in seminars, occasionally employing the use of visual aids. One assignment involved small groups of four students working as a team to co-research and co-present a topic. This taught me a lot about working in a team as well as further practising my presentation skills. I feel I have presented to a high standard and have learnt many of the principles behind effective presentations. Additionally on my course I have developed a high level of IT skills: I have regularly used Word, Excel and the Internet and I am comfortable in sourcing and handling data electronically. As you can see on my CV I lead a busy life through my various sporting activities, which has meant that I have very quickly learnt the importance of time management. I have always handed my work in on time and never missed a deadline.

Smith, Jones and Coopers attract me because of the variety of your training scheme and the emphasis on early responsibility together with all necessary support. Your position as one of the top 20 firms attracts me and as a leading firm I feel Smith, Jones and Coopers offers the opportunity to work with the type of businesses and clients that I am seeking. I hope my CV shows that I have the skills and potential to join Smith, Jones and Coopers’ training programme. I am available for interview at any time and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

John Edwards

John Edwards

EXAMPLE 2

49 Dorchester Street
Leicester LE3 9FU
Tel: 0116 299 4675

Mrs Smythe
Smythe and Robinson Associates
38 Newhaven Road
London N2

August 14th 2008

Dear Mrs Smythe,

I would like to apply for a position of HR Assistant, as advertised in The University of Leicester Careers Service bulletin on 07/11/02. I am currently in the final year of my English degree at the University of Leicester. I enclose a copy of my CV for your attention.

I have been interested in HR for many years and have strengthened this interest and gained some useful insight by choosing to study organisational structures last year. I have acquired hands-on experience of working in HR at a local company last summer, and have supported an HR consultant in organising training for a multinational company.

I was impressed by your company in your graduate recruitment literature and by talking to recent recruits at the careers fair held at my University. These graduates expressed a commitment to your company and described the in-depth training.

In addition to my growing knowledge of HR, I can offer many skills gained from my studies, work and other activities, for example:

  • analysing complex numerical and verbal information;
  • clear, concise writing for different contexts;
  • working enthusiastically and productively under pressure;
  • dealing professionally with a wide range of people;
  • working in a variety of teams and on my own initiative;
  • overcoming obstacles and negotiating for the support I need.

I am available for any of the interview dates specified in your graduate recruitment brochure.

Yours sincerely

Adam Hamsall

Personal statements

Purpose of a personal statement

  • The purpose of a personal statement is to help an organisation find out about you and your suitability for the job or course they have to offer.
  • It is an opportunity for you to present your goals, experiences and qualifications in the best possible light as well as to demonstrate your writing ability.
  • A personal statement provides scope for you to distinguish yourself from the other applicants.

Questions to ask yourself when writing a personal statement

Your answers to these questions may help you to decide what to include in your personal statement:

  • What in your life story makes you special, unique or impressive?
  • What interests you about the field of work/study for which you are applying and how did you learn about it?
  • What are your relevant work experiences?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What skills do you have (e.g. problem solving, willingness to learn, leadership, communication skills) and can you provide evidence to back up your claims?
  • What personal characteristics do you possess (e.g. integrity, compassion, persistence) and, again, can you provide evidence to back up your claims?
  • What responsibilities have you undertaken?
  • What difficulties have you overcome?
  • Why should you be chosen above the other applicants?

When you have thought about enough examples and have the appropriate evidence to back them up you can then write your personal statement.

Writing out your personal statement

Opening section

Start with a strong opening paragraph that will grab the reader's attention.

Middle section

This should be used to provide details of your interests, knowledge and experience of your particular field. You may also include information about your qualifications and previous relevant work experiences. Give recent and relevant examples. What you select to include in your personal statement and the choices you make will help the reader form a judgement about you so it would be wise to give considerable thought to this.

End section

Finish by tying together the various issues you have already raised and reiterate your interest in the job or course.

Referees

You may be asked to supply the names of referees in support of your application:

  • Your principal referee would normally be your academic/personal tutor.
  • Make sure that you have your referees' permission prior to giving their names.
  • Provide your referees with information about yourself and what you are applying for. You may wish them to mention, for example, your academic achievements, predicted grades if appropriate, jobs, travel experience, etc.
  • Providing a copy of your CV and/or your application form to your referees may also be useful.

Remember: If your referees are well informed about your background and aspirations it will help them to write a more focused and personal reference.

Tips on writing a personal statement

1. Preparing to write your personal statement:

  • Take the personal statement very seriously - it could be the deciding factor in making your application successful.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to write the personal statement.
  • Read and follow any instructions - e.g. it may be stated that it should be hand-written or typed (if hand-written, make sure that it is legible!).

2. Writing your personal statement:

  • Write a positive and interesting personal statement to hold the attention of the reader.
  • Make sure that you address any specific questions that are asked - do not ignore them or think you can get away without answering them.
  • Be specific and provide appropriate evidence, e.g. if you are applying for a teacher training course, don't just say that you would make a good teacher; give examples of previous experience working in a classroom and activities where you have been involved with children.
  • Try to make your personal statement unique or distinctive in some way. One way to make it individual is to give a detailed example of something specific to your own experience, such as an event that influenced your decision to pursue a particular course or career.
  • Be succinct and avoid using long and ambiguous words or overly long sentences.
  • Adhere to the stated word limits - personal statements are often limited to 250-500 words, or one typed page, so write concisely while still providing enough detail.
  • Tailor your personal statement to the job or course you are applying for - do not use exactly the same one for different jobs.

3. Before sending your personal statement

  • Spell and grammar check your personal statement to avoid careless and easily correctable errors - ask friends to read it for you to do a final proof before you send it.
  • Bring a copy of your personal statement to the Careers Service for one of the careers advisers to discuss with you.
  • Keep a copy of what you have written as it will probably be referred to at interview.

Application forms

Employers often have their own application forms, either online or paper versions. There will usually be details of how or where to obtain an application form from, if in doubt contact the employer directly. However, remember that you might be making some kind of impression so be polite, positive and interested.

Before completing the form

  • Take a photocopy of the form, if possible.
  • Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to complete the form and are not hurrying through it at the last minute.
  • Read it through to ensure that you are clear about the kind of information that the employer requires.
  • Collect together all the information you can about the employer - job description, person specification, brochure, web site etc. - and identify what they are looking for (skills, experience, qualifications etc.)
  • Put together any evidence you have to show that you meet the employer's requirements. Don't ignore any part of your experience that you could bring in, such as: your course, work experience, voluntary activities and interests.
  • Decide where you will put this information on the application form; in most cases this will be obvious but make sure that you put it where it will make the most impact.
  • Pay particular attention to the questions about specific skills or where you are asked to describe your suitability for the job. These are looked at very carefully by employers and carry the most weight in the final decision.

Two of the main reasons that employers reject application forms are: a. poor spelling and grammar; b. not answering the questions.

Completing the form

  • Give careful thought to the presentation. Complete a photocopy of the form in rough first, so that you are sure that all your information will fit into the spaces provided.
  • Make sure that you obey the instructions; e.g. many employers specify the use of black ink or upper case throughout.
  • Pay attention to your spelling and grammar throughout; many employers will automatically reject candidates who are weak in these areas.
  • Get someone to read your rough copy - someone else will quickly notice mistakes that you have missed or occasions where you have not made yourself clear.
  • You may want to discuss your application form with a careers adviser.
  • Make the best of yourself but be honest: you may be required to talk at interview about what you have written.
  • Students with health or disability issues may have concerns about disclosing this information on an application form. Read more about disclosure below.

After completing the form

Put together a short covering letter to send out with the application form. This letter enables you to set the scene for the employer and to reinforce your key strengths and reasons for applying for the job. It also allows you to deal with any issues that you were unable to deal with sufficiently on the form itself, for example, health matters, poor exam results, or international qualifications where more explanation is needed.

  • Remember: Many employers will reject applications if there is no covering letter OR if the covering letter has poor spelling and grammar.
  • Make a copy of your completed form so that if you are called for interview, you can quickly go over what you said about yourself and prepare for the interview more effectively.
  • Be prepared to contact the employer to check on the progress of your application if the closing date passes and you hear nothing from them for several weeks.

Disclosure

You may be unsure about the best stage at which to disclose your disability, learning difficulty or health issue. There is no one right answer for everyone and you will have to consider your strategy in the light of your own circumstances.

The information below aims to give some more specialised information and resources to help you through the application process and focuses on the issues surrounding when and how to disclose a disability when applying for jobs.

When do I disclose my disability?

You may find it difficult to decide when is the best time to tell a prospective employer about your disability:

Application stage

At the application stage the decision will sometimes be made for you, as many application forms ask direct questions about disability and health. If this is the case you will probably have to fill in this section explaining your disability, as failure to do so may lead to the organisation taking disciplinary action against you at a later date.

However, if the question is phrased along the lines of "Do you have any medical condition or disability that could affect your ability to do this job?" and, if you genuinely think that your disability does not affect your ability to do the job, then you could answer "No" to this question.

Interview stage

If there is no direct question on the application form or you are applying using a CV you may decide that you would prefer to leave talking about your disability until you are face to face with the employer so that you can explain your individual circumstances more fully. You may be concerned that if you reveal it too soon it might jeopardise your chances of an interview or people may not fully understand the implications and make judgements about you based on limited knowledge and misinformation. In this case you may want to wait until interview before explaining about your disability. This also gives you an opportunity to emphasise all the positive things you have to offer.

If your disability means that you need special arrangements for the interview such as an interview room that is wheelchair accessible, extended time on a psychometric test or the presence of a signer, then you will need to talk to the employer before your interview.

Whatever the situation each individual will want to decide for himself or herself when they feel is the best and most appropriate time to discuss their disability with a future employer.

What are the pros and cons of declaring my disability?

Reasons for disclosure:

If you declare and then subsequently feel that you have been discriminated against then you can take a claim to an employment tribunal. A company cannot reject you because you are disabled if a reasonable adjustment can be made to accommodate you.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has changed the environment for disabled job seekers and there are clear legal requirements and guidelines which employers must obey. The Government's Disability website (www.disability.gov.uk) explains the main provisions of the Act as they affect disabled people and where you can get further advice and information.

You can control the way your disability is explained to the employer. For example, instead of saying "I have a hearing impairment that causes me difficulties", you could say "Because of my hearing impairment I have an enhanced ability to concentrate which in turn has developed my ability to perform complex tasks such as entering and analysing data on spreadsheets".

Failure to accurately complete a health section on an application form may give the employer grounds to subsequently dismiss you. If your disability has any health and safety implications for you or other employees, you are legally obliged to tell your employer.

Employers may be worried about the extra costs of employing you so it is worth telling them about the financial support available from the Employment Service's 'Access to Work' scheme. The scheme covers extra equipment and transportation.

Reasons for not disclosing:

You may feel that you will be discriminated against and therefore rejected by a prospective employer.

You may not want to discuss your disability with a stranger.

You may feel that your disability has no direct effect on your ability to do the job.

On balance it would seem sensible to disclose your disability if there are health and safety issues, if you are asked the question directly on an application form or if you need any special arrangements either at the interview stage or in order to effectively do the job.

In other circumstances it may not be appropriate or necessary to divulge your disability and particularly if you feel that it does not affect your ability to do the job. As everyone's situation is different it might be a good idea to come and discuss your personal case with a careers adviser.

Online application forms

Most of the advice for paper applications applies equally to online applications. However, there are one or two additional tips we would like to give you now:

Preparation:

Online job applications can be deceptive - because you fill in boxes, click to send them and they arrive instantaneously, it may be tempting to treat them like ordering books or tickets over the Internet. But beware, they need the same amount of thought and preparation as a paper application.

  • Approach the application in the same way as a paper one - find out about the job and employer and match your skills and experience to their requirements.
  • Write a draft copy in Word first, rather than directly on-line, so that you can copy and paste in your information (this is not always possible with some forms).
  • Don't be tempted to apply for lots of jobs online because it is easier - only apply for jobs in which you are genuinely interested and for which you have the qualifications and experience. You will then come across as a more credible candidate.

On the form itself:

  • When you do write directly on-line, guard against the use of sloppy or casual styles of language that you might use in email. Also don't abbreviate words, and make sure you write in full sentences. Informal language does not create the right impression.
  • If you are cutting and pasting answers into applications forms from Word, make sure you have read through what you have written and adapt it to the form you are currently filling in. The last thing you want to do is to paste one employer's name into an application to another employer! This does happen on a regular basis and in most cases the employer will automatically reject your application.
  • Make sure you answer all the questions and fill in all the appropriate sections - if you have left a section blank, don't forget to go back to it later. It is too late once you have pressed the send button!
  • If a section is not applicable to you, write 'not applicable' or 'N/A', as if you leave an empty box the employer may think your form is incomplete.
  • For the same reason it is vital to get someone to 'proofread' your efforts before you hit that send button! Print a copy, and show it to someone else to spot those small errors that can so easily be missed.
  • Some forms are hard or even impossible to print; copy and paste your application into a Word document for use in your interview preparation.
  • If you move in and out of an on-line form, remember to save your work every few minutes to avoid losing two hours of hard work!

Remember: The secret of effective online applications isn't the online part. What is important is the preparation and thought you put in before you get on the computer.

Select simulator - filling in an online application form

The select simulator website provides you with information on how online applications work and allows you to fill in your own form and save it for future use. The online application form has the usual sections, such as education and employment details etc and there is advice on helping you fill in each section.

Once you have filled in all the sections you can save it as a Word document and can print it off and discuss it with a careers adviser or use it as a basis for future applications.

Even if you don't want to fill in the form you can get a good idea of how online applications work by looking through the form and reading the accompanying advice. Go to www.selectsimulator.com.

Interview Preparation

Job offers are won or lost on the thoroughness of the preparations you make before an interview. Many companies have gone to a great deal of trouble drawing up job descriptions and person specifications as well as thinking through starting salaries, reviews and induction procedures. Most appreciate how costly it is to make the wrong appointment and therefore put considerable effort into their selection procedures.

Pre-conditioning the interviewer

It is well established that if interviewers have formed an opinion about a candidate before the interview then they will expect this to be fulfilled during the interview and will treat this candidate differently. Consequently, anything you can do to create the right impression will be valuable.

Begin by submitting in the first place:

  • A professional-looking CV that focuses on your achievements.
  • A well-written application form which emphasises your strengths.
  • A positive covering letter that touches on your main ‘selling points’ and conveys your enthusiasm for the job.

If the interviewer expects you to be good you will sense their favourable attitude and be encouraged to try even harder to present your strengths.

Think positively

It is surprising how many people prepare themselves to fail the interview. They create barriers before they start by saying such things as: ‘I’m too old/young’; ‘I’m too experienced/inexperienced’; ‘I’m male/female and they’ll want a woman/man for the job’; ‘I’m not clever enough’.

Tip: You should remember that you have obtained the interview on the strength of your CV/application. The interviewer is already aware of your details, so don’t be too concerned on these issues. Think – and be – positive.

Background information

Before attending an interview it is important that you find out as much as possible about the job concerned; you may be able to obtain more details from the Personnel Department. You also need to find out as much as possible about the company – its background, the range of goods/services it provides, its policies on staffing, promotion and so on. You should be able to get brochures from the company itself. Sometimes university or public libraries have information in professional or business journals, so it is worth checking these and newspapers’ and internet sites’ archives for any current news about the company.

Types of Interview

Most interviews will be an opportunity for you to view the work environment and meet your potential line manager and other members of staff. This is your opportunity to decide if you want the job.

Face to Face Interviews

These are the most common interviews and candidates are rarely offered a job without one. Some employers will just have single interviews to decide on the preferred candidate, whereas other employers may require you to have two or more interviews

Telephone Interviews

Telephone interviews are becoming more common, althoughemployers will often use them as a first interview, and applicants succeeding at this stage will be then invited to further assessments or a face-to-face interview.

Presentations

Presentations are frequently a part of the selection process.

Postgraduate study

If you have applied for postgraduate or further study there is additional information specifically to help with the interviews in the further study resource section.

Face-to-face interviews

Interviews can vary considerably in the level of formality and the number of people interviewing you. However, in reality it makes very little difference as long as you have prepared carefully.

Preparation - before the interview

Research the company thoroughly

Employers often comment that many students know too little about the company. Use all methods available to you to find out about the company including company brochures, careers fairs, employer presentations, and company websites.

Think of possible questions that you might be asked

Research more about the types of questions and examples of possible questions. There are more example questions in various booklets and leaflets available from the Careers Service.

Practise answering the questions out loud

Sometimes it can be helpful to ask a friend to listen to your responses or some people find practising in front of a mirror useful or using a tape recorder.

Re-read your application form or CV to remind yourself of what you said

Imagine you are the interviewer and decide what questions you might ask based on your application.

What do you want to get across to the interviewer?

Try to think of three key points that you would like to get across to the interviewer by the end of the interview.

Your questions for the interviewer

Prepare your questions for the interviewer and write them on a card or piece of paper to take in with you.

Check out travel arrangements

Check out how you will be getting to the interview. Plan to arrive with at least 15 minutes to spare.

What to wear

Decide what to wear and make sure that it is comfortable and ready to wear.

What to take with you

Prepare a file containing a copy of your application form, company correspondence and directions, and your questions for them. Sometimes they will ask to see other documents such as passport/ID, certificates. Make sure you have read the invitation to interview carefully so that you do as they ask.

Preparation - on the day

First impressions do count:

  • Be polite to everyone you meet.
  • Look organised. Carry your file.
  • Give the impression that you are taking the occasion seriously.
  • Think about your posture. Try and put your head up and shoulders back.
  • Try and relax. Deep breathing definitely helps!
  • Make sure you have a firm handshake.
  • Maintain good eye contact.
  • Smile.

Preparation - the interview itself

Remember the importance of non-verbal communication

If what you say conflicts with what your posture and expression are conveying, they will believe the latter. So regularly check your posture.

Eye contact

In a panel interview, eye contact should normally be maintained with the person who is asking the question, although remember to draw in other panellists by looking at them from time to time.

Verbal communication

Be enthusiastic and interesting.

Informal interviewers

Be wary of a very informal interviewer lulling you into a false sense of security - you may reveal more than you should in this situation.

Always try and remain positive

Sometimes the interviewer will touch on things in your past that have gone wrong. Concentrate on what you learnt from the experience. Turn a negative into a positive - bad experiences are still ones we can learn from. Don't be negative or apologetic about yourself.

Move on

If you answer a question badly, forget about it and move on to the next one. You will not be rejected on the basis of one poor answer. So bounce back and tackle the next question with renewed enthusiasm.

Don't give one-word answers

This puts more pressure on the interviewer to think of the next question quickly. Expand on your answers within reason.

Don't bluff!

If a question stumps you then you may want to try one of the following:

  • 'I have some experience of this at the moment but realize that this is an area I need to develop further and so I have set up a week's work experience...';
  • ask if you could be given some time to think about the question;
  • ask them to repeat the question, which will give you more thinking time;
  • be honest and say that this was one of the questions you were going to put to them! (if it is a company related question);
  • ask if you can return to this question later.

Remember: With difficult questions it is often your approach that interests them rather than whether you give the 'right answer'. Interviews are a two way process and therefore it is not only an opportunity for them to assess you but also for you to assess them.

Getting feedback

You can learn a lot from attending an interview, whether or not you are actually offered the job. Asking for feedback can help you prepare for future interviews.

Telephone interviews

These are typically used before a face to face interview often as a way of undertaking initial screening of candidates

What are telephone interviews used for?

Although telephone interviews are still not that common, they are used by some major employers as a very useful and cost effective way of undertaking initial screening of candidates.

The major companies operating telephone interviews are usually keen to make the process as transparent as possible and will normally give you full briefings on the methods to be employed.

What will happen in the telephone interview?

There are three main types of telephone interview:

1. Unannounced telephone interview

Following submission of your application form or CV someone from the company will ring and often ask you very similar questions to a normal face to face interview.

2. Prearranged telephone interview

Again following submission of your CV or application form you will be contacted and normally fully briefed on what will happen next.

3. Sales telephone interview

Following submission of your application you will receive a telephone call asking you to sell something to the interviewer. These are used in particular for jobs involving selling and frequently for call centre staff or telesales staff.

The prearranged telephone interview

Generally this will take one of two formats:

Format 1:

You will be sent a Personal Identification Number (PIN number) and asked to telephone the company within a specified period of days, typically about seven.

You then ring from a touch tone telephone and will be required to respond to various statements and the time it takes you to respond will be recorded. These are agree/disagree types of questions. There may be up to 80 questions.

The reason that the exercise is timed is to ensure that your response is genuine and that you have not tried to give the answer you think they might like.

Examples:

"Overall, I enjoy working more than playing"

"I have a gift for seeing the strengths in others"

If you strongly agreed with the statement you would press key 1; key 2 if you agreed; key 3 if you were unsure; key 4 if you disagreed; and key 5 if you strongly disagreed.

Format two:

The second type is similar to the unannounced telephone interview and usually involves typical interview questions. You are often advised that your interview will be recorded. Questions are based on competencies for the job and your responses are normally analysed by a trained interviewer.

How should I prepare for a telephone interview?

Prepare your environment:

Always keep a clear record of your applications preferably in a file next to the telephone. Inform your flatmates that you have applied for jobs and that you may get a call from a company.

If you have a call out of the blue and you are unable to locate your file then try and arrange a more suitable time to take the call. You are not obliged to speak there and then.

First impressions do count and if the interviewer can hear inappropriate remarks and noise in the background, that may adversely affect their judgement of you.

Prepare for the interview:

Prepare beforehand as you would for any interview. Look through our examples of typical interview questions and make sure you know how you might respond to these questions.

Practise answering questions with a friend and ask them to give you feedback on how your voice sounds. Another idea is to record some answers on a tape and listen to how you sound.

Tips for during the interview:

Telephone contact means that there are no visual clues unlike a face-to-face interview, therefore the tone and rhythm of your voice become more important. If you speak in a monotone voice this will be more apparent on the telephone as there will be no facial expressions to distract the interviewer from your voice!

Smile! Amazing as it might sound, smiling whilst you talk really helps. You will come across as more friendly and confident. Try it! Use gestures as in normal conversation and be enthusiastic where appropriate.

One advantage of a telephone interview is that you can have notes and information with you such as prompts for possible answers. However, don't over prepare. You'll get flustered if you can't find the bit of paper you're looking for, and rustling paper could be heard by the interviewer over the phone.

Be organised - have a pen and paper to hand and your diary ready in case they like the sound of you and want to invite you to a meeting.

Try not to be put off by pauses from the interviewer - they may be taking notes. Also don't worry if you don't get much feedback from the interviewer; this happens in face-to-face interviews too. Remember a telephone interview is a precursor to a face-to-face interview and very few companies, if any, will offer jobs based on a telephone interview. However, creating a good impression at this stage will certainly go a long way towards helping at the face-to-face stage.

Presentations

Presentations are frequently apart of the interview process, and will almost certainly form part of an academic selection process. You will be given advance notice of the topic. You will also be told what visual aids will be available, who your audience will be and how long you are required to talk for.

Remember: the key to a successful presentation is anticipating your audience's needs.

Tips for a successful presentation preparation:

  • Consider supplying supporting material such as handouts.
  • Be ready to answer questions - try and predict likely questions and prepare responses.
  • Pitch your talk at the 'right' level for your audience? If you do not know who is in the audience, then find out.
  • Pay attention to structure, content and delivery.
  • Have a clear introduction, middle and ending. Don't just fizzle out at the end.
  • Check beforehand what IT facilities are available. If using a laptop or memory stick ensure it is compatible at the venue.
  • Demonstrate good technique in using visual aids - stand back from the screen and don't turn your back on the audience.
  • No matter how interesting the content of your presentation, it will not make up for poor delivery. Avoid speaking too quickly, too quietly or in a monotone. Make eye contact with your audience and be aware of any distracting habits such as hair twiddling or overuse of certain words.
  • Practise delivering your presentation in a large room to a friend or colleague and ask them to give you feedback. Get them to ask you some tricky questions about your talk to enable you to practise your responses.
  • There is a range of take away leaflets and reference books available in the Student Development Zone, relating to presentation skills and preparation.

Types of interview questions

You will need to think in advance about the type of questions that you might be asked in the interview and to prepare possible responses to these that enable you to get across your suitability for the job in question. Types of question:

Focus on application form/CV

Some questions will follow up the information that you have included on your CV or application form, for example:

  • education and qualifications;
  • work experience;
  • interests and activities;
  • ambitions;
  • relevant skills and experience.

Example: Tell me about your vacation work. What did you learn from it?

Focus on particular skills or attributes

Another line of questioning is to focus on particular skills or attributes that you say you possess or which are required for the job.

Often employers will ask questions to seek evidence that you have the key skills or competencies they are looking for. Going over the skills asked for in the job specification may be a clue as to what you should prepare.

Example: Tell me about a time when you had to organise others to achieve a task. What did you do? What was the outcome?

Hypothetical scenario

Finally, you might be given a hypothetical scenario, normally work related, and asked what action you would take, such as:

Example: A member of your team is consistently late with deadlines. How would you deal with them to rectify the situation?

Interview questions - academic posts

This section is for students applying for academic posts.The questions below are suggestions of the type of questions you will be asked. The interviewpanel will be particularly interested in your area of research and your subject knowledge plus your skills and motivation for lecturing and research. Questions fall under three main headings:

  • research interests;
  • teaching skills;
  • course content.

Possible questions - Research interests

  • Tell us about your research.
  • Can you describe the value of your work to a layperson?
  • Who are the other scholars in your field and how does your work compare to theirs?
  • What ideas do you have for further funding for your research and what are the potential sources of funding?
  • What are you working on currently (now that you have finished your doctoral research)?
  • What plans do you have for publishing your work to date?
  • What is your research plan for the next three years?
  • How do you see your research fitting in with the Department?

Tips for preparation:

  • Try and pitch your answer to the audience you are addressing.
  • Have a short and long descriptive piece prepared which explains your research to both experts and non-experts.
  • Make sure you know about others working in your field and how your work fits in.
  • Think about the limitations of your research and how you might tackle a challenging question about this area.
  • Think about the future for your research.

Possible questions - Teaching skills

  • What is your teaching philosophy?
  • What experience have you had to date?
  • What innovative teaching methods have you used?
  • What teaching skills and techniques have you used over the past years?
  • How do you see technological advances impacting on teaching?
  • How do you think you might teach large groups of students in lectures most effectively?
  • You have experience of teaching groups of 15 - what might you do differently if you had to teach a group of 70 students?
  • Would you use different teaching styles with postgraduates compared to undergraduates?
  • What are your views about teaching assessment?
  • Do you see the prime purpose of your role to do research or to teach?
  • How have you managed the pressures of teaching and research? Why do you especially want to work here?
  • How do you see yourself contributing to our department?

Tips for preparation:

  • Think critically about your experience of teaching different groups.
  • Make sure you have researched different teaching methods.
  • See what emphasis the particular institution puts on teaching and research.
  • Has the institution been involved with any new type of teaching or assessments?
  • Do your research on the institution so that you can give a well-considered answer on why you want to work there - they are very likely to ask you that question

Possible questions - Course content

  • What courses are you particularly interested in teaching?
  • Which areas of your subject are you particularly strong on?
  • What courses would you not want to teach on and why?
  • What changes might you make to the current undergraduate programme?
  • How would you market a new course to ensure maximum participation?
  • Where do you see the potential for new course development?
  • How could we develop the Masters programme?
  • If we were organising a special symposium or mini conference on your topic, whom could you personally invite?

Tips for preparation:

  • Make sure you know the range and scope of courses on offer.
  • Do your research on the institution and department specifically - how does the department fit into the whole? How popular are the courses? Think about how the take up could be improved.
  • Be prepared to talk about several courses after you have sized up the institution's needs.
  • Do your research on the department in order to anticipate their needs.
  • Be prepared to talk about an innovative course or two that you think the Department might really go for - something new that will incorporate your expertise.
  • Try and demonstrate that you are active in your field by referring to any networking you may have done.

Your questions for the interviewer

You will also need to prepare your questions for the interviewer(s). As you will probably know an interview is a two way process and therefore this part of the process should not be underestimated. Your questions are not just an opportunity for you to gain information for yourself. They also give a message to the interviewer of how interested you are in the job, and what you think is important in terms of the job itself and for making your decision. It shows that you have really thought about the job in a careful and considered way.

It is a good idea to prepare up to 10 questions before the interview. Put them down in a notebook or on a piece of card and take them with you to the interview. At the end of the interview it is quite acceptable to get out your list of questions.

This will be a great help to you as at the end of a tiring interview one can be lost for words. It will also show keenness and motivation. If they have answered all your questions you can still reach for your list and confirm that your questions have all been answered 'thank you very much'.

Some possible questions for the interviewer are as follows:

  • What format does induction take?
  • What would you expect me to achieve in the first year in post?
  • Are there any opportunities for secondment/sabbatical?
  • What do you see as the priorities for this job role?
  • Is there scope in this role to develop new initiatives?
  • Are there opportunities for travel/work abroad?
  • What makes your department so successful?
  • Is the department planning to expand/any new initiatives in the near future?
  • What do you see as the major challenges for your department/University over the next 5 years?
  • What do you like about working for this department/University?

Some possible questions to avoid:

  • How much will I get paid?
    Although this is an important subject; the golden rule is leave money matters as late as possible. When you are the final candidate and it would cost the company a great deal to start the process again then you have real power to negotiate.
  • Questions already covered in the interview
    Any questions about the job/organisation that have clearly been covered in their literature, website or during your interview. This will justmake them think that you have not really done your homework or listened.
  • How much sick leave will I be entitled to?
    This just gives the wrong impression and although all of us are off sick from time to time it is not the right time to find out about entitlements.

After the interview

Make some notes about the day and review your own performance. This will be helpful to you when you come to go for a further interview.

What are psychometric assessments?

Psychometric assessments are tools designed to measure whether or not you have the specific skills or the appropriate personal qualities required to do a particular job.

Employers make use of psychometric assessments in their selection processes to gather evidence that you have the right skills, abilities and personal qualities for the post in question. They are normally used alongside other methods including application forms/CVs, interviews and other exercises.

Rigorous research goes into such assessments to ensure that

  • a) they are measuring what they set out to measure and
  • b) that they are fair to those who complete them.

Types of psychometric assessments

Psychometric assessments generally fall into two categories:

1. Aptitude or ability tests

These aim to measure your competence and intellectual capabilities as well as your logical and analytical reasoning abilities in a very specific area. They aim to assess your abilities to use specific job related skills and to predict subsequent job performance.

The most commonly used tests assess verbal and numerical logical reasoning skills:

Verbal reasoning - Although these tests may appear in different formats, verbal reasoning typically involves reading a passage of text and then selecting the most appropriate of perhaps four or five answers.

Alternatively, you may be asked to fill in blank spaces in a sentence with a given choice of words.

Numerical reasoning - Again, although these tests may appear in different formats, you may typically be asked questions relating to information provided in the form of statistical charts, or you may be required to calculate the answers to various problems.

Other tests - There are a number of other tests which may be used in graduate recruitment which are specific to the company or the job on offer. An example of this is in the field of computer programming and IT where employers may often use a diagrammatic reasoning test.

Aptitude tests are very often paper and pencil exercises (although they are sometimes computer-based) and are generally time-limited. Your results are measured against those of others who have taken the test in the past in order to make a comparable assessment of your level of ability.

2. Personality and occupational questionnaires

These explore:

  • the way in which you do things,
  • how you behave in certain circumstances,
  • your preferences and attitudes.

In recruitment they are often used to see if you would suit a particular work environment and can be used to assess aspects of your individual behaviour, attitudes and opinions, as well as your motivation, interests and values. Your results may then be compared to the characteristics considered essential for the job on offer. They are usually paper-based questionnaires where a profile is drawn from your responses to a number of questions or statements, focussing on a variety of personality factors.

Another type of personality questionnaire involves exploring your interests and values and these are designed to help you clarify what fields of work interest you and are not normally used for selection purposes. They can, however, provide a useful starting point for people who are unsure about the type of work they might want to do.

For all types of personality questionnaires there are no right and wrong answers.

Help with personality and occupational questionnaires

Two questionnaires are available that will help you to start the process of career planning and are described below.

1. Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ)

The Occupational Personality Questionnaire is a questionnaire which is concerned with not what you can do but with how and why you do things in a particular way. The main areas of analysis are relationships with people, the way you think and your emotional reactions. It aims to explore the way you typically react when faced with situations. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers and you will get the most accurate and useful results by answering the questions as honestly as possible.

What are the benefits?

The results will enable you to understand better your preferences towards a particular type of behaviour and therefore help you to identify the following:

  • your preferred leadership style;
  • your preferred way of working;
  • areas of behaviour you are likely to find difficult;
  • your emotional style.

Your self-awareness will be raised as a step towards future goal-setting. The emphasis is on discovering the full extent of your assets rather than matching them with a particular job.

2. Advanced Occupational Interest Inventory

The Advanced Occupational Interest Inventory is a questionnaire which assesses your personal liking or preferences in a wide range of job activities. As it focuses on your interests rather than abilities, there are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers.

What are the benefits?

The results of the inventory will enable you to see more clearly where your occupational interests lie. The nineteen occupational categories cover professional, technical, managerial, educational and administrative occupations, including interest in medical, educational, legal, administrative, media, design, scientific and engineering areas. It is most useful, therefore, for those with few clear career ideas or who wish to change careers but are not sure in which direction.

Websites relating to psychometric assessments

These websites have useful information about psychometric testing.

  1. Assessment Day - there are free examples for numeric and verbal reasoning tests (www.assessmentday.co.uk).
  2. Assessment Systems ltd - assessment and development of people at work, ASL aim to supply the widest range of assessment materials of any UK test distributor (www.aslgroup.co.uk).
  3. BBC - www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/careers.This short questionnaire helps you think about the types of work and what you want from a job.
  4. Berger Aptitude for Programming Test B-APT - a work sample test that measures aptitude for learning programming. The test includes a tutorial which teaches you a simple programming language that you will then use to write short programs in the test). http://www.psy-test.com/Baptd.html
  5. Doctorjob (now called TARGET Jobs)- has a section on psychometric assessments, which includes links to various practice assessments http://targetjobs.co.uk/
  6. Educational Testing Service (ETS) , is the world's largest private educational testing and measurement organization and a leader in educational research (www.ets.org/prep.html). There are practice questions relating to:
  7. GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test
  8. GRE - Graduate Record Examination
  9. Praxis - Professional Assessments for Beginning Teachers
  10. TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language.
  11. GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test) - GAMSAT style practice test (www.gamsat.co.uk).
  12. GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test (www.ets.org/prep.html)
  13. GRE - Graduate Record Examination (www.ets.org/prep.html)
  14. IQ Test - home of the original online IQ test. (www.iqtest.com)
  15. Keirsey Temperament Sorter II test - is a powerful 70-question personality instrument that helps individuals discover their personality type. (www.advisorteam.com/temperament_sorter/register.asp?partid=1)
  16. KSL Training is an approved partner of SHL in the UK. These pages provide candidate help and tips for the SHL questionnaire and different types of SHL psychometric tests. It is designed to help you prepare both physically and mentally before any SHL assessment. (www.ksl-training.co.uk/shl_candidate_help.htm)
  17. Majon.com - trial aptitude test (www.majon.com/cgi-bin/IQ?Q=newtest)
  18. Dr. Mark Parkinson - is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and author of 'How to Master Psychometric Tests' and other guides. His website contains links to many different types of tests, including free examples (www.markparkinson.co.uk/psychometric_links.htm).
  19. Mensa - fun test (www.mensa.org/workout2.php)
  20. Mind Tools - mission is "to help people around the world learn the practical skills needed to excel in their careers". There are psychometric assessments and other career skills available under the 'Free Help' section (www.mindtools.com).
  21. Morrisby - has sample tests relating to abstract reasoning (www.morrisby.com).
  22. Passing Psychometric Tests - has some useful articles in the archive section (passingpsychometrictests.blogspot.com).
  23. Persona Partnership - exercise bank contains over fifty well proven assessment exercises - to browse through the extensive range of exercises, click onto the 'Individual', 'One-to-One' or 'Group' tabs (www.assessmentexercises.com). These may help to see the sort of scenarios/exercises given.
  24. Praxis - Professional Assessments for Beginning Teachers (www.ets.org/prep.html)
  25. Prospects - has more information on psychometric tests and also has a 'test yourself' section offering a range of online tests and self-assessment exercises, which include:
  26. Psychological Testing Centre - has a useful 'Frequently Asked Questions' section on psychological tests, how and why they are used and also links to websites with practice tests available (www.psychtesting.org.uk).
  27. Psychometric Success - this is aimed at providing students with the detailed information and practice material they need to pass job selection tests (www.psychometric-success.com).
  28. Psychpress - Australian based Psychometric test provider which offers free samples of personality + aptitude tests (www.psychpress.com.au/html/PsychometricTestGuide.asp)
  29. Saville and Holdsworth (SHL) - has example questions from aptitude tests to try out. It offers a variety of different tests on-line. They regularly require volunteers to complete new verbal and numerical ability tests online, this provides you with confidential feedback on your test scores and advice on improving performance (www.shldirect.com).
  30. TARGET Jobs - has a section on psychometric assessments, which includes links to various practice assessments http://targetjobs.co.uk/careers-advice/psychometric-tests
  31. Training and Development Agency (TDA) - provides information relating to QTS skills for trainee teachers taking up teaching posts (www.tda.gov.uk).
  32. Team Focus - a useful guide to psychometric assessment with a frequently asked questions section (www.teamfocus.co.uk/introduction_to_psychometric_testing.htm)
  33. TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language (www.ets.org/prep.html)
  34. Top Employers numeracy game (www.topemployers.co.uk/graduate-jobs-numeracy-game.html)
  35. University of London Online Careers Library - has useful links to other sites with example aptitude test questions (www.careers.lon.ac.uk/output/page212.asp?node=140 ).

What is an assessment centre?

Many employers now run extended selection exercises as part of their recruitment process and these are often run as an assessment centre. Traditionally, they have formed the second stage in the process, but selection exercises are becoming more common at the first interview stage. Employers invest a great deal of time and effort in running assessment centres because they believe that they result in recruiting the best candidate. Assessment Centres are one of the most reliable indicators of future job performance.

Typically you will join a small group of other candidates and undertake a series of assessment exercises designed to show the selectors whether or not you possess most of the personal and technical skills necessary. The programme can be intensive and you may be required to stay overnight.

A typical programme of events may look like this:

Day one

  • 5.00pm Arrive at Hotel /Registration
  • 6.30pm Meet for Drinks in the Bar with Employer Representatives
  • 7.30pm Dinner with Employer Representatives
  • 9.00pm Company Presentation

Day two

  • 8.00am Breakfast
  • 9.00am Aptitude Tests and Personality Questionnaires
  • 10.30am Group Exercises
  • 12.30pm Lunch
  • 1.30pm More Group Exercises
  • 2.30pm Individual Presentations
  • 3.30pm Panel Interview
  • 4.30pm Evaluation/Tea and Depart

The above shows you a range of different elements that you would find on a typical assessment centre. However this will obviously vary from company to company. Employers will normally send you more detailed information about what you can expect on their assessment centre.

How might you be assessed?

You could be expected to get involved in some of the following activities:

Social events

Take the opportunity over drinks or dinner to talk to recent graduates. They will hopefully be able to give you a clearer picture of what it might be like to work for your chosen company. It is a chance to ask more detailed questions in an informal setting. However it is important to remember that you are being assessed all the time so do not let yourself down by behaving inappropriately or drinking too much! Employers are keen to see you in all types of situations and this social setting may give them an indication of how you might be when entertaining business clients. It is therefore important to be consistent in your behaviour over the two days.

Group tasks

These generally involve discussions and negotiations with other candidates and can take different formats as follows:

1. Group discussions

The group may be given a topic to discuss and perhaps reach a consensus on. The assessors will be looking to see how you contribute to the group:

  • What are your communication skills like?
  • Do you listen to others as well as putting your own views forward?
  • How do you react if your viewpoint is challenged?

You don't have to necessarily be dominant in the group to be successful - employers are looking for team players who can fit in to a team easily.

2. Role play exercises

You could be asked to play a particular role in a group:

For example, you might be part of a committee looking at the amenities in a town. There could be a pot of money that needs to be invested as wisely as possible, to give the residents the most benefit. Each group member will have a different role. For example one role-play might be that of youth worker and this particular remit could be to try and persuade the rest of the team to use the money towards setting up a local youth centre. The assessors will once again be looking at how you put your views across and might be looking to see if you can construct a convincing argument and how well you persuade others around to your viewpoint.

3. Business game/simulation

This usually entails tackling a simulated business situation where a task has to be performed, targets met and difficulties overcome. It is vital to keep to time and allocate tasks to ensure completion of the exercise.

Remember: You can prepare for many of these exercises in your own academic departments. Project work and seminar sessions frequently involve teamwork where you can practise listening to others and trying to persuade them to your point of view. You may also have an opportunity to practise these group skills through work experience, voluntary work, hobbies and through student committee membership. Usually the best team outcomes are achieved by using a mix of originality balanced with a degree of compromise, so don't overlook your past experiences when you are thinking about these exercises.

Individual exercises

Written exercises

These are usually timed and a typical example would be an In-Tray exercise. This involves reading through information contained in a typical in tray. It could involve drafting replies, writing memos and emails or preparing statistical reports. A similar exercise to this is the electronic version, E-Tray exercise, which usually involves prioritising incoming emails. It is important to read all the information carefully, then set priorities and then act. For this type of exercise you might want to think about how you deal with current deadlines within a tight timescale. If you are required to write a report using several pieces of information the same principles apply. It is really no different from collecting information from a variety of sources in order to write an essay or other written assignment.

Psychometric assessments

The most commonly used psychometric assessments are aptitude tests and personality questionnaires.

Presentations

You may be given advance notice if you will be required to give a short presentation. This obviously means that you can prepare and practice your presentation before the big day. Even if you are not sure what you might be asked to talk about it is a good idea to have a few topics in mind beforehand.

Hints and tips on presentations:

  • If given a choice of topic make sure you choose something you know about.
  • Try and use notes to read from and avoid reading from a script.
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience.
  • Smile and look relaxed.
  • Don't try and be funny - it doesn't often work in this situation.
  • If audiovisual equipment is available to use then you will probably be expected to use it.
  • Remember to refer to your audiovisuals.
  • Ensure that you have a strong, positive introduction.
  • Decide when you are going to finish - don't just fizzle out.
  • More information about presentations can be found in the Student Learning Centre website.

Interviews

You may havealready had experience from a first interview, but may now need to be prepared for more in depth questioning, possibly from functional specialists. Your knowledge, ability to do the job and motivation will be under close scrutiny. You may well have a panel interview and in some ways this should be treated the same as a one-to one interview.

Try and concentrate on the person who is asking the question and direct your answers to them, occasionally glancing at the rest of the panel in order to include everyone.

There is plenty of information on interviews available in the Careers Service. It is also possible to book apractice interview with a careers adviser.

What are the selectors looking for?

Employers are looking for those candidates who can show evidence of the range of skills and qualities that they are seeking. These will vary according to the job and the employer but will probably include:

  • communication;
  • interpersonal skills including negotiation and sensitivity;
  • listening skills;
  • self-confidence;
  • time management;
  • the ability to work in a team;
  • self-motivation;
  • decision-making;
  • problem solving;
  • high standards of achievement.

Different skills will be assessed in different exercises. For example, it is clear that in a group work exercise assessors will be looking for evidence of team working, good time management, and oral communication skills.

Equally in an in-tray/e-tray exercise written communication, planning and analytical skills as well as decision making ability are sought.

Remember: The selectors will be assessing you against a standard and not against each other. It is not a competition that only one can win; if several of you reach the standard, you may all be selected.

How to prepare for assessment centres

Before the day...

Revisit your application form to enable you to see how you answered those initial questions.

Think about what skills and attributes the selector is looking for (go back to the job description or other material that the employer sent you or look at their brochure or website). They will be selecting on these criteria so look for opportunities during the assessment centre to display these.

If you are asked to prepare any material (e.g. for a presentation) before the event, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to do this and practise so you are confident about what you are saying.

If psychometric tests are involved, look at some practice papers or questions so you have some familiarity with them. Come into the Careers Service and see if you can book in for a practice session.

Brush up on your company knowledge.

Read up on assessment centres and what might be involved.

And on the day...

Arrive in good time.

Be polite to everyone - the assessment has started from the minute you meet the first employer representative.

Join in, even at meal times. If you find small talk difficult ask other candidates about their courses and where they are studying.

Take time to think when presented with new material for group and individual exercises.

Assessors could be watching you constantly - so don't over-indulge, become flippant or over-confident.

Don't be tempted to launch straight in but make sure you understand the facts placed before you and the requirements of the task.

You do not have to perform superlatively in all activities. Selectors know that candidates will be better in some areas than others so do not dwell on what you see as failures and concentrate on doing well in the next task.

Remember that you are not in competition with the other candidates so treat them as allies rather than rivals. If you all perform well, you might all meet the criteria of the assessors. You have done well to get to an assessment centre and the chances of your being offered a job are relatively high by this stage.

Try to stay calm and focused throughout the assessment centre. Treat others with respect and sensitivity but don't be afraid to speak up for yourself.

After the assessment centre make notes on your experience for future reference.

Ask for feedback whether or not you were successful - you need to know how you could improve your performance.

Other sources of information

You will find other resources on assessment from the following websites:

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