Guest Blog: Getting Ready for Job Interview – Tests and Exercises Explained

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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The recruitment process can be a challenging experience which is often filled with the  unexpected. As you progress through the recruitment process, employers may ask you to
carry out a variety of tests and exercises to assess your suitability, particularly if you make it beyond the initial screening stage. There are many activities that you may be asked to complete and they all aim to develop a detailed understanding of your strengths and capabilities.

Presentations

Presentations are popular because they allow recruiters to assess a variety of skills such as communication, persuasion, data analysis and creativity to name a few. Depending on the opportunity a presentation can last as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20 minutes. During this time, you will be asked to prepare accompanying slides in either PowerPoint or Keynote. If you are attending an assessment day it is very likely that you will be asked to deliver a presentation, perhaps on a topic that has been provided beforehand or even based on an activity such as a case study that you have already worked through. If the latter, you will be given approximately half an hour to prepare which is also used as an opportunity for recruiters to assess your ability to work under pressure.

The most successful candidates are those who prepare effectively by:

  1. Tailoring their presentation to the company and the topic.
  2. Ensuring that the presentation is well structured with a clear opening section, the
    main points that you wish to raise and a concise summary.
  3. Creating a presentation that is visually appealing without detracting from the main
    points.
  4. Gathering background information which will allow you to answer any questions that the recruiters may ask at the end of the presentation.

Top Tips

During the presentation there are some best practice guidelines that you should follow:

  • Establish and maintain regular eye contact with the panel
  • Try to remain as calm and confident as possible
  • Speak clearly and concisely
  • Ensure that the presentation is well timed while allocating time at the end for questions
  • Pause frequently throughout to allow the panel to engage with what you are saying.

Presentations can be a challenge, even for the most confident and prepared candidates but with the right approach there is no reason why it can’t be a success.

In Tray or E-Tray Exercises

Sometimes referred to as an e-tray exercise, this type of activity will assess your ability to
prioritise and organise a series of tasks. They are extremely popular with graduate recruiters because they are an accurate way to evaluate performance and certain skills such as decision making, analysis, time management, communication and accuracy. During this exercise which will last anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes, you will be asked to progress through a series of tasks such as processing correspondence, reports, charts, messages and business documents. During the assessment you will be expected to prioritise each of the tasks and justify the decisions behind the order you have chosen. This could involve preparing a response, making a decision, delegating or responding to an enquiry.

Succeed in an in-tray exercise by:

  • Making bullet point lists of the actions you need to take, paying close attention to
    detail and only using the information you have been provided
  • Justifying the actions you have taken and the decisions you have made
  • Carefully reading through all materials and instructions before you begin
  • Work quickly and accurately with attention to detail and logic.

Group Exercises

A group exercise will usually involve up to 10 applicants and an activity will be provided to assess teamwork, collaboration, decisiveness, problem solving and communication to name a few.

Typical activities include:

Discussions – Candidates are presented with a common situation that would arise in the
business and are asked to reach a logical decision, solution or conclusion.
Role Play – Each member of the group will be allocated a specific role along with a brief and some background information.
Ice breaker – This aims to relax and bond the team and are perhaps the most common
group activities. They usually involve something such as building something from paper, pins or straws and they aim to assess your communication skills and ability to work as a team.

Succeed at group exercises by:

  • Making a valuable contribution and delivering any points clearly, confidently and
    concisely
  • Avoiding interrupting, undermining or criticising other members of the group
  • Carefully following instructions
  • Actively encouraging others to participate, demonstrate positivity and show appreciation for other members of the group.

Case Studies

Often found in roles such as consulting or accounting, these aim to assess your ability in
problem solving, analysis and creativity. At the start of the activity, a recruiter will describe a situation and you will need to respond with suitable advice in the form of a written or verbal report.

Succeed at Case Studies by:

  • Justifying and defending the decisions that you make
  • Identify key issues with careful analysis to understand any inconsistencies
  • Carefully managing your time.

Psychometric Tests

A psychometric test is an effective way for a recruiter to assess the personality, knowledge and skills of a candidate. They can appear at any stage in the recruitment process and it is not unheard of to sit a psychometric test more than once. Most psychometric tests are completed online, and you will have to work through a series of questions in a specific period of time.

There are two main types of psychometric test; those which evaluate your personality and those which assess your aptitude.

Personality tests will explore your motivations, values and interests, exploring how your
character fits in with the goals, mission and vision of the organisation. The most common
psychometric tests include:

  • Diagrammatic Reasoning
  • Numerical Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Error/Fact Checking.

Aptitude tests on the other hand aim to assess your cognitive ability and reasoning, evaluating whether you possess the right skill set to make a valuable contribution to the
business. To find out more about these assessments you can read The Complete Guide to
Psychometric Tests here. Graduate recruiters use these assessments frequently during the recruitment process because they provide a particularly accurate picture of how well you would perform as an employee.

Succeed at aptitude tests by:

  • Ensuring that you take the test in a comfortable environment which is quiet and free from distractions
  • Carefully reading through the instructions taking note of what you have been asked
  • Working through the questions quickly and accurately
  • Answer the questions honestly and consistently
  • Trusting your initial reactions rather than trying to select the best response.

Interview tests and exercises are appearing more and more in the recruitment process. The best way to prepare is to find out what sort of tests recruiters are using. That way you can fine tune your technique and maximise your chances of success.

Edward Mellet

Edward is career professional and entrepreneur who founded WikiJob.co.uk and practicereasoningtests.com 

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Calling all Freshers: What To Do After You Arrive at SOAS

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Beginning a degree: exciting but often scary too. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to make the most of your first year.

Life in the fast lane

Study wise, you may not want to go full steam ahead with so many other changes to deal with, but don’t take your foot off the accelerator. It goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that you will have done any pre-course reading or preparation required, but are you struggling with:

– unknown terms, unfamiliar subjects or untried research techniques?
– fitting in a heavier workload with other calls on your time?

Don’t suffer in silence – ask for assistance from a tutor or Learning and Teaching Development staff. Because late assignments = automatic low marks.

Why are you here?

Do you have a career in mind, just some vague ideas about your final destination or are you deferring a decision? All of these are fine, but if you fall into the last category, start exploring now. Shelve it until next year or beyond and you may find that several ships will already have sailed. Know what you want to achieve and you can maximise your time on and off campus.

It’s not all about study

What you do beyond the classroom can be just as important as academic achievements

– join relevant clubs and societies. Don’t overdo this. Sign up for everything in sight and you’ll spread yourself too thinly. Active participation in a few well-chosen pursuits is better than a passive interest in many.
– think strategically. Part-time work may be a necessity but can also boost your credibility and skills. The long holidays are for revising and relaxing (not at the same time obviously), but can you also cram in placements or volunteering that will raise your future profile? For many employers and post graduate providers, a good grade without hands-on experience is a minus point.
– kick-start your career: in some sectors – law, finance, consulting, Civil Service, for instance – there are spring and summer opportunities for first year students. Recruitment may start as early as October (gulp).

Here to help

Contrary to popular rumour, you don’t need to know what job you want to do before visiting the careers service. We see all-comers: from those with a goal in mind to
those who are, quite frankly, clueless. Nothing wrong with the latter, but don’t let it prevail until you’re about to graduate.

And we don’t offer assistance only with graduate jobs. No siree. We give advice and information on temporary and part – time work; establishing an effective professional social media presence (non-negotiable these days); setting up a business or enterprise; finding a placement or internship; leaving or switching courses; applications, CVs and the whole extended process of securing a career or further study. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You can get in touch with us ahead of your course or as soon as you like after arrival at SOAS, either come by the Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing or head to the Careers pages on the SOAS website.

Gill Sharp, Careers Consultant

#WednesdayWisdom: Your Insight Into Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Visas at SOAS

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SOAS provides students with the opportunity to set up and develop their business in the UK, by endorsing them for a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa.  These are exclusively available to Tier 4 visa holders who are graduating within the next year, and recent graduates who studied under a Tier 4 visa.

The process for applying is simple.

If you have a viable and innovative business idea and want to take this to market in the UK, this is a great opportunity for you.

As part of the application process for endorsement from SOAS, you will be expected to submit the following documentation:

  • A business plan summarising your business idea, market research, marketing plan, customer analysis and pricing model.
  • A 12 month financial forecast
  • CV
  • Covering letter.

Shortlisted applicants will be expected to present their business idea to a panel. The next deadline for application is 11.59pm on October 18th 2018.  If you are shortlisted, the judging panel at which you will be asked to present is taking place on the afternoon of Thursday 15th November (each presentation slot will be 20 minutes long: a ten minute presentation followed by ten minutes of Q&A).

Before you apply you must first meet with the Student Advisor (Immigration and Finance) to determine your eligibility for the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa. This can be arranged by emailing studentadviceandwellbeing@soas.ac.uk.

For support through the application process, you are welcome to book an Enterprise appointment with the SOAS Careers Service by emailing careers@soas.ac.uk or calling 0207 898 4115.  These are available on Fridays and bookable up to one week in advance.

To apply, please submit the requested documents to studententerprise@soas.ac.uk by 11.59pm on October 18th 2018.

Felicity Bush, Careers Consultant

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life as a Graduate Intern at SOAS

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Naima Zannat, BA Politics & International Relations (grad 2017) and Graduate Intern at SOAS for 2017/18, explores her year at SOAS with Learning, Teaching & Development and the impact she’s had on campus. 

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When I graduated last year, I thought I would see the last of SOAS. However, when I found out about the internships that were on offer, I was keen to learn and experience the university from a different angle.

I have been working as a graduate intern in the Learning and Teaching Development department where I supported a relatively new scheme at SOAS called “Peer Assisted Study Support”. This promoted peer learning and targeted difficult subjects such as Mandarin, Persian and Arabic. Second, third and fourth year students volunteered as PASS Leaders facilitating sessions for first-year students. The aim of PASS is to help first-years settle into university life and develop learning skills. At SOAS our primary focus has been on equipping students with skills to learn languages which are very different from the standard European languages taught at schools. I took on many roles such as
communicating with PASS leaders, managing logistics of sessions such as dates and times and promoting the scheme. I also had the opportunity to meet other universities that run PASS such as Queen Mary and London Metropolitan. It was eye-opening to learn more about how different universities ran the same programme.

Throughout my time, I was able to develop a wide range of skills. I improved my communication skills as I cooperated with PASS leaders, first-year students, academic coordinators and different departments. I am also grateful for having the freedom to use my creative skills and add my own ideas to the scheme. For example, I created e-newsletters and wrote an article about PASS which was published in the SOAS Spirit. I also used my film making skills when shooting and editing a PASS promotional video. My event-management skills also grew as I organised a celebration event for PASS leaders in June. I feel this position allowed me to improve a wide variety of skills which are easily transferable to many roles.

As my internship is coming to an end, I have secured a job in another university as a Student Advisor. Through my internship I realised how much I enjoyed communicating with students and wanted to continue this. During my job search I felt very confident as I was able to explain and show-off my skills in my applications and interviews. I answered confidently about times where I demonstrated skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, communications etc. If you are thinking of doing an internship at SOAS, I would say go for it – it is a very different experience from being a student and there a vast amount of learning opportunities.

Naima Zannat

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

#MondayMotivation: Virtually Assessed

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It started with video interviews and has progressed onward and upward from there. Technology is making huge inroads into the graduate recruitment process and it’s not going to go away. On the contrary, more and more major firms are using increasingly sophisticated digital process to decide who will be hired.

First, for those who are a little hazy about what’s involved, some definitions. The three key processes impacting on traditional selection methods are:

Virtual reality: computer simulation of 3D images or environments that allows human
interaction when wearing specialist equipment such as a headset
Augmented reality: using technology to superimpose a computer-generated image on a
user’s view of the real world, providing a more complex experience
Gamification: applying elements of game playing (e.g. rules, scores, competition) to another activity i.e. recruitment exercises.

Still none the wiser? Here are some examples:

  • Banking group Lloyds tests candidates ability to move virtual objects in immersive virtual situations, using calibrated headsets and gloves
  • KPMG takes the traditional in tray or e tray exercise one step further by using a Virtual Office Exercise – practice questions available on line should you want to try this out for yourself
  • Deloitte uses photographs instead of written questions to gauge reaction to specific
    situations; other organisations use videos in the same way
  • EY requires candidates to participate in a mobile game
  • Unilever’s digital job interview comes complete with commercial case study
  • HSBC is using job simulators in selection exercises to see how candidates perform in typical workplace scenarios.

Get the picture?

Currently these techniques are used alongside more established approaches, such as group discussions and psychometric tests, but who know whether this will prevail? Given that the use of video interviews has risen by over 40% in the last few years, hang on to your hats where these new developments are concerned.

As always there’s no substitute for doing your own research into individual recruitment practices, and these will give you a great starting point to exploring gamification and the broader graduate job hunt. Some of the key takeaways are:

  • VR scenarios are often workplace based, but some take candidates to weird and wonderful locations and environments – snowy peaks and ancient temples being just two examples
  • Companies are increasingly using these digital tools to assess behaviours and strengths rather than skills and competencies
  • You might encounter VR, AR and gaming any stage of the application process, not just at selection centres
  • Technology has enabled greater customisation of selection methods for specific firms and jobs.

And finally, here are our top 3 tips for success:

  1. Get confident with technology. Do a bit of basic gaming for instance if you are unfamiliar with this
  2. Do practice tests and exercises at home (or wherever) in privacy and peace before tacking the real thing
  3. Take advantage of any technical help available from the recruiting organisation.

The future is now. Make sure you’re part of it.

Gill Sharp, Careers Consultant

#FridayFeeling: Options For The Undecided

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You’ve graduated: well done, heartfelt congratulations, wear your degree with pride. But if you haven’t got anything fixed up for the future, what now?

Graduate scheme: a few organisations have rolling recruitment throughout the year, but most have shut their doors until late summer when they begin recruiting 2019’s intake. Either way, given that the selection process is long and arduous, apply now.

Tip: although this is often #1 on a university leaver’s hit list, many apply, few are chosen. Less than 15% of graduates end up on these kinds of programmes. But there are plenty of other possibilities, of which the main contender is….

Graduate job: differs from a grad scheme in scale and depth. The role in question will be geared to the same capabilities and achievement, but the company is usually smaller, fewer candidates will be recruited (maybe only one or two a year) and the training might be less structured, but arguably more flexible.

Masters: the only reason for considering this is that you are unequivocally, unreservedly 100% interested in the subject. Not a cunning way to defer career decisions and unlikely to increase your employability unless paired with experience. Want to go ahead? There may still be places available if you get a wiggle on.

Vocational course: not necessarily a Masters by name, but probably by nature. Aimed firmly at those who know what they want to do career-wise e.g. Graduate Diploma in Law, a qualification in Marketing. Experience is often a prerequisite.

Internship: great way of testing the water, finding out what a sector is really, really like and adding credibility to your CV. Many opportunities are handsomely recompensed.

Volunteering: as for internships, with a feel-good factor thrown in, but without the money (though you should not be left out of pocket).

Year out: your last chance for an extended break with maybe some travel thrown in. Nothing wrong with that providing you can sell it to future employers. Even more valuable if it includes a spot of work. Should ideally be a chance to think hard about your future career and even move towards this. Don’t return to these shores older but no wiser about what your next step is.

Temp job: breathing space with the added bonus that it can build up your employment credentials and boost your commercial awareness. Any downside? Easy to find that, several months on, the short-term role has become a pleasant and undemanding way of life. Resist the temptation to settle for this if, for you, it’s a second best.

Self-employment: working for yourself has a few drawbacks – cash flow issues, no paid holidays – but many attractions. For those who are ready, willing and able it’s an attractive idea, but be sure that it will pay enough initially to keep you in reasonable style.

Entrepreneurship: not to be confused with the above but a very near relative. It hinges on an innovative idea allowing you to tap into grants and funding.

Need more information? Get inspired with your next steps on MySOAS Student here.

Gill Sharp, Careers Consultant

It’s Not Too Late: Making The Most Of Your Summer

So you’ve got nothing sorted for the summer and think time has run out? Think again.

The next couple of months could be valuable, nay crucial, in terms of your career plans. Yes, reading, revision, assignments might rear their ugly heads at some point and maybe you have temp work lined up? Perhaps you’re heading off to Ibiza, Malia and all points south? But there’s more, much more, that you could – and should – be doing…

Bog-standard short-term employment beckons? Use it to boost your business awareness and professional credibility. A CV containing something along the lines of “At Waitbury’s supermarket, I learned how the business marketed itself and its products and undercut the competition by doing x, y and z” trumps one that says merely “Customer service assistant, Waitbury’s”. And if you have a day or two off, you may be able to take advantage of the suggestions below…

Nothing on the horizon? A gap in your schedule? Paid internships and actual jobs in your field of interest could be up for grabs even at this late stage. Try the formal route via websites recommended on My SOAS Student and take a look at JobOnline. Or make an informal approach to a local firm: often they need some timely help with specific projects.

If that draws a blank, volunteering won’t boost your bank balance but will enhance your CV and increase your feel-good factor, without necessarily making massive inroads into other activities – a couple of hours a week are all often that’s required. Take a look here for inspiration and check with individual organisations.

No luck or no time? How about a spot of work shadowing? You can arrange this via personal contacts. If that proves impossible, try a smidgeon of informational interviewing: the noble – and worthwhile – art of finding someone in a career that attracts you and asking them a series of targeted, shrewd and perceptive questions to increase your knowledge and employability.

As for Spain, Greece and their continental cousins, enjoy. You deserve your downtime. But don’t neglect the wider careers picture. You know it makes sense!

Gill Sharp, Careers Consultant