A common method used by employers to decide whether a candidate is suitable for a role is an interview assessment. There are a variety of interview tests that you may be asked to undertake as part of your job application, from presentations and written tests, through to group exercises.
What is an interview assessment?
Interview assessments evaluate your abilities and how they match up to what is required within a role. They test you against the core skills needed for a position, so that the interviewer can determine how well you would perform if they were to offer you the job.
What types of interview assessments are there?
A popular choice of interview test, presentations are designed to assess you on your communication and public speaking skills, as well as other things like your creativity and ability to stick to a brief.
Presentations are usually around 10 minutes long. More often than not, you will be provided with details of what the presentation should focus on ahead of the interview. Occasionally, your interview assessment will include the planning stage of the presentation – in this scenario you will be given around 30 minutes to prepare a presentation.
Discover how to improve your presentation skills with our article.
Also referred to as e-tray or inbox exercises, in-tray exercises are often used by graduate recruiters. These interview tests are a way for interviewers to see how you organise your workload. They are used for a wide variety of job roles as they assess you on skills that are relevant to a number of positions – such as time management, decision making and communication.
In-tray job tests will give you a length of time (usually between 30 to 60 minutes) to go through paperwork such as emails, letters, meeting minutes and telephone messages. Your job will be to prioritise these items and explain what your next steps would be.
To begin, prioritise the items in order of importance and urgency. Which items do you think require the most attention and the quickest response? After you have decided on the order, make a note of what actions you would take for each item. For example, if one element is a query from a colleague or customer, you could draft a response. If you are provided information about a particular project, write down whether you would delegate this task to a certain department or staff member.
Group exercises are designed to assess how well you work in a team, the kind of role you play within a group and your leadership abilities. This type of job assessment is also good for examining your critical thinking and communication skills, as well as your ability to problem solve.
The time allocated for group tests varies and you are usually in a group of 10 people or less. Common group exercises include:
- Ice-breakers – for example, your team may have to follow instructions to build something within a certain amount of time
- Discussion – you will be given a topic or scenario (most likely relating to the business or the wider industry) and asked to express your views
- Role play – the employer will provide your group with a scenario and you will be asked to play a specific role within that scenario. A common example of these tests is a mock meeting
Case studies or job simulation tests
Similar to role playing exercises during a group test, case studies or job simulations also involve a scenario that you could experience if you were to take on the job.
The interviewer will provide you with a situation and give you a certain length of time to decide how to respond. You will need to give advice, either verbally or in a written piece of communication, on how to manage that situation. You should use the information you have been given to explain or justify your advice.
You may be given a written test as your interview assessment. The format of this test will depend on the job you are interviewing for – you could be asked to answer a set of questions, write an email, or even read some information and write a short report to summarise it.
Written tests can also be used to assess you on the skills required for the job. Are you interviewing for a job in a press office? You may be asked to write a press release. Does the role require taking meeting notes and sharing them with the attendees afterwards? The task may involve taking notes of a mock meeting and typing them up.
In most cases you will be given instructions on what to do in the test and a set amount of time to do it in (usually between 30 minutes and an hour).
While less common, some employers hold social events as part of their interview assessments, so it’s important to be aware of what they entail.
This type of interview assessment will likely be described by the employer as ‘informal’ and will involve socialising with other candidates as well as the assessors themselves. Staff who already work at the company may also attend, such as junior members of staff (for example, recent graduates) and perhaps a couple of people from senior management.
Despite these events being informal, it’s important to remember you are still being assessed. The trick is to remain polite and professional, while being sociable and confident. Use it as an opportunity to ask people about themselves and their role, the role you are applying for, and what it’s like to work within the team and company. This will show your enthusiasm and willingness to network while also enabling you to learn more about the business, its employees and whether it is the right fit for you.
Tips for doing well in an interview assessment
While it’s likely you will only be given minimum details about the test beforehand, meaning you won’t know exactly what to expect, you can still make some preparations for an interview assessment.
Research the company
No matter what type of role you are applying for, it’s always a good idea to look into the company’s work, history and values before attending an interview.
Whether your interview test is a presentation, a group discussion or a social event, being able to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, and even propose solutions or ideas that are relevant to that particular business or industry, will demonstrate your passion, enthusiasm and commitment.
Check the job description
Many job assessments are used to test you for the core skills a role requires, so it’s best to take a look through the job description as part of your interview preparation to make yourself aware of exactly what these skills are.
Does the role require Excel skills? Then brush up on these and try to fill in any gaps in your knowledge by doing some online research. If the employer is looking for someone with good proof-reading skills or an eye for detail, set yourself a couple of proof-reading exercises as practice.
Read everything before you start
Quite often, the thing that stops people from performing to the best of their ability during interview tests is that they don’t read all the instructions before starting. It’s easy to understand why you would read the first section and focus on answering that before moving onto the next, but reading the whole assessment brief allows you to decide how to allocate your time.
Let’s say your interview assessment has two sections. The first section is a question that requires a short bullet point list and the second asks you to write a report of 300-500 words. The second section will take you the longest and is a better opportunity for you to demonstrate your aptitude for the role, so it’s best to start with this one. If you went into this test and only read one section at a time, there is a chance you could spend too long on the first and not have enough time to give a high-quality response to the other section.
Keep an eye on the time
Once you have read all the instructions, figure out how long to spend on each section and check the time regularly to ensure you stay on track. If you would like to spend 15 minutes on question one – move on as soon as you hit the 15-minute mark, whether you have completed that section or not. If you have time towards the end, you can go back and try to finish your answer.
Sometimes an employer can expect a lot during a short amount of time. If you find you are struggling to complete everything within the set time, make some short bullet points of what you would do if you had more time. This demonstrates what you would be able to achieve in more regular working conditions, where you aren’t given such strict time limits on how long you can spend on a task.
Leave time for proof-reading
When it comes to spelling and grammar, there is a chance an employer will be a little more lenient with an assessment than they would your application for a role – as you just don’t have the same length of time to proof-read and spellcheck what you submit.
With this in mind, it’s still important to give yourself a few minutes towards the end of the test to read through your answers and correct any obvious mistakes. While an assessor may forgive a couple of errors, submitting something with lots of mistakes reduces the overall quality and impact of your answers.
When it comes to assessments like presentations, social events and group exercises, you may find yourself being asked additional questions about your opinions, experience or knowledge. It’s easy to feel like you should give the answer the assessor wants to hear, but in these situations honesty is always the best policy.
Don’t pretend to have experience in areas that you haven’t worked in before, as it will quickly become apparent if you are offered the role and decide to accept it. Similarly, don’t give the impression you are enthusiastic about a project that a company has worked on when the reality is that you’re more interested in other parts of the business. In these scenarios, try to move the conversation onto something where you can add value.
If you are asked whether you have experience in a specific area, rather than simply saying no, opt for an answer like: “I haven’t had much experience of that, but I’ve had similar experience in…” and direct them towards a subject where you can show your expertise. At best, you’ll have showcased the skills you do have, rather than highlighting the ones you don’t. At worst, the employer may decide to employ somebody else and you’ll have been turned down for a job that wasn’t the right fit for you anyway.
Feeling prepared for your interview assessment? Now it’s time to brush up on your interview skills with our tips for a successful job interview.
Last updated on 13 December 2022Share this article