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Interview Tests and Exercises for Jobseekers

From in-tray exercises to presentations, employers have an arsenal of interview tests to choose from. Get the competitive edge by preparing for the tests that you might encounter

What is a case study exercise?

Case study exercises ask you to collate and analyse the information given and to draw conclusions from it.

A case study exercise may be given to you verbally or as a series of documents describing an actual or synthesised situation to which you are asked to respond. Your response may be to produce a brief report, explain verbally what you would do, make a decision, or all of these.

How do I deal with a case study?

Try to anticipate the type of case study you will get by researching the organisation. For example, you’re more likely to get a fundraising case study in a charity than in a multinational organisation.

Once you have been given your case study:

  • read all materials carefully and make sure you know what is expected of you;
  • make notes as you go; sort out the important from the trivial material;
  • treat it like a course assignment – identify your focus, arrange your material and draw conclusions. Look for patterns, inconsistencies and contradictions. What is the real issue?
  • decide what you think could or should be done next;
  • manage your time carefully – completing the task on time might be more important than capturing every detail in your report/commentary.

What is an in-tray exercise?

This is another synthesised business situation where you are given emails, documents, telephone messages etc. and your task is to prioritise your workload, respond to queries, draft replies, make decisions and delegate tasks as you see fit.

How do I pass an in-tray exercise?

In-tray (or e-tray) exercises are similar to case studies in that you have to collate, sort and analyse information, but they are more likely to include less important tasks alongside the urgent ones.

Your goal is to prioritise and deal with the most important tasks first. So, it’s important to:

  • read all materials carefully and make sure you know what is expected of you;
  • decide what you will focus on (a health and safety at work issue is more urgent than planning the annual staff party);
  • think about what you can pass on to a colleague. Remember, delegation can be upwards to your boss as well as to an assistant;
  • prepare decisions and action steps in bullet form, rather than attempting narrative writing style;
  • work systematically and make notes about what you have already done or decided;
  • be willing to justify your decisions at a later stage, e.g. an interview;
  • demonstrate that you are confident about your decisions – they may not be the ones someone with more experience would have taken, but they will show the assessor how you tackle decision-making;
  • refer to the material you are given in your decisions or actions.

 How do I tackle a written exercise?

Written exercises often involve writing a letter or report on a certain topic or you may be given a document to review or summarise.

To successfully complete a written exercise, you should:

  • read all materials carefully and make sure you know what is expected of you;
  • use a combination of narrative writing styles, headings and bullet points to add emphasis;
  • ensure correct spelling and use of grammar by using the spell check and proofreading to avoid the misuse of words, e.g. there when it should be their;
  • write for someone who does not have your depth of knowledge;
  • use acronyms only when you have explained them as you would in an essay. For example, ‘…the Student Loans Scheme (SLS)…’ followed by, ‘…in the SLS instructions…’;
  • keep comments concise or you may run out of time;
  • make sure all writing is relevant to the task you have been given.

 What makes a good interview presentation?

Presentations are used to assess your ability to communicate formally with groups and also to give you an opportunity to provide your own ideas.

You will usually be given a topic and timeframe in advance, so can prepare in your own time. If you’re asked to make a presentation during an assessment centre without prior notice, you’re being observed in how you respond under pressure.

When preparing a presentation make sure you:

  • decide what you want the audience to know by the end of it and keep that in mind throughout your preparation;
  • develop aims, objectives and outcomes for your presentation and write them down;
  • structure your presentation to include an introduction, a main section and a conclusion;
  • keep visual prompts to a minimum – don’t overload PowerPoint screens so that you have to wait for the audience to read through the text;
  • practise your presentation by speaking out loud, rather than reading your notes, as this will give a better idea of how long it will take.

If you feel like you need help preparing, your university careers or employability service may provide practice sessions or advice in making presentations.

When you give your presentation, remember to:

  • respond to the topic you have been given and eradicate any irrelevant material;
  • use pauses to allow the audience to take in what you have said;
  • avoid rushing, which often happens when we are nervous;
  • leave time at the end to invite questions from the audience.