Testing times ahead: Resolutions for 2011 (PT 1) – Sue Lenkowski

Happy New Year!

I hope you all enjoyed the break and have arrived back ready to face the testing times ahead.

If you followed my advice in November you will have made your focused and timely applications and be waiting eagerly for the emails and letters inviting you to take part in the range of tests and activities which firms have put in place to select their future stars.

The range of these is increasing year on year so much so that I am doing a blog on the topic in both January and February .

My focus this month and next is to help you predict what these might be and prepare yourself.

Online ability tests

These are commonly used these days as the first sift, generally you will face all or one of the following:

Verbal reasoning
Numerical reasoning
Critical thinking
And this year’s new entrant ………………….Tests of Deductive/Inductive reasoning

So what’s the bad news…?

These tests have been rigorously developed to ensure they measure an actual ability rather than something which can be improved by repeatedly taking the test as such you cannot substantially improve your score with practice. However I do have some tips which will help you show your true ability when doing these…
Top Tips

• Do some practice tests before tackling the real thing as they help reduce the “fear factor”; many firms will direct you to a web site where you can do this. But if you really want to get ahead of the game now, Google search the test descriptors above and a world of practice tests will open before you.
• Create your own exam conditions/environment when you complete the test. No distractions whatsoever – turn off the phone, shut the door and put up the do not disturb sign. Once you start a test you must complete it .
• Timing/speed exam techniques apply. If there are 40 questions in 40 minutes aim to complete 10 questions every 10 minutes. You don’t need to complete the full test (in fact generally only 20% of candidates will complete) but you do need to complete a substantial proportion and the questions will get increasingly more difficult as you work through the test
• Try and get feedback on your score and if you didn’t make the benchmark don’t despair. Different firms have different benchmarks but if your score is clearly poor, think about how you can improve your ability or you will continue to receive rejections from firms who use these tests.

Resolution Number 1

Visit www.shl.com. Here you can do the actual verbal and numerical reasoning tests used by many firms under timed conditions and see your score. Please note you can only do this once. Do it today!

Telephone interviews

Assuming you get through the tests, a very common next step (or first step where tests have not been used) is a telephone interview.
Most people hate these (and actually, as a recruiter, so did I). But they are a quick, simple and cost effective way to sift a large number of candidates.

Top Tips

Ring ring! Thanks to Trace Meek for image via CC licence on flickr.com

• Many firms outsource these so don’t be surprised if you are dealing with an interviewer who is not from the firm, who doesn’t probe and prompt, and who simply asks a question, types your response and moves on..
• If you take a call asking you to do the interview there and then…DON’T…however much you are pushed to do so. Be assertive and ask them to call you back at a time where you can be fully focused and prepared.
• Many candidates find it better to undertake the interview standing up (it helps with confidence) and writing down the question can help you think quickly on your feet (no pun intended!)
• Many telephone interviews use the competency based type questions (see November blog). Answer using the STAR model.

Resolution 2

Think about a range of competency questions and the answers you could give using the STAR model. Better still, do a mock telephone interview with a fellow student.

Assessment Centres

So far we have looked at the tests which firms may do before you are invited to an assessment centre.

These come in all shapes and sizes but the most common activities you may face are:

• Presentations
• Group exercises
• Written exercises
• Problem solving exercises/tests of judgement/case studies
• An interview

Next up I will look at Presentations, with Group, Written exercises and Problem-solving exercises next month.

Pre-Prepared Presentations

Common mistakes

• Over/under time limit
• Clearly rushed preparation
• Not confident about the topic
• Reading verbatim your notes
• No structure
• Over confident/familiar ( if you watched the interviewing episode of The Apprentice think Stuart Baggs and Margaret (Mountford)
• Style over substance

Top Tips

scared pumpkin
Embrace the fear! Thanks to minipixel for image via CC licence on flickr.com

• Practice Practice Practice (even professionals like me have to do this!)
• Accept you may be nervous
• Notes (use card not paper it shakes less!)
• Try and slow your speech down
• Don’t read – maintain eye contact
• Don’t overuse visual aids
• Have a back up
• Know your topic inside out
• Answer the question

Resolution 3

FILM YOURSELF. The best way to improve your presentation technique is to film yourself: it’s scary but there is no better way to see how you come across.

Spontaneous Presentations

Top Tips

You can pre-prepare to be spontaneous, so prepare a minute on some of the following topics:

• About you -3 Key messages
• Favourite film and why
• Favourite book and why
• What animal would you be and why
• Achievement and why

Resolution 4

Ask other students what they have had to do a build up your own precedent bank of answers.

Well we all know how easy it is to fail to meet New Year’s resolutions so I’m going to leave it there to give you all a fighting chance of success look out for more tips and resolutions in February!

Good Luck with your applications


Sue Lenkowski is an independent HR and careers consultant who works with companies individuals on a range of HR L&D and resourcing matters and provides careers coaching to students at a number of academic institutions and privately on a one to one basis. Feel free to drop her an email.

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