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#Interview advice for #graduates in assessment centers

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Grad job searchLast week, I had the benefit of being involved with a graduate assessment centre on behalf of Hewlett Packard.

The assessment centre stretched over 2 days, with about 40 recent graduates having been pre-selected and invited to spend the morning or afternoon, to be assessed for the graduate development program.

This is quite a high profile program, so the caliber of the graduates was very high. They were all Business Studies, Marketing or Finance graduates, and the minimum cut-off point was either at First or 2:1 level.

The assessment process was simple: Each graduate had to prepare a presentation on their choice of a topic from a pre-set list. They also had to attend a speed interview session (Playfully entitled “speed dating” on the agenda) with a total of 6 interviewers. Each interviewer had 9 or 10 questions to ask within a limited space of time.

The competition was fierce! This is a global organization renowned for innovation and excellence. Getting on the grad program is a sure-fire way to kick-start a fabulous career.

Sadly, not everyone got hired.

So what could those graduates who were turned down have done differently in order to get a better result?

1. How you dress is super important!

The girl who arrived in leggings and dolly shoes was turned down on the basis of her personal presentation, although she did a reasonable interview. How you dress says a lot about what you think of yourself. If you want to work in a professional working environment, you should dress appropriately for the interview. For the gents, it’s clearly a suit and tie, with polished shoes. For the ladies, its a skirt or trouser suit with heels that you can walk in, or smart flat shoes. If you opt for a skirt, it’s probably wise to wear tights too. Always opt for the conservative look where clothing is concerned – It’s a lot harder to overcome negative impressions than to build on good ones!

2. Research, research, research!

Before your interview, Google as much as you can about the organisation. Read their website, their recent press releases, their product literature. Know what is going on in the news or on social media, and know who the main players are. It’s easy to find out who the CEO of a global organisation is, whether there are any major strategic developments in the news, and how the products are brought to market. Sadly, in this particular assessment round a number of graduates got turned down for clearly not having done any research at all, or for claiming the wrong data in the presentations. When companies recruit onto graduate programs, they are looking for the best possible raw material in candidates that can be groomed into successful employees. Interest, culture fit, potential, flexibility, ability and willingness to learn all come into play. It is possible to research an organization’s working culture, to find out their corporate values and to understand why people enjoy working there. You can then use this information to give intelligent and informed answers. If you do not have this information, it will be a lot harder to make your answers relevant enough to prompt a hiring decision in your favor.

3. Understand why you want this job, in this particular company.

Be prepared to be asked this question, and be very clear in how you answer it. During his interview, one chap was asked what his future plans are. He had dreams of being an entrepreneur, and had just recently applied for a grant to get financial assistance to set up his own business. Although his answer was honest, it secured him a regret letter because a graduate development program is for the long term. People who are not entirely focused on getting this job, in this company, will most likely fail.  No company wants to make a high risk appointment where the new employee may rush off at the drop of a hat to achieve other dreams. Being invited to an assessment day gives you a pretty good chance of being successful, if you do well. Don’t waste your time if you are not totally comfortable with the risk that you may just get hired!

4. Get to the point, and quickly!

Whether in a presentation or in an interview, organizing your thoughts is very important. It is even more important when the activity is timed. There is no time for beating about the bush with your answers. A number of people got turned down for not engaging well during the speed interviews. Others got turned down for delivering weak and waffly presentations. My advice here would be to practice beforehand. Get someone to ask you typical interview questions, and try to formulate your answers to be short and punchy. The same goes for the presentation – Preparation and practice is the key to performing well.

5. Smile and keep your energies up

These assessment days are exhausting. You are meeting a lot of new people in a very short space of time, and you have to constantly make positive first impressions.

  • Set the intention to interact with everyone equally
  • Get your firmest handshake and biggest smile at the ready
  • Drink a lot of water to keep fresh and hydrated
  • Keep something to eat handy in case you find yourself flagging
  • Sit up straight, and don’t slouch onto the desk or into the chair
  • Show that you are engaged by listening and answering promptly

It is a stressful and intense scenario in which to find yourself, but you must speculate to accumulate. If you want the job, put the boredom in your pocket although it can be a long and repetitive day. On this particular grad assessment, some of the reasons for rejection was less about the quality of the content the candidates delivered, and more about their energy levels, attitudes and willingness to participate. Lacklustre and uninspiring presentations were other reasons.

To all the graduates out there:  Good luck in finding the best possible place to kick off your new career! You have worked hard to get your education. It is equally worth putting in a bit of effort to get yourself that dream job you deserve and desire.




Written by Cathy Richardson

June 15, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Recruitment

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