Hints and Tips to Thrive in Online Assessment Centres and Interviews

As a Master’s student I have been applying for graduate rules since the beginning of last semester. In the last semester of my university degree, I have been starting to get replies from some companies inviting me for interviews and assessment centres.

During this (second) strange time, I have had to do these from home. For some people this might not be their preference, however, it can be an advantage.

In this blog, I will give some of my experiences and steps towards preparing for online interviews and assessment centres. This will be targeted mostly to Engineering, but I hope others also find it useful to read!

  1. Preparation

This is key to any interview. For the roles I have applied to (Graduate Geotechnical Engineer) I have encountered technical, group and solo assessment. Feel free to write notes for when the interview is in progress to refer to.

                Company Research

This is always a must. Research the companies core values incase they ask about how they relate to you or how you have shown these in example of your experiences. This is pretty likely to be asked, and even if it is not asked, you should be mentioning these!

In Questions such like:

“Why do you want to work for us?”

The interviews will be impressed to hear you talk about their core values within your answer.

You should also research projects they have been involved in and some of the key facts of it that interest you.

                Solo/Competency Interview

As well as researching the company, you should also go over your own CV and a list of all your relevant experiences and what you have gained from these: eg. Confidence, independence, team working skills, adaptability and capability of working under stressful conditions.

Prepare some answers to the obvious questions while using the STAR* Technique, such like:

“Tell us about a time when you encountered a problem and what you did to overcome this?”

“Tell us about a time you worked in a diverse time, what were the benefits and challenges of this?”

“Tell us about a time you dealt with a difficult customer, how did you communicate effectively?”

If you don’t know what questions they might ask, it is a good to start with key skills of communication, team working and problem solving.

*STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result

Preparation for the Technical Assessment/Interview

Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done in preparation for this due to the task being unknown for every interview. However, I like to look over some key lectures and information relating to potential questions they could ask, either in the technical task, or following up from it.

Often, you will be asked to discuss your thought process or explain your reasoning. It is very unlikely there will be calculations involved.

For some examples, this is what I have been asked so far:

For my recent technical assessment, I was given borehole logs and soil data and asked questions relating to this specific site. In another assessment I was asked to draw a geological cross section of the site given and to explain the key risks of construction.

2. Tips for the group assessment

Unfortunetly there isn’t much preparation in this part of an assessment centre, but there are things out can do to stand out and be noticed by the recruiters.

  • Speak first/speak up – never sit back and go unnoticed. Try and lead the conversation, but not too much that you are controlling. Encourage others for their opinion and make conclusions for the team
  • Time Keeping – an important part of a group assessment is keeping within the time frame. One person always volunteers to time the task; why can’t that be you?
  • Agree/to disagree – what I mean by this is, when others make good points, tell them, say “I agree with ….” Or “I think … makes a good point and also…”. If they are maybe saying something you don’t agree with, do not shut them down rudely. Be professional, “I see where you are coming from however, I think this is a better approach”
  • Smile and be friendly!
  1. Practice

Make sure to practice with a friend or family member. You can reherse your answers or be surprised by ones you hadn’t thought of before.

Another good source of free help is the University’s Career Service! They can look over you CV, practice mock interviews with you, and give feedback about your performance and presentaation.

Make the most of the career service by taking the mock interview seriously. I know it can be strange but they are there to help!

4. Setting up

When doing these interviews at home, it is important to make sure you have a professional set up and are ready for when it hits go.

Night Before

  • Prepare a breakfast for the morning so you don’t have to worry about time.
  • Lay out what you are going to wear – something you feel confident in and must be smart! I know that lockdown has had us living in pyjamas for the past year but it is time to shed the wool and put on your big girl/boy pants!

Day Of

  • Eat well! I know how it feels to have nerves, but it is important to eat and fuel your brain for the best performance.
  • Set your laptop in an area with nice natural light if possible! Don’t sit in the dark where it is hard for the interviewers to see you.
  • Make sure your background is not messy. Try to have a clear wall behind you as it is more professional, however, interviewers are a lot more lenient on this due to the pandemic.
  • Also make sure that there are no distractions (Noise, phone, Tv etc.)
  • Keep a glass of water nearby
  • Stand with confidence for 5 minutes before it starts, this is psychologically proven to improve your confidence

4. Last Tips!

  • Smile! They want to see you are enthusiastic and not bored!
  • Look into the camera as much as possible
  • Keep some written notes nearby for support
  • Keep a word document of all your notes and research that you can just read over the few days before. (Or on another screen to refer to during the interview- but make sure you don’t rely on this otherwise the interviewers will notice you are reading a script!)
  • Prepare some Questions of your own to ask!

I hope this helps some of you in the upcoming interview. It is prime season and I know a lot of us get overwhelmed and struggle when it comes to presenting yourself in front of assessors! Just remember to be yourself and relax!


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