Interview tests and exercises

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
May, 2023

From presentations to group activities recruiters use a number of tests to make sure they find the best candidate for the job

Employers may use one, some or all of these tests to assess your suitability, Whether the interview is being held online or in person could also affect the style of exercise that you're presented with. You may find out beforehand what you'll be faced with and can prepare for the specific tests but the best method is to prepare for all possibilities.

Interview presentations

These assess your ability to communicate clearly and formally, testing your skills in timing, persuasion, analysis, public speaking and creativity. Interview presentations usually last 10 to 20 minutes and are prepared in advance using Microsoft PowerPoint or similar software.

Employers using assessment centres may set impromptu presentation tasks based on an exercise you've already completed. You'll be given around 30 minutes to prepare, which tests your response to pressure. Regardless of the scenario, ensure that you:

  • discover how you'll be assessed
  • focus on your primary aims and desired outcomes, tailoring your presentation accordingly
  • include an introduction, main section and conclusion
  • minimise visual prompts, highlighting key messages using figures, bullet points and short sentences
  • familiarise yourself with background information.

When giving your interview presentation, ensure that you:

  • maintain eye contact with your audience
  • remain calm
  • speak loudly enough to grab everyone's attention
  • stay within the allotted time, leaving room for questions
  • use pauses to allow the audience to absorb your words.

Take a look at our 6 steps to a successful presentation.

In-tray exercises

Also known as inbox or e-tray exercises, these business situations require you to organise your workload. They're popular with large graduate recruiters as they're reliable predictors of job performance, and assess key competencies such as analysis, decision making, time management, accuracy, organisation and communication.

You'll have around 30 to 60 minutes to work through 10 to 30 items of paperwork such as emails, letters, memos, minutes, reports, organisation charts, policy documents and telephone messages. Your primary goal is to prioritise your items, explaining what action is required for each. This could involve responding to queries, drafting replies, making decisions or delegating tasks. You may also be given new material during the exercise.

Ensure that you:

  • check how you'll be assessed, and whether you can write on the documents
  • note actions in bullet form, paying attention to detail and referring to the material provided
  • justify your decisions
  • read all instructions and materials that accompany the in-tray exercise carefully before starting, making a rough plan based on any identifiable key issues
  • work quickly, accurately, systematically and logically.

Group exercises

Usually involving eight to ten candidates, group exercises are often used in assessment centres or when organisations have multiple vacancies. The recruiter will usually provide an industry or workplace-related problem that requires a solution.

Candidates are assessed against performance criteria that account for key competencies including teamwork, leadership, enthusiasm, decisiveness, persuasiveness, problem solving, critical thinking, communication and commercial awareness. Typical group exercises include:

  • Ice-breakers - aimed at relaxing and bonding the team, this is one of the most common interview exercises. They often involve completing a task such as building a tower from straws, paper and pins.
  • Discussion - you're usually given a business scenario and asked to reach a logical conclusion. Usually, no member is designated leader so candidates may be asked to lead the discussion in turn.
  • Role play - candidates are provided with a particular role, background information and a brief. One common example is a mock meeting, where each candidate assumes a specific function and is expected to fulfil individual and group objectives.

Throughout all group exercises, ensure that you:

  • actively contribute, making your points clearly, concisely and confidently
  • don’t criticise, interrupt or undermine others, but politely intervene if someone is dominating
  • follow instructions carefully, relating everything to your brief
  • include others and delegate appropriately, choosing the best person for each task
  • offer praise and appreciation for others, understanding and building upon their comments
  • stand up for your opinion if criticised
  • stay calm, but work quickly and decisively.

Discover our 3 tips for successful group work.

Group interviews

Another common group exercise is an interview alongside fellow candidates. Employers are interested in your engagement with others in a competitive situation. Stand out in a group interview by displaying your knowledge of what's being discussed, and highlighting the skills and experiences that make you unique.

It's not only about performing well - you'll need to think carefully about the way you answer questions and the answers that you give. Here are some suggestions of good ways to start your answer:

  • I agree and would like to add that - this gives you a chance to elaborate on a point that someone else in the group has made. Be careful not to just repeat their answer though.
  • Another approach would be - here you're demonstrating that you can accept other points of view but that you also have an opinion on what should be done. Make sure to not just completely dismiss someone else's point.
  • We seem to agree that we'd take the following action - you're showing the recruiter that you understand what's going on, want to drive the task forward and that you have some leadership skills. Be careful not to overpower others and make it seem like you're just rushing the task.
  • Does anyone want to add to this? - an important part of a group interview is teamwork and this is a great opportunity to show you can include others and are interested in their point of view.

Case study interviews

Particularly common for management consulting and accountancy firms, case studies test your analysis, creativity and problem-solving skills.

The recruiter will describe a situation and you'll need to respond with advice, in the form of a report or verbal explanation. Your conclusion is reached by collating and analysing provided information. Anticipate the type of case study you could receive by researching the organisation and sector. Also ensure that you:

  • can justify and defend your decisions
  • identify the real issue by looking for patterns, inconsistencies and contradictions
  • manage your time carefully, but pay attention to detail
  • read all instructions and materials before you start, to understand what's expected of you
  • treat the task like a course assignment, arranging your material and drawing conclusions.

Written tests

These interview tasks usually involve writing an essay, email, letter or report on a given topic, though you may sometimes be asked to proofread, review or summarise a document.

Tasks typically last 40 to 60 minutes, and assess your common sense, comprehension and written communication. Ensure that you read all the instructions and materials carefully and:

  • use a combination of headings, bullet points and writing styles to add emphasis
  • use acronyms only after you've explained them
  • use correct spelling and grammar
  • write for someone who doesn't have your knowledge.

Social events

These 'informal' sessions allow you to socialise with other candidates, assessors, recent graduates and senior management. They're excellent opportunities for you to learn more about the role. Remember to behave yourself though, as you're being assessed - despite social events not being an obvious interview test. Try to appear socially confident and capable of relating to different people.

Find out more

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