Interview tests and exercises

June, 2015

Employers can set many different interview tasks, so get the competitive edge by preparing for what you might encounter


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

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;
  • prepare for questions by familiarising 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.

Group exercises

These usually involve 8-10 candidates, and 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 to performance criteria that accounts for key competencies including teamwork, leadership, enthusiasm, decisiveness, persuasiveness, problem solving, critical thinking, communication and commercial awareness. Three typical group exercises are:

  • Ice-breakers - Aimed at relaxing and bonding the team, these are 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.
  • Interviews - Here, you're interviewed 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.

Throughout all group exercises, ensure that you:

  • actively contribute, making your points clearly, concisely and confidently;
  • don't criticise, interrupt or undermine others, but do politely intervene if one member 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.

Written tests

These interview tests 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 40-60 minutes, and your common sense, comprehension and written communication are being assessed. Ensure that you:

  • read all the instructions and materials carefully;
  • 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.

Case studies

The recruiter will describe a situation to which you're asked to respond with advice, in the form of a report or verbal explanation. Your conclusion is reached by collating and analysing provided information. Case studies test your skills in analysis, creativity and problem solving. Anticipate the type of case study you could receive by researching the organisation and sector; they're particularly common for management consulting and accountancy firms. 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.

In-tray exercises

Also known as e-tray exercises (if completed digitally), these synthesised business situations require you to organise your workload. They're a popular interview test with large graduate recruiters as they're very reliable predictors of job performance, and assess key competencies such as analysis, decision-making, time management, accuracy, organisation and communication.

You'll have around 30-60 minutes to work through 10-30 items of paperwork such as emails, faxes, 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;
  • prepare to justify your decisions;
  • read all instructions and materials carefully before starting, making a rough plan based on any identifiable key issues;
  • work quickly, accurately, systematically and logically.

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.


Read JobTestPrep's expert advice on how to prepare for SHL practice tests.

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