Interviews and assessment centres

Interviews & Assessment Centre

If you’re invited to an assessment centre or an interview, congratulate yourself. You’ve already made an impression on the employer.

Having a PhD may be an important factor in the recruitment process, so the employer could be interested to know more about the technical skills associated with your research. Remember though, it’s also crucial to think about the complementary soft skills you’ve developed.

Much of the selection process is designed to uncover skills and knowledge and to assess other less clear cut aspects, such as:

 have you the potential to succeed in the job
 how motivated are you about the role and the organisation you have applied to
 would you ‘fit in’ with the department/or organisation
• what can you do – your technical and non-technical skills and knowledge
• how do you do it – the behaviours and competencies which evidence your capabilities.

When applying for posts outside of academia, your complementary skills will need to be even more evident. You need to consider key questions such as ‘what do you offer us?’ and ‘why should we appoint you?’

Essential Preparation

Thorough preparation is key to any successful application. As the saying goes ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.

Make sure you take time to:

• Catalogue your achievements, highlighting the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in those achievements
• Research the job and the employer, being clear about why you are applying for the post
• Practice talking about your motivations and skills relevant to the post

Assessment Centres

An assessment centre isn’t really a place; instead it can be a rather lengthy and rigorous process for selecting the best candidates. An assessment centre can typically last one or two days and involve:

 assessing candidates on a number of different dimensions, such as leadership, drive for results, strategic thinking and problem solving
 a range of different assessment methods, including in-tray exercises, presentations, group tasks, role play and face to face interviews
 observation by a number of assessors, across a range of assessment activities

What to expect

Expect to be challenged! No two assessment centres will be the same. Familiar things like interviews and tests will take place in addition to other assessments such as:

 in-tray and e-tray exercises
 role plays
 group exercises / practical team exercises
 case studies

Assessment centres can be exhausting. We encourage you to consider our advice on how to prepare for these tasks.



A trained interviewer will be looking for evidence that you can do the job, but also the impact you make personally will affect their decision. It is important that you make a good initial impression, demonstrating a positive and motivated interest in the role. Think of the interview as a two way process. It gives you the chance to assess the organisation – are they offering you what you want? Approach the interview in this way, and it may help to eliminate any unwanted nerves.

What to expect

You may face one, or a combination of several types of interview in the course of the recruitment process. Interviews may take place on the phone, via skype or in person. You may be required to video your answers, prepare a short presentation or face a panel of selectors. Make sure you have clarified from the employer what you can expect on the day. This is crucial preparation to avoid any nasty last minute surprises.

How to prepare

The Careers Service provides further information and resources to help you prepare for your interview. This advice includes guidelines on questions you may be asked and how to answer them.  and  Vitae provide good advice to those going for interview for their first lecturing post in academia. The same principles apply to those going for positions outside of academia. It all comes back to doing your research and knowing what to expect. Consider the questions you might be asked and those you may wish to ask.

Make some notes for yourself after the interview to help you reflect on your performance, noting the kinds of questions asked and your response. These notes can be helpful to you as you go forward to further interviews.  Alternatively, My Interview Experience allows you to read about our students and graduates’ interview and assessment centre experiences and gain useful hints and tips to help you through the selection process.


Need more help?

You can visit the Careers Service to speak to an information officer about preparing for interviews without an appointment. Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to arrange a practice interview with a careers adviser.

For more information about how to access help from the Careers Service, see our Support page.


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