What are they?
They may sound rather threatening, but in reality they are nothing more than a series of multiple choice questions based on the kind of situations that you might very well meet if you got the job you’ve applied for. They may or may not be timed.
Why are they used?
Most employers still use competency based questions as the basis for their application forms and interviews. These are designed to find out how you have performed in the past with regard to activities such as teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving etc. However, it is possible to construct impressive answers with sufficient practice and coaching. Consider the following two answers to the question – “Can you describe a team activity in which you have engaged?”
- I took part in a discussion group with several other students.
- I took part in a challenging discussion concerning the rights of prisoners. I presented my arguments persuasively but with due concern for alternative points of view.
The point is that both answers could easily be referring to the same discussion but it is clear that the second has been structured to sound far more impressive.
As a consequence, employers have sought alternative ways to assess candidates. SJTs have been designed to test competencies from a different perspective.
Could you give me an example?
The following is entirely fictitious (and a little light-hearted!) but should give you some idea.
You are a human resources manager and you notice one of your staff playing computer games on their pc during office hours. Do you:
A Ignore it because you know everyone needs a bit of relaxation while at work
B Warn them privately that this contravenes office policy and they are in breach of their contract
C Ask them what game they are playing as it looks like fun
D Reprimand them immediately in front of their colleagues in order to make sure everyone is reminded of the rules
The expected answer would be (B) but you might be tempted to take either of the two more lenient responses (A or C) or even the “I need to show them who is in charge” response (D).
Whilst your answers don’t guarantee how you would actually behave, they at least provide an indication. In particular, if your answers are way off the preferred response, the employer could reasonably assume that you might behave inappropriately if faced with similar real-life situations.
What advice would you give when answering?
The recommended way to answer is to imagine yourself in the situation and respond honestly. After all, even if you thought that alternative answers were more likely to be preferred by the employer you might still guess incorrectly. In any case, would you really want a job where you were expected to behave in ways which made you feel uncomfortable?
Are they all like the example above?
The example provided is possibly the simplest style you are likely to face. Some tests probe a bit further by asking you to provide both most likely and least likely responses while others ask you to rank your answers. In many SJTs the choices provided for each scenario are designed to be very similar which clearly makes the test much harder. The apparent absence of an obvious answer demands careful analysis and consideration before reply.
Is it possible to practise?
It’s a good idea to get as much practice as you can beforehand. You might find the following web sites helpful.
Sites of general interest
www.assessmentday.co.uk; Scenarios based around a position as a market research assistant
www.jobtestprep.co.uk; SJTs for customer service and graduate/managerial positions
www.practiceaptitudetests.com; Measures a number of competencies sought by graduate level recruiters
More specialised sites
http://eydemosst.situationalstrengthstest.com/; SJTs relevant to Ernst and Young applications
faststream.blog.gov.uk; Designed specifically for Civil Service Fast stream applicants
www.prometric.com; Tests designed for applicants for administrative posts in the European Union
www.foundationprogramme.nhs.uk; Tests designed for medical students proceeding to the Foundation Programme
www.ukcat.ac.uk; Provided for applicants taking the UK CAT (Clinical Aptitude Test) as part of their application for medical and dental training programmes
Is there any other preparation which you would recommend?
As with every application, you should research the employer and the job role thoroughly. This should provide valuable information about the range of competencies they are looking for and hence clues concerning the types of scenarios which you might face.