Situational judgement – A graduate perspective

This November is all about taking action, and while applying to jobs is an important action to take, researching the role, company and application process is just as important. Getting into a graduate scheme with the biggest graduate recruiters is a multi-stage process. I graduated this summer and as part of one of my many plans (I have plan A- J at the moment) I applied for a couple of different graduate schemes. All the ones I’ve applied for thus far have involved some kind of early-stage assessment, so hopefully my experience can help inform you of how best to tackle these feared tests. This will be a two-parter, with the first focusing on situational judgement tests (SJTs)!

I’m going to be completely honest: I hate situational judgement tests. I get so worried about them that it feels like I’m holding my breath the whole way through. Generally they involve numerous scenarios that you’re likely to encounter on the scheme and give you around four options of how to respond. Usually you’re asked what the best and worst response is or you might be asked to rank them in order from best to worst (a more detailed blog post on SJTs can be found here). My experience with each of the tests I’ve done has been very different, so I’ve decided to tackle the problems I had and my thoughts having come out the other end.

1. Being under-prepared

The first SJT I did was a for an incredibly popular grad scheme that opened pretty early. In a bit of a panic I applied within the first few days of it opening and then had five days to do the SJT when I had a really busy weekend. As a result I didn’t do enough research into the organisation and felt incredibly flustered and nervous at most of the questions because I just wasn’t prepared. Needless to say I didn’t pass that one (although they waited over three weeks to tell me as this particular scheme adjusts the pass rate as time goes on). So what is my advice to you? Remember that the SJT often comes through within a day (if not less) of initially applying so do you research before sending off your personal details rather than after. Then you know you’ve done the work so you can fit the test in even if you have a busy few days ahead. Another piece of advice would be to consider your schedule and plan your applications around deadlines and extra-curricular responsibilities.

2. Getting either best or worst but struggling with the other

With one test I did, I found that either the best response or more often the worst response was pretty obvious – such as doing nothing or going into a presentation having not prepared – but picking the other was much more difficult. Sometimes I could see three of the responses being appropriate depending on other external circumstances not mentioned or similarly two or three of the answers seemed like a bad way to respond and working out which was worst was the tricky part. The way I overcame this was two-fold: I utilised the research I had done on the company about their ethos and values and the behaviours and competencies they look for in an employee. This helped to inform me about the way the company would want an employee to respond, and this will vary from company to company even in the same role.

3. Failing an SJT isn’t a judgement on your character

I really wasn’t that bothered about whether I got through for the roles that I applied for. Don’t get me wrong, they’re for jobs I want and would love to do but as I said before I have so many other plans that it didn’t feel like a big deal whether I was successful or not. Even so though, when I didn’t pass the first one I’d done (at the time of writing I’m yet to hear back from the others) it still hurt. Did I have poor judgement? Does this mean I won’t pass any SJTs? Does this mean I’m not suitable for the jobs I really want and I’ll have to have a rethink? While I was getting myself it a tizzy asking myself all these questions, once I calmed down I realised that the answer to these questions is actually ‘no’. Maybe I was so nervous because it was the first one that I didn’t answer as well as I could have and maybe I didn’t do enough research, but not passing something on the first try doesn’t make you a failure. I might just need a bit more practice. The most likely reasoning behind my lack of success in this instance though is that, at this very moment in time, the organisation isn’t a good fit for me. Whether it’s because I’m not ready or because the company just isn’t for me (you’re testing the company here as much as they are testing you). I don’t know yet but I don’t need to know right now. We can try again next year if that’s the path I end up on.

Ultimately, I feel that is my biggest takeaway from my experience of SJTs so far: not passing the SJT doesn’t make you a failure; it doesn’t make you a bad person or even necessarily a bad candidate for the role. You might fail one SJT in one company but pass one in another company even if the job role is exactly the same. Becoming resilient enough to lick your wounds, brush yourself off and try again takes time and a bit of practice, but sometimes all you need is one ‘yes’.

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