How good is your situational judgement?

Getting a job on a graduate scheme often involves leaping over a series of hurdles including online tests and assessment centres. Situational judgment testing is a favourite of many employers. It can be assessed both online and face to face. So what does it mean and how do you excel?

It’s difficult to prepare for situational judgement testing. The process seeks to check whether you have the right values and attitudes for your target organisation. Situational judgement tests are often bespoke and written specifically for an individual employer. The process of devising appropriate tests may involve giving managers already working in an organisation hypothetical scenarios and asking them what the most (and least) effective responses might be. Questions are built around that research. An answer valued by one organisation might not be indicative of the type of behaviour sought in a different sector area. There is normally no objectively correct answer.

A typical question might be:

Blank notes pasted on blackboard which can be background for you text or drawing.

You have booked theatre tickets to take your mother to a musical you know she wanted to see. It is for her birthday and she has been looking forward to it for ages. Half an hour before you need to leave the office your manager rushes in with some urgent work which must be completed before the following morning. It will take a number of hours, your manager assures you that this is high profile and very important.

What do you do?

  1. Run after the manager to explain why you can’t do it?
  2. Ring your mother up, apologise and cry off.  She can collect the ticket from your office.
  3. Find a very busy colleague whom you know is expecting to work half the night and ask him/her to do this work for you in addition to what he/she is already doing.
  4. Go out with your mother as planned. Make your excuses after the show and go back to the office and get on. You can work through the night if necessary.

If this is included in an online test then the options might be presented to you. In an interview you might get just get the scenario. Is there a right answer? No. What is expected in one organisation will not necessarily be expected in another.

I think the response expected in HE is likely to be a). It’s ok to say that you can’t do something. There is an expectation that you have a life outside the office and a concern for the welfare of individuals which means that all night working would never be expected. In City Investment Banking the answer is much more likely to be d). Of course you can balance all the demands on you and who needs sleep anyway?

Can your practise for these questions?

You can certainly think through possible scenarios in advance of an interview. These sorts of questions will often go to dilemmas, perhaps around work life balance, as above, or around integrity, or the extent to which you should work independently as opposed to seeing support.

You can also practise multiple choice questions. This might be worthwhile to give you an idea of what will be expected in the process of answering. Practising is not necessarily going to give you the right answer for the particular employer though. Look in detail at sample questions on target employers’ websites, these will give you some useful insights. You will probably gain little from buying practice tests. You will not know if the suggested answers are right for the organisation you want to work for.

Do these questions teach you anything about yourself?

Businessman standing looking at jigsaw puzzle in cloudy desert setting

How did you respond to the sample question above? Does your instinctive answer conflict with what you think might be expected by your target employer? Could it be that you are not actually suited to the work you thought you wanted to do?

Sometimes candidates do really well with the application form and with the questions in verbal and numerical tests but then fall down on the situational judgement test. Perhaps that tells you that this particular job or sector area might not be for you? Use your research into the expected answers for each sector and employers to think about your motivation and choice of employer. If the life offered is genuinely for you, then you should find that you give the answers the employer is looking for. if you are getting the answers wrong, it might be time for a radical rethink!

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