For the researcher keen to step out of the academic environment it’s wise to appraise yourself of the changing recruitment scene that employers may be using. And as a careers adviser for researchers I have received three requests in the last fortnight from PhD students and postdocs asking me…

(a) what Situational Judgement Tests are,

(b) how you handle them, and

(c) what’s the difference between Situational Judgements Tests (SJTs) and

Strengths Based Interviews (see our previous post on this).

STJs assess how you approach situations encountered in the type of workplace you’re interviewing for, presenting you with realistic, hypothetical scenarios and asking you to identify the most appropriate response. It’s where recruiters find out about your strengths, what you are good at and what you enjoy doing.

STJs are designed to predict likely job performance by measuring how effectively a candidate responds to work related situations. In effect they are a type of psychometric assessment package, and they are slightly different to most other aptitude tests, as they are tailored to the exact requirements of the organisation conducting them.

‘STJs present applicants with scenarios that they might encounter on the job and ask applicants to evaluate various actions that might be taken in response to the situations’ (McDaniel & Whetzel, 2007) – see here for a fuller review

Designed specifically for the employer concerned, they simulate typical situations that might occur in the job you are applying to. They then offer several possible actions to deal with the problem. Your task is either to select the most effective response, or in some cases the most and least effective response via multiple choice. You might be asked to complete them online before your interview, or actually on the day of your interview or assessment centre.

Some employers, such as Jaguar Landrover, have moved to SJTs as an initial stage of their full recruitment process. I attended an excellent training session by them last year where I learnt that this was due to the demands of of a competitive job market where many people apply for each position i.e. they are able to process large numbers of applicants, candidate feedback was favourable, the STJs supported applicants who had dyslexia so made this a fair process, and for Jaguar Landrover it could be used across the various job role functions as it was based on company behaviours and core values, rather than ‘right or wrong answer’ cognitive tests.

So how do you prepare for such tests?

Firstly, take a look at a company’s core values, what’s important to them, the way they like to do business, the culture, and the competencies they are looking for and try and consider what these mean in the context of the post you are applying for. Lots of this info will be on their web pages, in the job description, and you will pick up key messages at the assessment centre so keep your ears open.

And secondly, in the test, consider the information in the scenario and what you would honestly do, and try not to think too far outside the situation. Answer the question with what you think is most effective in that scenario. It is wise to be true to your beliefs and go for what you think is the right thing to do.

Here’s a link to a couple of free practice sites you could try via Assessment Day and the European Commission. And remember there is no need to hand over any money for practice tests, the Careers Service is here to discuss and advice on past or upcoming interviews and assessment centres.