Getting through the job hunt these days is quite tough, isn’t it? (You obviously know that, otherwise why would you be here?) Aside from the fact there aren’t hundreds of jobs to choose from, competition is high, employers have to be picky, and applications are more complex. And by complex we mean, the amount of work you have to do before you even get an interview is piling up. Now, employers want to really see how suited you are to the job role before you even get a chance to sit in front of them at an interview.

These pre-interview stages are time-consuming, but they couldn’t be more crucial. It’s important to make a good impression during every stage of the application process. Make time for it! Don’t take these stages lightly, and treat every part of the process as important as the next.

We chatted to some of the people behind IBM, Sony Music, Bauer and O2 to hear their take on things, and what they’re really looking for in each stage, asking why they do it and what they’re looking for.


If you’re applying for grad schemes, you would’ve heard this term a lot. Usually lasting a day (or sometimes more), this means of recruitment allows different interviewers to assess candidates over an extended period of time, to see how they act in different situations. Kelly Markwick, IBM UK’s School and Universities Attraction Manager gave us an insight:

Why? “Our application process has been designed not only for us to understand if you are right for us, but also for you to understand if we are right for you. An assessment centre is face to face, so it’s a chance for us to see you in action! It gives employers the opportunity to see how you work as part of a team, and it allows you to demonstrate a range of competencies including communication and teamwork skills.”

What are you looking for? “Throughout the IBM application process we assess candidates on eight competencies: creative problem solving, adaptability, teamwork, communication, drive to achieve, client focus, passion for the business, leadership and ability to take ownership. Make sure that during your assessment centre tasks, such as group exercises and interviews you are demonstrating these competencies.”

(Pssstt… If you want to hear more about IBM, they’re running an insight day and workshop, part of which will help you scrub up your application skills! Apply here. They give you free lunch, too – always a bonus).


Similarly common for graduate schemes, these computerised tests are structured ways of seeing how candidates perform on tasks. They aren’t the easiest of tests, and are hard to prepare for. They range from numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, to vocabulary tests and logic tests, and are designed to assess thinking performance. Estelle Jackson, Resourcing Business Partner at O2 Telefonica uses these as an initial stage for many O2 positions:

Why? “The computerised tests help us shortlist applicants from up to as many as 50,000 down to a specific ratio of applicants per role. We use the tests as a fair way to begin the application process, and get the top people through to the second stage, which is the assessment centre. Applicants apply through our careers site, and get the test sent straight away.”

What are you looking for? “The tests are marked on accuracy rather than how many you complete, so answering 8/20 questions accurately will score much higher than someone who answers 20 questions and gets them all wrong. It also gives us a measure of how quickly you work, and how accurate you are. We use verbal and numerical tests, so for example if you’re applying to a finance scheme, the numerical test will be more important. Looking at online examples is a good way to prepare and familiarise yourself with these tests, but you can’t do too much preparation as they are quite random.”


This part of the process will be designed to replicate your potential job role. So your CV is great, but can you actually do the job you’re applying for? This might range from delivering a presentation, or generating feature ideas for a journalism role. It’s possibly the most important, pre-interview test. Lisa Howells, Production Editor at heat told us about why she sets talent assesment tasks before interviewing subbing positions:

Why? “Someone can have an impressive CV but it doesn’t give a solid indicator of their practical skills, and also could actually flag up other things to think about – for example, they may have had lots of experience in different places, but does that mean they haven’t stayed somewhere for very long? Or haven’t been re-booked frequently if they are freelance? I’ve seen candidates with great CVs, who performed well in an interview, but then couldn’t keep up with the pace that a weekly demands. I’ve also had candidates that are nervous in interviews, and don’t come across that well, but get them in the seat doing the job and their confidence blossoms.”

What are you looking for? “I need to see that someone has not just the aptitude, but also they right personality and temperament. In a fast-paced weekly environment, you need to be highly adaptable. A test might show me that you have great spelling or grammar, but unless it is done under timed conditions, I can’t guarantee you will also be speedy unless you are doing the job in real time. You can’t rely on just one aspect of the process when choosing, you have to see people in different environments.”


An interview before the interview: talking on the phone could come in two types. Either you’re likely to be contacted to arrange at time, or you could be caught off guard and get a call with no notice. An advantage of this stage is the ability to make notes, hold a copy of your CV in front of you, and not feel daunted with face-to-face questions. Andrew Cini, HR Advisor at Sony Music told us:

Why? “Here at Sony Music we conduct phone interviews as part of our first screening of candidates during our internship interview process. This is due to the sheer volume of applications we receive for our internships. The phone screen along with CVs and relevant work experience help to narrow our initial applicants down to those we shortlist to continue through to the assessment centre stage of the process”

What are you looking for? “During the phone interview we look to identify the reasons why the candidates have applied for the internship, what they feel they can bring to the various positions, and a run through of their work experience to date. We also look to explore what excites them about the industry, their digital awareness and any key projects they have worked on that might be relevant to support their application. We are keen to see an awareness of the brand and a genuine interest in the industry/role, as well as added ideas and enthusiasm.”

If you liked that, you may like…

How to nail a job interview over the phone

How to survive assessment days

Psychometric testing: what it is and how it can get you a job