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Telephone Interview Questions

Telephone interviews are generally conducted when there is a high volume of applicants for a given job, and the employer would like to find out who is suitable for an interview before arranging times and dates which can be more time consuming. The interview questions will be along the same lines as a face-to-face interview so it is a good idea to keep your CV and covering letter to hand, so as to not have any discrepancies between the information you have previously supplied and what you will now be talking about. It is important to be prepared for a telephone interview, particularly when doing a large job hunt, as they can come unexpectedly. Going through some of the questions you may be asked, and having a response for each one is a good idea; and it is important to pick out key words in the questions they ask, as they may be the same as ones you have practised, but simply phrased differently.

There are many questions that can leave an applicant searching for an answer, a few include:

  • Why would you like to work for this company?
  • What were your reasons for leaving your past job?
  • What can you bring to the company?

Most of these, and many others, can be answered by doing thorough research of the company you are applying to. In researching a company, you may find specific areas of interest to yourself, which would definitely help in answering why you would like to work for them; the same goes for the question, “What can you bring to the Company?”. Many people have to pause before being able to answer this, but if you have researched the company you will know any things they do that may lend themselves to your skills. Another problem area is how to answer the question of why you left your last job, or are looking to leave your current position; answer this truthfully, but without bad-mouthing your previous employer.

There will usually be time at the end of the telephone interview for you to ask any questions you may have; use this chance as it can alleviate any concerns you have, whilst most importantly, making you seem interested and professional to the interviewer. Asking questions such as, “What would my day be like if I got the job role?”, and, “What do you enjoy about working at the company?”, are acceptable questions to ask, showing you are thinking of how you would fit into the company. There are, however, questions which should be left out entirely, or at least until you have been successful in getting the job, such as asking if you would be able to take holiday on certain dates, and asking what the company does. Not only does this show you have not researched the company thoroughly, the former is also presumptive, and will lessen your chances of success as you are already talking of time off. There is also the mistake of straight away asking, “Did I get the job?”, the interviewer may have many more people to interview and so it is better to ask, instead, of when you will be finding out if you were successful or not.

Although some may be unexpected, many telephone interviews are arranged prior between interviewer and candidate. It is helpful to note, also, that if the telephone interview has come at an inconvenient time it is OK to politely ask if you can reschedule to later on that day, or another time. Most telephone interviews will last no longer than half an hour, and the interviewer will want to ask you about your CV, and to go into detail about certain areas of it, your work experience, and also competency questions. You must also be aware that the way you conduct yourself on the telephone is also part of the interview; most jobs will require you to talk to various people over the phone, and so showing you have a calm, professional, and polite telephone manner is crucial.

Lastly, it is important to remember that although it is over the phone and may seem less formal, telephone interviews are as important as face-to-face interviews. You should answer the telephone with the kind of manner you would enter a normal interview, as it can be these first impressions by the interviewer that may trip you up. If you are not used to using the telephone in a professional manner it can be easy to slip into slang, and the unenthusiastic way you may talk to friends on the phone. Try to remain enthusiastic whilst on the phone, the way you hold yourself physically could influence how you speak to the interviewer, they do not want to interview a candidate who mumbles their way through the questions, or seems disengaged.


PWC Telephone Interview

A PWC telephone interview will be similar to any other telephone interview; however, they will focus more on the Global Core Competencies of their company, and expect you to have done your research on related topics in their field. The interviewer will most likely start with the normal questions of why you want to work at their particular company, and try to find out how much you know about their business. Much of the interview will be based around competency questions, such as asking when you have worked in a team; having your response practised to the various questions they could ask here is crucial, you usually only have around 25-30 minutes for the interview, so having long pauses and sighs can really cut into valuable time. When looking at actual examples of PWC telephone interviews it becomes clear that a lot of their focus is on commercial awareness, based around cases that are happening in the business world at the time. Thoroughly researching businesses around PWC, and those in the news, will give you a good footing to efficiently answer the questions they throw at you.

As with all telephone interviews there are certain things to remember, so as to come across as competent to the interviewer:

  • Have your CV and application to PWC at hand: you may need to go over certain areas to clarify what you have already told them.
  • Get a pen & paper ready: you will most likely (and should!) have questions to ask them at the end, and writing down their responses will be better than having to ask them again at a later date.
  • Research! You need to know as much about their business as you can, if you don’t it will become clear when they are probing you on certain business areas.
  • Know the market! As well as PWC itself, you should have a good grasp on any businesses it has been affiliated with, and those that are big in the news at your time of interview.
  • Conduct yourself in the same manner that you would in a face-to-face interview: be polite and confident, and make sure you sound enthusiastic about the job role throughout the call.
  • Be aware of the time limits: make sure you are actually answering the questions they have asked; if particularly interested a certain area it can be easy to go on a tangent, leaving out other crucial information they may want.
  • Try to build a rapport with the interviewer: you may have things in common and this will put you at ease for the rest of your interview.
  • Try to take the call where you have no distractions or loud noises: it will not go well if you are constantly asking them to repeat themselves, or worse, if you are in the middle of something else and seem uninterested in talking to them.

It can be difficult to get into ‘interview-mode’ over the phone, as you may only be used to taking social calls from friends and family, but it is important to take this seriously. Telephone interviews will usually be conducted when there have been a large amount of applications for a job, and candidates need to be screened so that only the most suitable will go on to more in depth assessment. You really want to stand out at this stage; although your work experience may be lacking, your personality can be crucial here in securing you a further interview or placement at an assessment centre. As long as you have a thorough knowledge of the business you are applying for, and be yourself throughout the interview, you should be successful in the telephone interview.

PWC Partner Interview

A partner interview is, as the name would suggest, an interview with one of the partners at the company you have applied to. At this stage in the recruitment process you will normally have been successful in the first interview and assessment day, and are now being assessed as to whether your personality would be suitable for their company. Due to this, the questions asked at a partner interview will not usually be predetermined, but rather, based around you. As with any interview you should be polite, friendly and confident; the prospective employer has your credentials, you are now showing that you would fit in well with the team they already employ. It is important to be yourself here; the interviewer will have conducted many interviews before yours, and can pick out someone who is faking their responses to come across well.

Some questions based around you could include:

  • “Tell me about your internship, with reference to any highlights or achievements?”
  • “Why do you want to work for PWC above our competitors?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  • “What drove you to get into this sector of business?”

A lot of candidates in the PWC recruitment process have found that their partner interview also consisted of a lot of competency questions. PWC places a lot of importance on the competencies it requires in its employees, and so these are tested thoroughly throughout the recruitment process. Some examples of competency questions (which are explained in an earlier section) include:

  • “Tell me about a time you have took the lead on a project”
  • “Describe a situation in which you have found a new solution on a project”
  • “When do you feel your part in a team helped to finish a task?”

The individual must draw on previous experience, whether that be at work, university, or in their social life, to demonstrate their ability in each competency. This is particularly suited to graduates as they may have little work experience to give their evidence on, but may have situations during education or other work to base their response.

A partner interview can vary in length from 45 minutes to just over 1 hour, depending mainly on how many questions you have for the interviewer at the end. It is important to keep the time in mind; there may be many interviews arranged for the day and so answering the questions they have asked, and not going too much off topic, will ensure you have given them all of the crucial information they want from you. Remember to dress smartly, as with first interviews, and the assessment centre, the way you look can have a bearing on interviewers decisions; they will not want to employ someone to uphold their company name who is scruffy or inappropriately dressed. Although getting this far in the recruitment process is an achievement and due to you having passed the previous stages, it is important not to become arrogant. There will still be other candidates competing with you at this level, and by presuming you have got your foot in the door already you could come across badly to the interviewer. There is no guarantee that the company will employ anyone from the pool of people they are interviewing, and you could still be out of the competition at this late stage if the prospective employer takes a dislike to you. At the end of the interview the interviewer should ask you if you have any questions; take this time to carefully go through anything that you do not understand that may have come up in the interview. Preparing yourself beforehand with some questions you would like to ask is the best option, as it can be easy to forget when you are under the stress of an interview. Questioning the interviewer on their own feelings about working for the company, or your future role in the company, will show that you are interested in the job. Not only does asking questions make you seem interested, it may actually be the last time you are going to get to ask these questions before you are hopefully offered a job; you need to go into work knowing what is expected of you, rather than being unprepared and looking unprofessional. Try to find out when you will be hearing back from the company on the success of your interview, but do not simply ask if you have gotten the job; and finally be polite when leaving, and thank them for their time, as you do not want to trip up this far into the recruitment.


PWC Assessment Centre

Assessment Centres are a part of the recruitment process for larger companies and organisations, used mostly for graduate and professional level candidates; they are often referred to as assessment days, and have between 6 and 20 candidates in attendance at one time. They can take place in one of a few places, including the company’s own office, or at a hired venue such as a hotel. With regard to PWC, their assessment centre is the fourth stage of their recruitment process, following the online registration, online psychometric tests, and first interview. At the assessment centre candidates will go through a number of tasks, allowing the employer to view each of the criteria they deem important in an employee of their company. PWC, specifically, names these criteria as their ‘Global Core Competencies’, or, GCCs. The first task will usually involve repeating the psychometric tests that were completed previously online, although content may differ, and they will be in paper format. There will then be group, and possibly, individual exercises; the group exercise will assess your abilities of teamwork, time management, taking lead on a project and delegation, amongst others. Whilst individual exercises involve the candidate working with a trained assessor, rather than the other candidates. For some more specific job roles there could also be a case study and presentation exercise involved; the case study would be a more real-life assessment of putting the experience you already have into solving an issue that may come up in the job role. Presentations test your ability to communicate ideas, the thought process that goes into these ideas, and your knowledge of the area you are presenting. There is usually a final written exercise, in which you will have to give a report on materials provided, relevant to the job role; this is used to assess your writing abilities, as this is a large part of most work duties.

Showing your personality is important here, as there may be many candidates who are equally suited, academically or through experience, to the job; and so it is your unique personality attributes that may put you ahead. It is essential to have researched the company, and prepared yourself for any competency questions you may be asked, as having the core information will allow you to focus on being yourself and show your personality. Assessment centres usually run for a day, however, they can go on for up to 3 days, depending on the number of candidates, and the level of assessment that has to be attained. They can cost the company up to, and sometimes exceed £3000 per candidate; the applicants are not expected to pay this as the assessment is free to them. It is, however, wise to find out from the company whether travel expenses are covered by them, as it could be pricey for a new graduate who has many assessment centres to attend. Another important thing to remember is the way you dress; the usual code for assessment day dressing is to keep it smart, as you would for an interview. There will be a number of people from the company assessing you whilst at the centre, and their first impression of you could be key in the success of your final outcome. Remember you may be competing with the other candidates in attendance, and so if you walk in wearing a shirt and jeans, whilst everyone else is in suits, you will most likely eliminate yourself straight out of the race. The people who will make up the assessment team will usually comprise of HR reps from the recruiting company, directors, and managers. After viewing all of the applicants for the day they will have a joint discussion on who they feel exceled in areas and who would be most suitable to progress on to a final interview. This is thought to be a fair way to assess the candidates, as it is encompassing not only their cognitive abilities in the psychometric tests, but also the way they deal with real-life problems, particularly in teams. The group discussion also ensures that there are no biased views from any of the assessors, who may simply be picking certain candidates through their personal qualities, rather than any suitability they may have to the job role. There are some individuals who are of the opinion that assessment centres are not as effective as other recruitment tactics in finding the most qualified person for a job. There are however, many thousands of pounds, spent by successful companies all around the world, to use this method, and in graduate level jobs with a vast number of applicants, it can be the most efficient way to ensure everyone is given a fair chance. Often graduates coming straight out of university have little if any experience in the career they are pursuing; assessment centres are therefore a great place to give these candidates a chance to demonstrate their competencies in areas that their CV does little to show.


Writing a CV

A CV, or Curriculum Vitae, is the standardised way to advertise yourself to prospective employers when job hunting, with your contact information, work & educational history, and a little about yourself all included. There are various ways to write out a CV between different countries and job type, this description will be focusing on the UK version of the CV.

The CV layout typically goes as follows:

  • Your name, and contact details, such as address, email and telephone; with your name being in larger font and making up the title of the document.
  • A brief personal statement, including your career aims, so that the prospective employer can get a feel for who you and set you apart from other candidates.
  • Your educational background; this should go in reverse order, with your most recent education at the top, as this is usually more relevant to the position you are applying for. Here you should include the dates attended, the institution you attended, qualifications & grades.
  • Your work history; again this should go from most recent at the top, to least recent at the bottom. Give the dates you worked, your position, the company name, and your duties here.
  • Interests/Skills (or both if you feel your interests relate to the job role).
  • References- it is best to state “references available on request” at the end of your CV as the employer will most likely not need them yet, so there is no need to give out others personal details just yet.

Some DO’s & DON’T’s of CV writing:

DO include any relevant experience that adds to your experience.

DO include your nationality with your contact details if you are non-British.

DO make any particular achievements stand out.

DO make the personal statement personalized, so that you stand out from the other applicants.

DO spell check, this is your first contact with prospective employers, spelling mistakes will not look good.

DO NOT put your date of birth or age on the CV; there are laws to stop age discrimination.

DO NOT go over two pages for a CV.

DO NOT include references unless they have previously given permission

DO NOT label/title your CV as “Curriculum Vitae”, it should hopefully be obvious to employers what the document is; similarly do not put unnecessary headings such as “address” above your address.

The CV is crucial to the employment process as it is the link between finding your ideal job and getting an interview. It can be hard to think of things to write if you are not used to writing in a professional manner, or have no experience in the area you are looking to apply for. Do not fill up your CV with any unnecessary experience; for example, if you are applying for an accountancy job it is not necessary to include the job you had as a waitress one summer (unless there were some transferable skills). The same goes for education; if you have recently graduated, briefly give some details of the modules you did that may have be relevant to the job role, and anything you were particularly proud of, such as a particular project. As the CV has to look professional, think of it as you would an assignment, and write in third person. Try to leave out words like “I”; although it must be personalized, do not make your CV into a life story, and remember it is to advertise your skills and experience to a prospective employer. Many people write out one default CV to send to the many different companies they may be applying to, however, it is better to go over your CV after you have found a job you would like to apply for and tailor it to that company. For example, if the prospective employer regards teamwork and cooperation as one of the key points in their organisation’s success, play-up any teamwork projects you have excelled at in university or past work experience.

Some people are unsure about the order in which the headings must go within their CV; they should be laid out as in the bullet-points shown earlier, however, work and educational history should be switched dependent on the experience you have. If you have very little experience in the job you are applying for (i.e. you are a recent university graduate), place your educational history before work experience, as the skills learnt whilst at university will probably be more relevant than the work experience you’ve gained. If you have a lot of work experience relevant to the job you are applying for, place the work history above education, as this will be noticed first and give you the best chance of being seen as suitable. It can also sometimes be difficult to fill in large gaps that you have between periods of work, so try to bridge these as much as possible, as it will be preferential to the employer to know what you have been doing when not working. As mentioned in the DO’s & DON’T’s section, try not to have more than two pages in your CV; two pages is the general rule-of-thumb with CV writing in the UK. It is best to avoid a large gap at the bottom of page, so if possible arrange your CV so that all information can fit onto one page, or try to spread it out to fit onto two pages.


Writing a Cover Letter

Cover Letters are a crucial factor in applying for, and gaining employment; they are usually sent to prospective employers with a CV, adding to any details left out of the CV and giving a more personal touch to the application.

The basic layout of a professional cover letter includes:

  • Contact information for the applicant should be given at the top, followed by personal information such as address, email and phone number.
  • The date should then be given.
  • There should then be the prospective employers name and address.
  • Formalities such as “Dear Mr/Mrs” should then start the body of the cover letter (if known, DO give the name of the person you are writing to, as it will make for a more personal read).
  • First section: Here, the main point of writing to the company should be given, letting them know the position you applying for and that you would like to be considered for an interview. Also, give a brief background of yourself, i.e. where you have just finished studying, or the job you are currently in.
  • Second section: This is where you give the skills, qualities and experience you have that will help in the job you are applying for. Do this in an enthusiastic manner, to show you have a real passion for whatever the job role is. Make sure to link the skills and experience you have from past jobs to the job/person specification they have given in their advert.  This is not simply repeating your CV but rather giving evidence of skills you have that make you suitable for the job advertised.
  • Final Section: Thank the employer for their time in reading your cover letter, and let them know if your CV is attached, if not, when they will be receiving it.
  • End on a comment such as “Respectfully yours”, with your signature or name (dependant on whether cover letter is sent online or through the post).

Cover letters are often not thought of by job hunters, choosing to send just their CV instead, however, they are very important as they form the prospective employers first impression of you and can help you to stand out from possibly a large crowd of applicants. There is also often the mistake made of simply writing out one cover letter and sending it out to all companies or employers; if this is the case it will most likely be obvious and the company will see that no effort has been made. A good covering letter will show that you have researched the company, and that you are the ideal candidate for the job. Some time spent beforehand, going through the company’s website and getting a feel for what they are about and their day-to-day running, will show in your cover letter and immediately make it more appealing than the other candidates who didn’t bother. Make sure to play on the skills and qualities you have that match those the employer is looking for, do not be afraid to say what you are good at, showing you are competent is what the employer wants. On the same note, do not go too far and simply brag or sound too arrogant, this will immediately put the employer off.

As mentioned earlier, cover letters are not simply a way to repeat your CV; the prospective employer has all of your basic information written down, it is personality and your job suitability that they want to see in your cover letter. As in real life, if you make a connection to the employer and let them know this is not just another job application, you will have a greater chance of getting a call back. Another thing to keep in mind is that the employer will possibly be reading through many cover letters, so whilst making sure to show your personality, keep it brief and do not ramble on, as this could straight away put the reader off. It may be helpful to read through some cover letter examples, and start off with a template, as this will keep you on track whilst letting you add your personality. Finally, spell-check and grammar; there will be little point in writing out a great cover letter if it is just full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Most, if not all jobs, will involve being able to write proficiently, if this is not shown in the employers first contact with you, there is little chance of getting to interview level.


Competency Questions

Competency questions, or competency-based questions, are simply questions about an individual’s competency in specific areas; they will be based around specific skills and qualities that a company deems important for their job role. These competencies could be dealing in Leadership, Teamwork, Communication, or Problem-Solving, amongst many others that may be specific to the job you are applying for. They are useful for graduate jobs where no experience is necessary, as they rely on the applicant giving situational examples of life experiences in which they have shown the competency required, such as at school, university, or socially. Competency questions will usually be asked in the interview, they are however, often included in the application form filled out before the recruitment process and are, therefore, predictive that you will be given a competency based interview.

Some examples of Competency questions:

  • “Tell me about a time you have took the lead on a project”
  • “Describe a situation in which you have found a new solution to a project”
  • “When do you feel your part in a team helped to finish a task”

These three examples look at the competencies Leadership, Problem-Solving and Teamwork; in a real life interview they may be phrased differently, but are variations on the same topic. It is important to think of times you have shown certain competencies as it will not knock you off guard if you are given a question like this and have to spend some time trying to think of one, or worse yet, are not able to think of anything at all. As with any type of job, you will usually be asked in the interview why you want to work for that particular company, this can throw a lot of people off, but the key to this question is research of the company. You must have knowledge of the company, its key areas of success, and its competitors; this way you can tailor your answer so as to include your own experience and personality, whilst showing you have taken an interest in that organisation over many others. This is also essential as it may be a deal breaker in the way you answer a particular company’s questions; for example, if you are applying to work at a company that relies heavily on teamwork, you don’t want to give accounts of preferring to work alone. Also, for many graduates, they will be entering onto a graduate scheme, in this case you must be aware of what is required of you on this scheme, as failure to provide an answer to this in the interview will not look good.

There is an acronym universally known for dealing with competency questions, known as STAR, it goes as follows:

  • SITUATION – Set the scene of the situation so that the interviewer will understand the context in which you are speaking; although keep it brief and to the details needed, as they do not want to hear you talk for 15 minutes about a completely irrelevant story.
  • TASK – As above, but with particular emphasis on a task or project you were undertaking, rather than a situational experience.
  • ACTION – Tell the interviewer what you did to resolve the problem, or complete a task; how you did it, keeping your answer brief but fully descriptive; and finally why you did this. The interviewer will want to know your logical reasoning behind decisions made.
  • RESULT – Explain what the outcome of the situation or task was, paying particular attention to anything you exceled at, and also what you learnt from the experience for future use.

It is very important to put your own personality into your answer; although you may have practiced responses to example questions you must remember to be yourself as you do not want to sound like a robot simply saying what you think they want to hear.

The interviewer will mark you on each question, giving a score of 0 to 4; 0, means you showed no evidence for the situation they were asking about, and therefore, probably would not deal very well in that work role. A score of 4 is given for an excellent answer, meaning you would be highly suited to that particular competency which the company requires. The scores are dependent on your ability to demonstrate the positive indicators that have been predetermined for the interview.  It is important to remember that interviewers are human, and although they are marking you on a standardised basis, their first impressions of you will play a part in their decision. Being polite when entering, shaking hands, and being positive in the way you talk about yourself without being arrogant, will help in the final outcome.


UCL Finance Conference 2013


AssessmentDay are proud to support the UCL Finance Conference 2013 which takes place on 1st February 2013. The UCL Finance Conference is one of the largest student-led finance conferences in Europe. Students can join delegates from top universities and listen to key speakers from the finance industry.

Find out more by visiting their website

8 October 2012: AssessmentDay Present at Cass Business School

On Monday 8th October Oliver Savill from AssessmentDay delivered two practice test sessions with Q&As to MSc and MBA students at Cass Business School. The morning session covered numerical psychometric tests, and the later session covered verbal psychometric tests. Each session attracted around 60 delegates, who sat an online test and received feedback on their scores. After experiencing a simulated test, the students got to ask Oliver questions about psychometric testing and how employers tend to use various aptitude tests for selection. The objective of both sessions was to help applicants prepare for taking a psychometric test.

Using Feedback from a Psychometric Test

Using Feedback from a Psychometric Test

Our increasingly competitive job market has led to a growing number of applicants per vacancy. This means that even the strongest candidates are likely to face disappointment throughout the selection process. With this in mind, it is becoming ever more important for candidates to receive feedback on their performance so they know how they can improve for future assessments.

It is good practice for employers to give to candidates after they have taken a psychometric test or attended an assessment centre. This is the least they can do after the candidate has gone to the trouble of applying and preparing for their assessments. Unfortunately not all employers follow this practice because it takes them time and resource. Some organisations will provide feedback, either in the form of a written letter, over the telephone or during a face-to-face meeting. If you do receive feedback, it is vital that you use this opportunity wisely as it may be your key to future job success.

Recruiters using psychometric tests usually agree to be bound by the industry-standard guidelines set by the British Psychological Society, which encourages them to provide feedback to every candidate as a matter of principle.

Some helpful pointers when receiving feedback

Finding out that you haven’t been selected for a job is always difficult, so try and take a moment out for yourself before delving straight in to examining your performance. Try not to jump to the conclusion that you aren’t good enough for your dream job. Instead, try to take a more balanced view – might it mean that you just need to do more preparation next time?

It can be really helpful to know your individual score for each psychometric test you completed. Percentile scores are particularly useful as they indicate how your performance compared to other people who took the test and can help you to identify which tests were relative strengths and weaknesses for you. For example, you might find that you performed well on the verbal reasoning test but that you were let down by your numerical reasoning score and need to polish up on your basic maths skills for next time.  Whilst there can be no right or wrong answers on personality questionnaires, feedback can indicate if there are particular attributes you need to further develop in order to achieve a greater ‘fit’ with the organisation. For example, you might consider assertiveness or social skills training.

Finally, if employers want to discuss feedback with you directly, it is important to remember that this may be another part of their assessment of you. Take this as an opportunity to respectfully share your own views about your performance, to clarify the feedback and to ask for their advice on where they think you could improve and how.