Psychometric tests are the first step to your dream internship

It’s hard to find full-time employment after university these days without experience in a relevant field, meaning that internships are becoming more and more competitive, with more students applying for places than ever before.

Anybody who’s thinking about applying for a summer (or off-cycle) internship should make sure that they’re well-acquainted with the application process in order to maximise their chances of landing the role they’re after.

So I’ve applied for an internship, what now?

After sending off a CV (or, more likely, filling it in online) almost every prospective intern today will be asked to complete a series of online psychometric tests before being invited to proceed in the application process.

Employers like these tests for a couple of reasons: firstly, they’re making sure that any candidate who they take the time to interview actually has the basic skills required for the job; secondly, with the amount of students applying for a single spot, the online psychometric tests are a cost and time-efficient way of reducing the number of applicants they’ll need to interview.

There is a huge range of psychometric tests, designed to measure a whole number of different skill sets. Tests may be strictly numerical, or may focus more on the applicant’s personality or logical reasoning skills.

Most companies will use a combination of two or more tests that are specific to the skills that they’re looking for in potential interns, so it’s crucial to become familiar with the tests before you receive an email from the HR department inviting you to take the test within 24 hours.

Psychometric: it’s a numbers game

Financial services firms, such as banks or the Big 4, all look for solid numerical skills – so expect to have to complete at least one numerical reasoning test before being able to proceed to a telephone interview.

However, some companies (for example, KPMG) will first send you a situational judgement test where you’ll be given a number of different workplace scenarios and asked to choose options as how you would deal with them. The purpose of this is to assess if you are a good fit for the competencies sought by firms such as KPMG. Many banks also use these tests.

Once you pass the judgement test, you’ll be sent an invitation to complete at least one further psychometric test. Applicants to the field of professional and financial services will certainly need to complete a timed numerical test, and quite likely a verbal test too. Numerical reasoning tests are designed to assess your maths skills.

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Test-takers will be presented with a variety of graphs and tables and be asked to use them to calculate information. The level of maths required is usually quite basic (certainly not beyond school level), but a huge amount of candidates fail these tests. It is crucial to practice beforehand, not only to brush up on maths skills, but also to familiarise yourself with the format and style of the tests – which are always against the clock.

The Barclays numerical test, for example, will require candidates to answer 35 multiple choice questions in 35 minutes. Being familiar with the type of questions that are asked and the way that information is presented will save you valuable time during the online test.

Some candidates for finance, depending on the role, may be asked to sit a logical or inductive reasoning test. Applicants will need to analyse shapes and patterns and draw conclusions about them.

Many people are under the impression that it’s not possible to improve at this type of test – this is simply untrue. In fact, candidates who spend some time practicing a few days before they take their test will almost always perform better than they would have without.

Read the question carefully. Now read it again!

While students who are applying for placements in financial services firms should be prepared to complete verbal reasoning tests, it is law firms who will be especially willing to reject your application if you lack verbal reasoning skills.

Verbal reasoning tests assess your ability to understand, analyse and interpret information in a written text. Applicants are asked to read a passage and make true/false/cannot say statements in response to questions or assertions about the text. As with the numerical tests, it is crucial that you practise answering these types of questions under time pressure before taking the real thing.

Time is of the essence

Consultancy firms, such as McKinsey and Bain & Co., tend to use business-orientated numerical tests. You’ll usually have 20 minutes to answer 25 questions, meaning you need to work quickly and efficiently. As with the tests used by banks and other financial services firms, test-takers will often need to calculate standard financial data (ratios, percentages etc.) from a graph and/or table presented in the question.

The questions become increasingly difficult as the test progresses. Consultancy firms are also likely to use verbal reasoning tests as part of their application process.

Practice makes perfect

Whether it’s law, finance, consultancy, marketing, HR or any other field that you’re planning to get an internship in, the likelihood is that at some point you’ll be required to pass a psychometric test. Anybody who tells you that you can’t prepare for these tests and that you should “just turn up and do your best” is, quite frankly, wrong.

Candidates who prepare for the tests are familiar with both the content and format of the tests, and perform better than they would have done with no preparation. In some firms’ recruitment processes as many as 40% of applicants will be disregarded due to their performance on psychometric testing.​

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