Written Exercise at Interview
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Written exercises are frequently used as part of the recruitment process, especially for graduate schemes and training contracts.
Each writing exercise will differ, as they usually relate to the industry to which you are applying, as well as the company and the role.
Some companies request that applicants complete an online written exercise or comprehension test when sending in their initial application form. Others will incoporate a written exercise into their assessment centres.
Many applicants find the idea of completing a written exercise daunting – however, with proper preparation, there's nothing to fear.
This article will cover what you can expect in a written exercise, what's being assessed, and will give you some model answers and tips.
Types of Written Exercises
Below is a list of the common types of written exercises used by employers:
Email. You may be asked to draft a mock email to a client. Usually, the employer will present you with a specific scenario – for example, a customer has complained and you need to resolve the issue. Emails are designed to be a quick form of communication, so keep it brief. Remain courteous and professional, and make sure you read the instructions thoroughly before starting.
Letter. Letter writing generally has more formal conventions than email, so make sure you familiarise yourself with the correct way to begin and end one. Professionalism is key here. Remember also that letters are usually longer than emails.
Report or Essay. Law or consultancy firms might ask you to write a report or essay on a current industry issue. You may be given the question prior to interview, though not in all cases. Pay attention to the amount of time you are given to complete the task and ensure that the report has a clear beginning, middle and end. A finished essay with a professional tone and appropriate detail will look better than one which has lots of detail but remains incomplete.
Press Release. Marketing or PR firms could ask you to write a press release, so it's worth researching the format beforehand. Your ability to promote a product/event will be evaluated, alongside your understanding of the industry and how it operates. Do not write an essay: keep it short and professional with an original flair.
Precis. Some written exercises require the candidate to summarise and rewrite a large chunk of text into something more succinct. Pay close attention to what aspects of the text are important – as the employer will pick up on what you decided to include and what you decided to omit – and make sure all of the important information is retained.
Proofreading. Occasionally a written exercise will ask you to review a text and check for any spelling or grammatical errors. Although this may seem easy, take your time – mistakes are often well hidden, and you should comb over the text carefully.
What Skills Are Being Assessed in a Written Exercise?
Written exercises can test far more than your writing ability and attention to detail.
They also test your comprehension skills. Employers will be paying close attention to the way in which you respond to a brief – whether you understand what is required of you, and how you choose to tackle the assignment itself.
To succeed in a written exercise, you must ensure that you read the brief several times and tailor your response to meet its needs. Misreading or misunderstanding demonstrates poor comprehension skills, and a lack of attention to detail that could go against you.
Written exercises can also demonstrate your professionalism, your ability to work towards a goal, to communicate with others, and to argue a point or opinion.
What Should I Expect During a Written Exercise?
It is likely you will be shown to a meeting room to work quietly on the task. If you are taking part in a written exercise at an assessment centre, you may well be in the room with other potential candidates applying for the same or different jobs.
The format of the test depends on which kind of writing skill is being tested – for example, you may be asked to draft several emails or resolve an issue via letter.
Most of the time, the interviewee will be given a short brief (maybe a paragraph in length) and will be given a set amount of time to respond.
Usually, a written exercise will be written by hand and not on a computer, so be prepared for this and ensure your handwriting is clear and legible.
Written Exercise Sample Questions
Here are some written exercise examples you may come across during the interview process:
Summarise the facts of a case file, listing its strengths and weaknesses, and making it half its current length.
Write an email to a disgruntled client who has complained about the customer service team.
Write a report on the pros and cons of a takeover bid, based on 12-pages of material provided.
Write a press release for [XXXXX], aimed at clients who have never heard of the product before.
As you can tell, the scope of questions and themes will vary greatly from job to job – but they will all aim to test your comprehension and writing skills.
Tips for Success
Don't panic – Exam scenarios can often cause people to feel unnecessarily anxious which, in turn, can lead to underperforming. Remember that they have invited you to the assessment centre as they feel you are a viable candidate for the job. Trust in your own abilities.
Keep an eye on the time – Don't focus too much on writing an excellent introduction and opening argument, and then run out of time without finishing the assignment. Try to divide your time equally between each section (i.e. the introduction, 3 to 4 paragraphs of evaluation, and a conclusion).
Check your work – Try to save some time at the end to go over and check your work for any spelling or grammatical mistakes, or errors in syntax. Ensure that your handwriting is legible and that your points are clear. A written exercise is much less impressive when it contains errors, so it is vital that you pay attention to detail.
Written exercises give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their talents and abilities beyond the scope of their CV and interview performance.
Though they can vary in form, they will assess a candidate's writing ability, comprehension skills and attention to detail – all good qualities in a potential employee.