Top 5 Tips for Interview Success

Oliver Laity is the Careers Information and Systems Manager for the University of Exeter. As an experienced interviewer, and interviewee, he knows a lot about the peaks and pitfalls of interviews.

Oliver Laity, Careers Information and Systems Manager, experienced interviewer, and occasional German speaker.

Knowing that you’ve got a job interview coming up can feel daunting. If you’re lucky you might have a relatively simple recruitment process to deal with; you fill in a form, or email your CV and letter, and then you’re called for interview. But you might have to navigate tests, gamified selection ‘rounds’, assessment centres, and in my case finding your interviewer starts talking to you in German after you mentioned you were studying it at A-Level (thankfully 19 year old me was telling the truth and successfully landed the role).

If you get to the interview stage, well done. Depending on the competitiveness of the role, you can consider yourself to be in the top 5% of applicants, which should give you loads of confidence. Whatever comes next, your application has been a relative success, I want to you remember that.

So, let’s think about what you can control, and the art of the possible.

“If you get to the interview stage, well done. Depending on the competitiveness of the role, you can consider yourself to be in the top 5% of applicants.”

Your task is to do yourself justice in the interview, by portraying your true self, your skills, your achievements, and experiences in the best way you possibly can, which is not always easy.

As someone who’s interviewed hundreds of students and graduates for many different roles, there are a few key elements that I always look for, things that make a candidate stick in my mind (in a positive way). I’m looking for someone who can do the job well, but who also fits into the organisation’s ethos, and has something ‘extra’ to add to the team dynamic.

Whilst there’s no guarantee of success in any interview, here are five ways to ensure that you’re in the best position to succeed and portray the best version of yourself to employers.

One – Prepare yourself

Undertake your company research 

This can be done via Handshake, LinkedIn, or the organisation’s website. If the job advert offers an ‘informal discussion’ about the role, take it, but be prepared to ask sensible questions about the company and the role. Practice values matching; how do the values of the organisation match with your own? Will it make you proud to work there, and support the direction of growth that you’re looking for in your career?

In your company research, find out some killer stats about the organisation, the sector, and the external market within which they operate. If you aren’t directly asked a question about the context within which the company works, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to impress the interviewers by talking knowledgeably about the wider environment and circumstances affecting the company.

“As someone who’s interviewed hundreds of students and graduates for many different roles…I’m looking for someone who can do the job well, but who also fits into the organisation’s ethos, and has something ‘extra’ to add to the team dynamic.”

Fully understand the role

Read the job description and person specification fully. Check your understanding with trusted people around you so that there can be no misunderstandings, and if in doubt, contact the employer and ask for clarification.

Understand what’s likely to be assessed at interview. Not everything in the person specification will be ‘tested’ at interview. Traditionally your qualifications will have already been assessed at the application stage, so don’t expect to be quizzed on them. My tip would be to focus on the skills and experiences required, while demonstrating the personal attributes they’re asking for.

Two – Prepare yourself more

Once you’ve fully researched the role and the company, you need to start working on your answers.

Examples and possible responses

Consider answers for questions you could reliably predict. For example, if your company research uncovers an emphasis on teams, teamwork, team players, and talks about clients “as part of the team” along with a job description that cites similar, and an ‘essential’ related to teamwork in the person specification, then it’s very likely that this will come up at interview. You should think of at least two experience-based responses (commercially based if possible) in case one prepared response doesn’t exactly answer the question posed. Remember STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result/Response and tell the panel what you achieved and what you learned from that experience.

Understand arrangements for the day itself

Make sure you understand the travel plans, dress code, and timings (how long is the interview? If there’s an assessment, how long do you have?). Demonstrating that you’ve planned well and are able to deliver professionally can go a long way to impressing your interviewers and creating a great first impression. If you haven’t been told how long the interview is, or you’re unsure about the dress code etc., ask the employer! No one wants to recruit a person who doesn’t ask questions or check their information is correct.

“If your company research uncovers an emphasis on teams, teamwork, team players, and talks about clients “as part of the team” along with a job description cites similar, and an ‘essential’ related to teamwork in the person specification, then it’s very likely that this will come up at interview.”

Three – Practice

Practice your interview with your friends (and help them with theirs), and with trusted people whose opinions you value. You can also ask your tutor, or other academic if they can listen to your answers. While not everyone will be able to say if you’re doing well, it’ll help you get some of your technique together.

Video interview practice can be very helpful. Within My Career Zone Digital, Interview 360 enables you to create your own practice video interviews based on a number of sectors, or approaches (i.e., strengths based, hypothetical, motivational interview questions and more).

Crucially, if you upload your CV to I360 not only do you get an instant CV review, you also get an interview based on the content of your CV. Because I360 uses AI similar to the kind that employers use, you’ll get feedback that includes criteria such as body language and other non-verbal communication.

Mock interviews

At the Career Zone, we offer a great range of employer mock interviews throughout the year – this may be something you have to factor in, before you get invited to a formal job interview as part of your early career planning. There is genuinely nothing more valuable than getting feedback from an employer working within the sector that you’re interested in. Check Handshake for upcoming mock interview opportunities.

“Within My Career Zone Digital, Interview 360 enables you to create your own practice video interviews based on a number of sectors, or approaches.”

Four – Practice more

It’s time to refine your answers and practice the responses you’ve created to match the job description/person specification. Will these answers score points? Are they STAR? Are they too long/too short? You’ll likely have an hour or less for the whole interview, and the interviewer will typically ask at least ten questions, plus time at the beginning for welcome/instructions, and at the end of questions from you, and follow-up information including when you’re likely to hear if you’ve been successful.

Record yourself, score yourself, identify gaps where you can give more information.

My tip is to create cue-cards, but not write everything down to take into the interview – you need to be very well prepared but not over prepared to the extent where you can’t be yourself or deal with any curveballs professionally. This balance is key.

And finally prepare two to three good, insightful questions that you’d like to ask the organisation. This is another chance to demonstrate several things: Your motivation; the amount of research you’ve done; and your ability to fit into the team.

Five – Be confident, be yourself, smile 😊

So, you’ve researched, prepared and practiced (which is why we do these things again and again!). Following the first four steps above will enable you to be present, to concentrate on making connections and delivering your responses well. Remember, this is about doing yourself justice and showing the best of yourself.

Be genuine – don’t tell them you can speak German if you can’t. Let them see your personality. If it’s appropriate to mention hobbies or personal interests in responses, this can be powerful.

Whether you get this particular job or not, the end goal is to walk out of the interview room (or Zoom chat) with your head held high knowing you did the very best you could.

Now, go get ‘em!

WikiJob’s Guide to Psychometric Tests

WikiJob is a great resource we frequently signpost students and graduates to. In this guest post they break down their top tips for acing all kind of psychometric tests. 

Effective preparation is the key to putting in your best performance, as well as calming your nerves.

If you’re applying for a graduate scheme, work placement or internship, you’ll likely be asked to complete one or more psychometric test as part of the process – but don’t be daunted by this. It’s standard practice, and the right preparation will help you take it confidently in your stride.

What Are Psychometric Tests? 

Psychometric tests are a form of scientific assessment widely used in recruitment. They are designed to give employers an indication of how suitable you are for a role based on your cognitive abilities and/or personality traits. For undergraduate and graduate positions, they’re just one part of a wider hiring process, used alongside interviews and assessment centres. The type of tests you’ll be asked to complete will be dictated by the type of role you’re applying for, but most employers will use a combination of test types:

Aptitude Tests

These are a measure of your natural reasoning capabilities. They not only tell the employer if you have the required aptitude for the job but also give a good indication of how you’re likely to perform in the future. They require no pre-existing knowledge, but rather test you on a range of innate strengths, including:

  • Numerical reasoning – These determine your ability to work with data in a work-based context. You’ll be asked to interpret information presented in tables, charts and graphs.
  • Verbal reasoning – Here you’ll work with written information, applying critical analysis to identify assumptions and inferences, evaluate arguments, and draw evidence-based conclusions.
  • Logical reasoning – These are a measure of your problem-solving skills and generally involve working with shapes, patterns and sequences. They come in various forms including abstract, inductive and diagrammatic reasoning.
  • Spatial reasoning – Another test of your problem-solving ability, here you’ll need to mentally manipulate 2D and 3D objects.
  • Error checking – These test attention to detail by asking you to spot check information to highlight inaccuracies at speed.

Behavioural Tests

Employers use behavioural tests to determine how well your character suits both the role and the organisation and to evaluate how you’re likely to perform in various workplace situations.

The two most common types here are:

  • Personality tests – These usually take the form of a self-report questionnaire and are used to assess your behavioural styles and working preferences. For example, you may be asked to state where you sit on a scale between preferring to work under specific instruction or autonomously.
  • Situational judgement tests – Here you’ll work through various workplace scenarios, selecting what you deem as the most appropriate response.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for an Aptitude Test?

  • Find Out Who the Test Provider Is. There are a lot of aptitude test publishers out there – you may have heard of names like SHL, Talent Q and Kenexa – each with their own variation of style and format. Knowing who the test provider is will allow you to be specific with your preparation.
  • Familiarise Yourself with the Different Questions Types. Most aptitude tests are multiple-choice, but contain a range of question types. Here, questions may assess your language comprehension, critical thinking or understanding of word relationships. The more familiar you are with each question type (and what it’s asking of you) the quicker you’ll be able to respond. Try taking a verbal reasoning test as an example.

Build on Your Skills

  • Aptitude tests are a measure of natural ability, but that’s not to say you can’t improve on your skills.
  • Extend your vocabulary, read texts with a critical eye, brush up on basic arithmetic – you can even use brain training apps to strengthen your logical thinking. Just like physical exercise, this kind of effort will improve performance.

Take Practice Tests

  • You’ll find plenty of these online. Take them at regular intervals and be sure to monitor your scores. This will boost your confidence as you see your performance improve, and help identify any areas that need more work.
  • Don’t Neglect Your Weaknesses. Avoid the temptation to practice more of what you’re good at, even if it does make preparation more fun. You want to put in a good all-round performance, so make sure you give your weaknesses ample attention too.

Work Against the Clock

  • Aptitude tests are typically timed, with your final score a combination of accuracy and speed.
  • Rather than attempting to complete the assessment in full, the trick is to find your optimum pace. Taking practice tests in timed conditions will help you here.

Be at Your Best on Test Day

  • For full concentration, make sure you’re both mentally and physically prepared.
  • Get a good night’s sleep, eat well, and keep yourself hydrated.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for a Behavioural Test?

  • Behavioural tests differ from aptitude tests in that there are no right or wrong answers. What the employer is looking for is a true reflection of who you are.
  • You can of course prepare for these tests by looking at organisational values and analysing the person specification. However, honesty is the best approach.
  • Culture fit works both ways and if you try and cheat a behavioural test you may end up working in a role ill-suited to your character.
  • What’s more, your test results may prove inconsistent with how you perform in the rest of the selection process.
  • When taking either a personality or situational judgement test, don’t overthink things – respond instinctively. If the role on offer is indeed the right one for you, your honesty will pay off.


Psychometric tests give employers an objective way of assessing candidate suitability, and they allow you to prove your skills in action. In the graduate job market, there’s often little to differentiate between candidates – your test results are a chance to stand out from the crowd. Following the steps laid out here; effective preparation is the key to putting in your best performance, as well as calming your nerves.

If you’re looking for more help, our own ‘Help with Assessment Centres and Psychometric Testing’ pages are a great place to start. 

My Placement at Siemens Energy

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree. At Exeter, Humanities undergraduates can get work experience across a wide range of sectors as part of their degree on programmes such as ‘with Employment Experience’ or the ‘Humanities in the Workplace’ module. If you’re a Humanities student and want to find out more about work placements head to:

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree.

I chose to do a degree ‘with Employment Experience’ because I wanted to gain some real-life experience in the workplace to help me understand and get a feeling for what it’s like out in the world of business. I thought this experience would benefit me massively in helping understand what I’m interested and passionate about within a business setting going forward to help with my future career.

“I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful.”

The search for placements is a tricky one and I would suggest starting sooner rather than later as lots of different companies have different closing dates and there is a lot of competition. It’s also really important to read the information about the placement properly and ensure you fill out everything required to better your chances of getting to the next stage. I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful. With placement applications I found that practice helps, particularly with on-line tests, and I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.

“I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.”

My Placement year has been with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern. Despite my year being severely impacted by the Coronavirus I have gained good business experience, even if it was very different to what I was expecting when I first applied. I may not have experienced working in an office environment, but I have learnt a valuable skill in ‘working from home’ and being part of a ‘virtual office’.  My placement taught me the importance of networking within the workplace as well as the value of informal conversations and catch-ups which help maintain motivation and a healthy mindset. For me this took place in the form of weekly catch-ups with my fellow interns and also some informal team building sessions throughout the year. I also learnt a number of new business skills that I will take with me for my career including time management, project work, presentation skills and the use of different IT platforms.

“Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken… Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting.”

Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken. It’s given me the opportunity to go through rigorous job application processes and it will allow me to use the work experience I have gained to help with future job applications once I graduate. Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting, and this will help me tailor what modules I choose in my final year.

How to succeed at video interviews by Vantage Point

Vantage Point are a consultative business with a specific focus on Capital Markets. In this guest post they’ve told us what they’re looking for in a video interview from an employer’s perspective. 

An interview is not just about the interviewer getting to know you, but also about you getting to know the company and if it’s the right fit.

They’re also hosting two presentations with the University of Exeter on Thursday 25 June. Video Interview Skills Session from 2:00pm – 3:00pm, and a session on Vantage Point and the opportunities they have from 3:30pm – 4:15pm.

A digitally evolving world has led to traditional processes trying to keep up. More and more companies are incorporating video interviews as part of their recruitment process, and with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, video interviews are now becoming even more common place. This post will give you some useful information and tips on how to prepare for a successful video interview. First, let’s explore the two main types of video interviews employers use.

One-Way Video Interview

A one-way video interview requires a candidate to record and submit their answers to questions without an interviewer being present. Each one-way interview is different, and the employer will have the ability to edit the preferences of the interview, such as the ‘think time’, ‘record time’ and how many takes you can record before your answer is submitted. These interviews are usually a first stage in an employer’s interview process. Usually, you will be given around two minutes to read the question and think of your answer, and two to three minutes to record and submit your response. Some video interviews may also give you the option to re-record your answer. Make sure to read the instructions carefully as this will vary for each company.

Live Video Interview

A live video interview requires both the interviewer and interviewee to be present and are usually ran as a replacement to an in-person interview. In the current climate, live video interviews are a common second stage interview and are usually run through an online platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

It is important to treat both one-way and live video interviews the same as you would a face to face interview by dressing appropriately and professionally. Avoid having posters or photos up in the background, a plain wall is usually best to maintain a professional image. To avoid any unwanted interruptions, make sure to tell members of your household not to disturb you and close windows to reduce noise from outside. It may seem obvious, but these issues can have an impact on the success of your interview.


Research and preparation are key to ensuring a successful interview. Make sure to research the company you are interviewing for as much as possible by following the below steps;

  1. Read the company’s website in order to get a feel for the company culture and values
  2. Check if there is anything about the company in the news that could be relevant to the role you are applying for as well any industry trends (what are their competitors doing?)
  3. Research if there are any new innovations or technologies that the company is leading on that you find interesting and could mention or discuss in your interview
  4. Check out their LinkedIn and other social media pages further updates on the company

Doing in-depth research into a company will show your company that you are interested and enthusiastic about the role.

Strengths vs Competency Based Interview Questions

 There are two main types of interview questions that are currently used in graduate recruitment, competency based and strengths based. Competency based interview questions require a candidate to give specific examples of when they have demonstrated a specific competency, whereas strengths based interview questions assess how well you are likely to do a job.

Strengths based interview questions are used in order for employers to recruit graduates who they feel will enjoy and feel energised by the work they are doing, as well as to assess how you naturally respond to situations. These types of interview questions are designed for you to give a natural and authentic response. In order to prepare, think about what your natural strengths are and what you enjoy doing. As strengths based questions are designed to deliver more of a ‘quick fire’ interview, make sure to listen carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask the interview to repeat the question if needed. Here are some examples of strength based interview questions.

  1. What motivates you?
  2. What does a successful day look like to you?
  3. How do you ensure you are always learning?

Competency based interview questions are typically easier to prepare for. They require you to think of a specific example in which you have demonstrated a competency that the interviewer is looking for. Have a look on the job description to see what skills are required for the role, as the questions will usually correlate with these behaviours. Use the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) in order to answer these questions and give context to your examples. It is really important to explain what you did and what the result was. Here are some examples of competency-based interview questions.

  1. Can you tell me about a time you encountered a problem when working in a team, and how you went about solving this?
  2. Can you tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision?
  3. Can you tell me about a time where you showed leadership?

Remember, an interview is not just about the interviewer getting to know you, but also about you getting to know the company and if it is the right fit. Make sure to ask meaningful questions to find out as much as you can about the company.

Find more information about interviews and do your own practice video interviews


Shoot straight and hit the mark – assessment centre success

Our brand new edition of In the Zone, your essential careers magazine, launches today.



We’re taking Tokyo 2020 as our theme and looking at how to make your career journey a success. Hear from current students, recent graduates and the Careers team on everything from scoring a 10/10 at interviews, winning the postgraduate relay, standing out on the podium with LinkedIn, and sprinting across the finish line to land your dream graduate job.

Katie Bennett, BA Spanish and Management with UK Work Experience

In an extract from In the Zone, Katie Bennett, current BA Spanish and Management with UK Work Experience tells us how she hit the mark to succeed at a Deloitte assessment centre. 


Be prepared

The Career Zone were extremely helpful when applying for my industrial placement. I booked onto the Deloitte Autumn Careers Evening through My Career Zone, which was instrumental in inspiring me to apply to their scheme. I subsequently attended a talk about how to prepare for psychometric tests, explored an array of online practice tests, and borrowed numerical reasoning books to refresh my maths skills and explain how to answer typical psychometric questions. Using the Industry Reports on My Career Zone Digital gave me a better insight into the Consulting sector, and what key skills are required. I also sought advice from the Business School Career Zone team, and attended their Careers Café to refine my CV, and get some last-minute advice for my assessment centre.


Do your research

The ‘Assessment Centre Tool’ on My Career Zone Digital was helpful in giving me an insight into what format the assessment centre could take, as well as information on how to best-perform in a group exercise, e-tray exercise, and interview. I researched the placement role, the company, and the industry by reading the company website, as well as forums, blogs and news articles, and by listening to podcasts. Doing so gave me a good foundation of knowledge which I could draw upon during interview. I looked at practice interview questions online, and planned out possible answers and practised answering them out loud. I re-read my CV and thought about where I had developed or demonstrated particular skills, linking these to the espoused values of the company.


On the day

For the presentation, I drew on my academic knowledge and online research, using company reports and reputable websites to form the basis of my ideas. Practising your presentation to a trusted friend/family member is helpful for making sure you can articulate your ideas fluently and keep to the time limit. Like my friends, I was most nervous about the group exercise. A useful tip would be to speak up as early as possible – you don’t have to be the first one to speak, or take on the role of primary leader, but try to say something early on so that you can find your voice and not get lost amongst everyone else’s ideas. This also stops the experience from becoming too overwhelming and enables you to become a confident and active member of the group. Remember that nominating yourself to be the timekeeper, and bringing quiet members of the group into the conversation, or showing your agreement with your teammates’ ideas, are effective ways of showing leadership and teamwork.


What’s it really like?

The assessment centre is a chance for you to perform to the best of your ability. Everyone is in the same boat as you, and will be a lot more collaborative and friendly than some of the forums suggest! I would advise you to bring along snacks to give you that boost of energy you might need throughout the day! Thorough preparation is key to building your confidence, but you should also have confidence in your abilities and who you are – the company sees potential in you and wants to get to know you better, so have some self-belief and do the best you can.



I’m pleased to say that my hard work paid off and I was delighted to accept an offer from Deloitte for an industrial placement. I’m really glad that I put a lot of time and effort into my application and the assessment centre, and I’m excited to start my placement next year.


Insight Weeks Explained

My name is Maxine and I’m a 3rd year Business and Management student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. In April 2018 I participated in an insight week at KPMG on their ‘Women in Deal Advisory’ programme. This summer I completed a summer internship at KPMG in the same department and in 2020 I’ll be joining them as a graduate. 

Maxine Mukunga, BA Business and Management student, University of Exeter

What are insight weeks?

Insight weeks, also called spring weeks, are short internships offered to early year university students so that they can learn more about a company. They are intended to give students an ‘insight’ into what a company does and what career options they offer. Despite the name, they vary in length depending on the company, with some being a full week and some only a couple of days. Insight weeks are often used by companies as recruitment channels for future internships and placements.

What time of year should students apply for them?

Applications open from as early as August up to around January but the exact dates do vary from company to company. On many company websites, there will be the option to sign up to be notified by e-mail when their applications open. Application deadlines also vary, with some even closing early.

Some people I know who applied to many spring weeks found it useful to create a spreadsheet with the opening and closing dates for all of the companies they intended on applying to, and the stages they were at with each application.

Most insight weeks will be for first year students if they’re doing a three year course or second year students if they’re doing a four year course. Some companies will accept penultimate year students, so it’s still worth doing your research if you’re a second year student on a three year course, or a third year student on a four year course.

Where did you find out about your insight week?

I wasn’t aware of insight weeks until I attended an employer event on campus where they talked about the one they ran. After the event, I did a Google search of other companies that did them. Google directed me to websites like e4s which list opportunities from many different companies, and also official recruitment pages on company websites. I was mainly interested in consulting so I looked at consulting and professional services companies.

When I first started looking, I planned on applying to management/strategy consulting but as I had (surprisingly) enjoyed the accounting module I had done in my first term, I decided to also apply to the KPMG Women in Deal Advisory insight week as a wild card. I applied for 4 insight programmes but decided that KPMG was the one I wanted.

What was the application process like?

The first stage of the application was completing a form with information about myself, work experience and education. The next stage was completing a situational judgement test and a numerical reasoning test. In preparation for these tests, I practised with ones I found online and through My Career Zone. After that, I was asked to record myself answering set questions related to why I was interested in deal advisory, and why I was interested in KPMG.

The final stage of the process was an invitation to their London offices where I had to complete a case study exercise on one of their laptops in a room with the other candidates. The case study involved reading through a booklet of information with written sections, graphs and tables, and financial statements about a company. After given time to read the case study, I then had to answer questions and make recommendations for the company based on the information provided. Spellcheck and autocorrect was disabled on the laptops during the case study exercise. I tend to type quickly and hope that spell check corrects me, so not having that safety net did make me a bit nervous. So, if you type like me, I would recommend getting comfortable with typing without autocorrect and spellcheck in case you encounter something similar!

Was it paid?

I was paid for the duration of the internship which was great. Luckily I was able to stay with family members which meant my costs weren’t too high anyway, but lots of companies understand not everyone is that fortunate which is why many insight weeks are paid. If you find one that isn’t paid but the travel/living costs would be affordable, I would recommend doing it as the experience is worthwhile.

What did you do during the week? Who did you meet? 

During the week, we had presentations from various employees, from recent graduates to partners. They talked about their career paths and the projects they had worked on. Throughout the week, we were given group activities to do related to the roles available. One of them was working together to come up with a solution to a problem and then presenting our ideas to senior members of staff. We also got to shadow employees at various levels of the business.

The final day was an ‘assessment centre’ style session where – if successful – led to a summer internship offer. The first part of the assessment was a group exercise with several stages. The assessors swapped tables for each stage so we were judged by a different person at each stage. The second part of the assessment centre was an interview with a senior member of staff asking us more about our motivation for deal advisory, our career goals and also some competency questions. Having spent the week learning about the work employees did, the interview was much easier than others I’d had in the past as I had lots of information to draw on for my answers.

After the assessments, there was a networking drinks session with employees we had interacted with during the week and others. They were all happy to answer any questions we had and keen to find out more about us.

Was the insight week useful? 

I found the internship to be very useful. As it was an area of business I hadn’t had much exposure to, I learnt a lot from hearing the experiences of current employees, getting to ask them questions and shadowing them. Getting to see what they did day to day made me feel less nervous about going into work after graduating as the tasks were not as complicated as I had imagined them to be.

Has it influenced your career choice? 

The insight week led me to choose a completely new career path. I was set on going into management consulting before it but now I have accepted a graduate offer from KPMG in deal advisory. I am very glad I took a chance on something new and started thinking about my career early on.

Which professional services and consulting companies offer spring weeks in 2020?

 To find out if a company offers insight weeks, head to their careers website. Here is a brief list of some of the most popular insight weeks:






Your Guide to the Civil Service Fast Stream

Introduce yourself. 

Minh Tri Le, Exeter alumn and current Civil Service Fast Streamer

Hi there! My name is Minh, and I studied Sociology and Criminology at Exeter, graduating in 2016. I am currently in my second year on the Civil Service Fast Stream, currently working on EU Exit at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

If you were to describe life on the Civil Service Fast Stream in three words, what would they be?

Fun, diverse, gratifying

Tell us a bit about your background – what did you do before joining the Fast Stream?

After graduating from Exeter, I worked as an intern in the Department for Transport (DfT) in the summer of 2016. This was part of the Civil Service Fast Stream’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme, designed to get university students from a more diverse range of backgrounds interested in working for the Civil Service. My responsibilities included designing public consultation and developing legislation on the introduction of a mandatory requirement for quad bike users to wear helmets on public roads.

I was in DfT for 13 weeks before securing a full-time job at a global law firm. I was there for almost a year, before jumping ship to join the Civil Service Fast Stream. Before working in HMRC, I have been fortunate enough to work at the Department for International Trade on US-UK Intellectual Property Trade and Department for Work and Pensions on evaluating and developing public campaigns to improve awareness of pension schemes.

“I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach… In fact, Civil Servants are just ordinary people going about their daily lives.”

Why did you apply for the Fast Stream?

A sense of public duty has been instilled in me from a young age. I previously tried to join the military. Unfortunately, as a type 1 diabetic, I was unable to make the cut. An ideal alternative, for me, was to join the Civil Service, where I can design and deliver policies to ensure the Government serves the public more effectively.

Was there anything that surprised you about the Fast Stream, or working in the Civil Service?

I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach and you never knew what was going in the political machinery. In fact, Civil Servants are just like you and me; ordinary people going about their daily lives.

For the Fast Stream specifically, I thought being diabetic might limit my opportunities. Thankfully, the Fast Stream has ensured that I have never been restricted whilst accommodating my needs so I can take care of my health. You’ll have seen that I have worked in a wide range of departments and roles, all while being supported to stay close to my registered hospital, GP and pharmacy in London.

The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward. The late Jeremy Heywood – former Cabinet Secretary (i.e the head of the Civil Service) published a strategy which aims to make the Civil Service the most inclusive employer by 2020. The entire Civil Service is working to achieve this, alternative pathways into the Civil Service such the Fast Track Apprenticeships, Early and Summer Diversity Internships are being expanded and more senior leaders are volunteering to champion the interests of those from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward.”

Do you have any top tips for the Fast Stream application process?

I strongly encourage aspiring Civil Servants – not just Fast Streamers – to study the Civil Service Behaviours (follow this link for more info). These are the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance in a job, and not just the in the Civil Service. Think how you might have demonstrated these behaviours in previous experiences whether that be in your professional, personal or volunteering experiences. You’ll be surprised how many of the behaviours you have already demonstrated.

To finish up: tell us about your favourite moment or achievement on the Fast Stream so far.

My favourite moment – or perhaps my most surreal experience – was when I was working in DWP’s Workplace Pensions Campaigns Team making the “you work, your pension works” advertisements. I was working with the team to deliver the advertisements to be launched in April, the time when I was about to rotate to a different posting. After I had left, the advertisements popped up on television, radio, social media and on the JCDecaux billboards around the country. It was completely surreal to see my work over the last six months come into fruition in being broadcast across the UK!

If you think the Civil Service Fast Stream might be for you, visit to find out more and apply to join the next cohort of future Civil Service leaders in 2020.

Employer Presentation – An Introduction to the Civil Service Fast Stream

Starts: 9 Oct 2019 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

We need talented people to lead the future Civil Service. Whoever you are, whatever your background, the Fast Stream is the fastest route to real leadership. Come and hear more at our presentation and book here

Multiple Choice

James Bradbrook is Vacancy Co-ordinator for the Career Zone. 

You’ve fired off several applications, smashed the interviews and assessment centres and you’ve had a job offer from Umbrella Corporation. It’s not necessarily your first choice, but it’s not too bad and you haven’t heard back from that marketing job you were hoping to get with  Weyland-Yutani.

Having to choose between job offers is great. And confusing. And Stressful. But great.
Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

Umbrella are wanting to hear back from you, so you accept their job offer. After all, you think, you can always pull out if Weyland-Yutani come up trumps, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

What does the law say?

Contracts of employment are just that: contracts! Like all contracts, they signify all parties’ acceptance of mutual rights and obligations and there are penalties for failing to fulfil them.

When an employer makes you an offer, they can only then withdraw it under very particular circumstances. This is why most employers will only make conditional offers, for example, the offer being subject to references. This means that if one of your referees points out that you happen to have been fired from your last job for stealing, the company can withdraw their offer perfectly legally.

If an employer makes an offer and you accept but then the company withdraws it without good reason, you would be able to sue them for breach of contract.

The same applies the other way around. If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts. (It is important to note that accepting an offer verbally has the same legal force as an agreement in writing – the only difference is that the latter is easier to prove.)

“If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts.”

Assuming the company won their action against you, the gains would be minimal because the losses would be limited to the terms of the contract that were violated.

This wouldn’t mean that your losses would be minimal. The damages you’d have to pay for the actual breach of contract itself would be insignificant compared to the risk that you’d have to pay your own legal costs, plus the company’s legal costs as well. That could easily amount to many thousands of pounds, not to mention a large part of your life being swallowed up for months or even years of legal action.

That’s really not the best way to start your new career.

Would they really try to enforce the contract or sue me?

This is difficult to determine – much would depend on the specific circumstances. However, such actions are rare.

Firstly, in terms of forcing you to honour the contract, you’d only be obligated to work out whatever notice period is specified in the contract of employment. With most graduate schemes you’d have barely started the training before you could leave quite legally.

Secondly, it is rarely in an employer’s interest to have a disinterested, unengaged employee working for them.

Thirdly, they will probably believe someone who pulls out of a contract in this way is, at best, unreliable and possibly even dishonest. Most companies don’t want that sort of person working for them.

All-in-all, it’s probably not worth their time and investment to force you to take the job, when you’re going to up and leave in weeks or months.

As for legal action, the direct losses a company could recoup from you would probably be minimal – this would depend on notice periods, training costs, etc. or any other loss the company could demonstrate arose from your breach of contract. By far, the worst scenario for you would be covering their legal costs.

The employer would have to balance the effort in staff time required to pursue an action against the concrete return. They may also wish to avoid long-term damage to their reputation that might arise from pursuing such an action.

But … if the contract is short-term or a further delay in recruitment would harm the company’s business, they might be far more insistent that you honour your commitment. Things would also greatly depend at what point you pulled out – retracting an offer a couple of days after accepting is far less to trigger action than doing so the day before you’re going to start.

In conclusion, the risk of a legal action is probably small, depending on the circumstances. This doesn’t change the fact that a risk remains – you need to think very carefully about your situation before making such a serious decision and consider taking legal advice concerning your specific circumstances.

Other possible consequences

Recruitment costs companies a lot in terms of time and money. They take the process very seriously and don’t make offers to candidates lightly. They expect candidates to act professionally and with integrity. Make no mistake: they are going to be very, very unhappy.

“So what?” you might say.

True, you may not suffer any immediate problems if you decide to pull out. But, you could well burn your bridges with that organisation completely, scuppering any chance of working with them in the future. That might not be an immediate worry, but who knows where you’ll be in five- or ten-years’ time.

The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters, especially in occupations where honesty and integrity are vitally important, such as law and accountancy. No-one likes the players on reality TV and they don’t like them in professional life either.

“The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters.”

And, if you’re the sort of person that cares about other people, you might want to think about this. Employers might not be willing or able to take action against you, but they can (and do) complain to us! Take it from me, it’s very uncomfortable to have an employer phone up complaining about the poor conduct of a student.

Employers also take these sorts of things into account when they’re making commercial decisions about what universities they want to work with. If they have a poor experience with an Exeter student, they might well reconsider how much they want to work with us in the future, damaging opportunity for future students.

Last, but not least, there’s the matter of your personal integrity. If you value ethical conduct in the world, from other people and organisations, then you shouldn’t be too free with your own.

So, what’s the right thing to do?

If a company makes you an offer and you’re either not sure or waiting on another offer, tell them you need time to think. You don’t need to tell them exactly why.

Most companies don’t rush their recruitment decisions and they shouldn’t expect you to either. If you feel they’re trying to pressure you into a quick decision, then that tells you something about the culture of their firm and you may need to reconsider whether they’re right for you in the first place.

Only you can decide what sort of time frame is reasonable to you, although you can’t expect a company to hold an offer open indefinitely.

Need help making a decision?

Top Resources from My Career Zone Digital for Graduates

Marie Johns graduated in BA Philosophy and Sociology from Exeter in 2017. She’s currently the Survey Project Officer (GBP) here at the University. 

Marie Johns, Survey Project Officer (GBP) and Exeter alumn

During my final year at Exeter, I was pleased to discover that the Career Zone is available to graduates for three years after graduation. I’ve certainly been taking advantage ever since!

In particular, online resources from new platform My Career Zone Digital have been extremely useful in helping me to understand what I want from a job, make successful applications, and ultimately secure employment. Since starting my job, I have enjoyed browsing the resources available for graduates who have entered the workplace. Below, I have compiled a list of my favourite resources from My Career Zone Digital, for graduates at any stage of their career journey.

The Elevator Pitch Builder is a great tool to get you used to talking about yourself by teaching you how to create an effective professional summary. Not only does this help you to develop self-awareness of your strengths and ambitions, but it will help you to talk confidently about yourself in applications and interviews.

The Employer Advice section of My Career Zone Digital contains a number of useful videos covering a range of topics. I found the Job Hunting videos well worth watching. As a recent graduate, I was new to job-hunting and the world of full-time work. It was therefore interesting to hear experienced employers talk informally about which attributes they look for in a new employee and think about how I could demonstrate these to make a good impression.

I found the Interview Simulator to be a really useful tool for interview preparation as it includes many examples of questions you might be asked, grouped into categories. The fact that it allows you to record yourself giving answers enables self-evaluation and improvement and also helps you to build confidence in answering a variety of questions. I also like that there is a way of testing yourself and rehearsing a real interview by having a mock interview which you can either take without knowing the questions beforehand, or create yourself.

My Career Zone Digital

The IT Skills Courses are a great way to brush up on those Microsoft Office skills you haven’t used since GSCE! You can set the course to fit your preferred level of ability (beginner or intermediate) and you have the choice to either actively participate in the tutorials, or to simply watch videos of someone else performing the tasks. My current role involves a lot of work on Excel, which I’d not used extensively before, and I found this course was the ideal way to increase my confidence for the tasks required of me.

The Career Skills Section is great for those, like me, who are in work. There are lots of resources available under sub-headings such as Balancing Work and Life, Being More Productive and Improving Workplace Skills which I have often drawn upon to help me adjust to everyday workplace challenges. It is great to know that these resources are available to me as my career progresses over the next three years.

My Career Zone Digital is there to support you whatever you’re doing now or hope to be doing in the future. There is also a new weekly newsletter you can sign up to which means you can keep up-to-date with new content that’s added.

I fully recommend that you take advantage of these resources just as I have. Good luck!