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What you need to know about situation judgement tests

Situation judgment tests: what to expect and how to shine

Recruiters are increasingly using skill-based testing and psychometric assessments to narrow down the applicant pool and situational judgement tests (SJTs) are just one of the many tools employers use to find the best candidate.

If you're asked to sit one, Rob Williams, chartered occupational psychologist and independent psychometric test developer, reveals what to expect and how to shine.

What are SJTs?

A situational judgment test presents realistic scenarios similar to those that would be encountered when doing a particular job. By using real life scenarios, the idea is that employers will get a better understanding of how you might operate in the work place.

'Typically, candidates must identify the best and the worst course of action from four multiple-choice options. In other words, you must make two "judgments" about what to do and what not to do next in the "situation" presented,' explains Rob. 'An alternative SJT format asks the test-taker to rank multiple choice options in terms of effectiveness.'

Commonly featured as a graduate recruitment sift, along with numerical reasoning and verbal reasoning tests, the SJT has several advantages:

  • SJTs are a highly effective means of measuring an applicant's competency behaviours – i.e., the characteristics that determine how they behave in certain areas.
  • SJTs are a fair test of how the candidate would solve a job's daily challenges.
  • SJT questions can be designed around a specific role. Because SJTs are bespoke, candidates rate them highly as a valid application stage. In fact, there is a type of SJT called a realistic job preview which is used solely to give job applicants a realistic preview of a role.

What are employers actually looking for?

If you have a job description or a detailed job advert this will probably tell you some, or all, of the role's competency behaviours. These are the abilities and skills you need to demonstrate when completing the SJT.

Situational judgment tests typically measure problem solving skills, team working, leadership/managerial abilities and, if applicable, customer service skills. Employers are looking for someone who has the underlying characteristics and behaviours that will enable them to operate effectively in the given job role.

Example question

Rob gives an example: You have two very important deadlines to meet by the end of your working day. However it is becoming clear in your final two hours of working that you are in danger of missing both deadlines?

You are then asked to select your most preferred and least preferred responses:

(a) Work out what's left to do and then prioritise the critical tasks for the time remaining.

(b) Focus on still doing a quality job even if you must miss a deadline.

(c) Speed up your remaining tasks so that you will still be able to meet both deadlines.

(d) Aim to achieve one deadline and to renegotiate the delivery date for the other.

In this instance, the best response is (a) Work out what's left to do and then prioritise the critical tasks for the time remaining. The worst response is (b) Focus on still doing a quality job even if you must miss a deadline. The best outcome is to meet the deadline after making a considered judgement call. Missing the important deadline is the worst outcome.

How to pass an SJT sift stage

When it comes to sitting a test, Rob has this advice:

  • Each SJT scenario will measure one of these competencies based on both the best and worst answers, so focus on getting both correct. You won't need to get every question right, however scoring low on any given competency will detract from your overall SJT score.
  • Each SJT scenario requires you to make an effective judgment. This will involve prioritising which aspects of the scenario are most important to fix first. Identifying and addressing this vital element of each scenario is the key to passing a situational judgment test. Any answer option that does not move the scenario situation forward will not be the correct "Best" action to take. The "Worst" answer option will be one that makes the situation even worse.
  • While several answer options may seem like a sufficient solution in the short-term, you shouldn't be looking for a quick and easy stop-gap solution. The "Best" solution will always be the one that actually solves the problem. You need to identify a medium- to long-term solution that has lasting benefits.

  • Be your most ethical self when taking an SJT. Any answer option that is slightly unethical or dishonest to anyone involved will not be the correct answer. Look for the most virtuous answer if there is one – demonstrating respect for others, integrity and conscientiousness.
  • Logically, the "Best" and "Worst" answers need to be distinct from the other answer options. Hence if two answer options seem very similar to you, it's likely these are the "distractor" answer options and neither the best - or the worst - answer.

Rob Williams Assessment Ltd are experts in situational judgment design, realistic job previews and numerical/verbal reasoning tests. Free practice SJTs are available at www.robwilliamsassessment.co.uk/my-strengths-tests.

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