This MI5 assessment centre guide covers the entire MI5 recruitment process from beginning to end. You’ll find practice tests, coaching videos and dozens of top tips, tricks and insider secrets for MI5 assessment centre success. Let’s get started.
Useful starting-point resources
- You can practice the MI5 online tests & assessment centre exercises here.
- You can download my Ultimate Interview & Assessment Day Guide here.
What will I learn in this guide?
This guide will walk you through the entire MI5 application process and cover the MI5 assessment centre in detail. You’ll learn what to expect and how to succeed.
Let’s start by covering a few basics.
What is MI5?
MI5 is the British intelligence agency, sometimes known as ‘the secret service’.
The ‘mysterious’ allure of MI5 (propagated by spy movies like James Bond) has undoubtedly enhanced the global status of MI5; it’s one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.
Of course, this means that competition for roles at MI5 is fierce and there is a robust application process that successful candidates must negotiate.
What does MI5 actually do?
This video from MI5 will give you a great flavour of what the organisation does, day to day:
The ‘real-world’ MI5
Firstly, let’s forget Hollywood. The real-world MI5 is much less glamorous and it’s important that you have a realistic idea of the day-to-day work that’s carried out at MI5.
Yes, the organisation has a vital role to play in national security, but the vast majority of work at MI5 is similar to that at any other large employer: routine, detailed, administrative and managerial.
So with that big caveat in mind (and the shocking news that you will not get a license to kill), let’s look at how you can forge a path all the way to the MI5 assessment centre.
The MI5 Recruitment Process
The recruitment process at MI5 varies depending on the position you apply for but the assessment steps remain the same:
- A written application
- A security questionnaire
- Online psychometric testing
- The Qualifying Test
- A telephone interview
- A day at the MI5 assessment centre
- An interview
It looks daunting, but don’t worry, we’ll go through each step of the process. (For more info visit the MI5 careers site.)
The Written Application
Initially this looks like a standard letter of application, you will be asked to cover all your personal details, your qualifications and work experience etc. So far so good. Here’s the twist.
You can only inform your partner or an immediate family member of your application. If there’s one attribute that MI5 value more than most other large organisations it’s discretion.
The sensitivity of the work at MI5 means you will be required to keep your duties, achievements, successes (and failures) entirely to yourself. You will never be publicly recognised for your hard work.
Think long and hard about this before committing any further. Are you comfortable with this?
The Security Questionnaire
Apple are a technology company. McDonalds’ business is food. MI5’s business is security. This means they need employees they can trust. For this reason, you will be security vetted as part of your application.
You will be asked to provide any information in regards to drink and drug use, criminal convictions and your time spent in other countries.
Be honest throughout your application and don’t miss anything out, even if you think it may damage your chances of success. If MI5 discover that you lied in your application your position will be immediately terminated.
(Before you decide to ‘leave out the truth’ in any of these areas, remember that MI5 have unparalleled access to personal data.)
The Online Psychometric Test
There’s an entire section of this site dedicated to psychometric tests and aptitude tests. It’ll be a treasure trove for you in preparing for the MI5 online tests.
The best way to boost your chances of success in these tests is simply lots and lots of practice. Practice is transformative for your chances of success as it improves your competence AND your confidence.
IMPORTANT POINT: Aptitude tests are not all the same. You need to identify the test supplier and only practice tests made by that supplier.
- The secret to success in online psychometric tests is to practice tests made by the test supplier that your employer uses.
- MI5 use Cubiks as their test supplier. This means you should practice Cubiks tests, to ensure the practice test structure is the same as the real ones you’ll face.
You can practice the Cubiks MI5 online tests & assessment centre tests here.
Let’s look at the tests in more detail. There will be two psychometric tests:
- The Situational Judgement Test.
- The Cubiks Verbal Test.
The Situational Judgement Test
This test will analyse your problem-solving skills, organisational abilities and powers of communication. It will also look at your approach to teamwork. There will be no time restrictions but you will need to complete every question.
You will be presented with a variety of imaginary situations that could occur in your chosen role. You will have to decide which of the solutions or outcomes is best.
This test is measuring you against the competencies required to carry out the role, so it’s vital that you practise with this in mind.
Request a copy of the ‘full job description’ for your role from HR at MI5. This will contain a table with the core competencies of your role. This is a checklist of what MI5 are looking for. It’s gold-dust.
This list of competencies should be your bible throughout your preparation. It should guide and inform all your decisions. Take the time to internalise all of the competencies and –this is important- think of examples in your past experience when you have demonstrated these competencies. (This will be your secret weapon during your MI5 assessment centre and final interview.)
The MI5 Verbal Reasoning Test
This is a standard verbal reasoning test. (You can read my verbal reasoning success guide here.)
You will be presented with a passage of writing and then have to answer questions based upon it. The test is timed and you will be measured against the other candidates so literally every second counts. Both accuracy and speed are the criteria here.
The secret to passing verbal reasoning tests is lots of practice with your relevant test supplier.
For many candidates this is the end of the line (the online tests are brutally effective at sorting the wheat from the chaff), but successful candidates will be invited to an MI5 assessment centre to sit the Qualifying Test.
The Qualifying Test
The MI5 assessment centre for the Qualifying Test is held in London so be prepared to travel if you live elsewhere.
The test will assess your comprehension and decision-making skills. Your paper will be assessed based on your ability to extract key details from large amounts of information; quality and speed are both important at this first MI5 assessment centre.
The Telephone Interview
If you pass the qualifying test your next hurdle will be the telephone interview.
All interviews conducted by MI5 are competency-based. Competencies are the individual traits that are deemed essential for the role that you have applied for.
Again, get in touch with your HR or personnel contact and request a copy of the ‘full job description’. This will have the competencies spelled out very clearly and should be the chief working document that will guide you through the rest of the recruitment process.
Here’s a vital part of any competency-based interview:
- The candidate should be able to highlight past experiences that demonstrate the competencies required.
When delivering your examples (in this stage and also at the MI5 assessment centre) a fabulous framework to use is the STAR method:
STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
- Situation – Paint a background picture of the challenge/problem. (EG, “Our department’s sales figures were down 5% year on year”.)
- Task – Describe why it was a big problem. (EG, “We were in danger of missing our annual target.”)
- Action – The Great Thing you did. (EG, “I won two new clients and boosted my team’s sales by 8%”.)
- Result – The impact of your Great Thing. (EG, “We finished the year 2% ahead of our sales target.”)
This is a brilliant way of framing your answers for maximum impact. It takes practice though, so run through your example answers again and again. Say them aloud. (Sub-vocalising them in your head doesn’t work as well, trust me!)
Let’s look at an example…
You could be asked to give an example of when you had to make a hard decision. You will not be asked if you can make a hard decision. (Everyone would simply say, ‘yes’. You must give a specific example of the hard decision you made and why –overall- you made the right call.)
With this fresh in your mind, take the time to think back on your experiences and evaluate them in terms of the core competencies of your specific role.
Don’t skip this step! This is genuinely vital.
If you’re serious about getting the role you want, you must take the time to prepare these examples. (Don’t settle for any example, make each one very strong: There was this big problem; this is what I did; this was the outcome.)
Ok, next up we’re heading to the MI5 assessment centre.
The MI5 Assessment Centre
If you’re successful in the telephone interview you will be heading back to London, for a full day at the MI5 assessment centre.
Unfortunately, reliable and up-to-date information about the MI5 assessment centre is extremely hard to find. The MI5 candidates clearly understand the need for discretion and are doing a great job of keeping the MI5 assessment centre details secret!
Here’s what we do know about the MI5 assessment centre:
- You will be assessed on your communication skills, decision making and ability to analyse complex data and make sound judgments.
- There will be some form of team work exercise at the MI5 assessment centre. (Check out my group exercise success guide, for more help.)
- You will need to know what is important to this genuinely unique organisation. Do your homework here.
- Being in good health and having a good level of fitness will help you.
- Revisit the key skills in the job description, seize every chance to demonstrate the core competencies of your role at the MI5 assessment centre. They will figure largely in the hiring decision.
- Lastly, be aware that you will undergo a thorough vetting process during the MI5 assessment centre. (You will be interviewed and expected to provide personal information in regards to your health, lifestyle and background. There will also be questions about your financial status and history.)
The Final Interview
So you have made it over all hurdles, aced the MI5 assessment centre and now are ready for your final test. Congratulations on making it this far!
This will be a panel interview, carried out by a selection board. A panel interview can be a very daunting prospect. Try not to think of it as more people
Try not to think of it as more people judging you. The best way to visualise a panel interview is to imagine this is group of people who all want to like you. They want you to succeed, they‘re looking for people they’ll enjoy working with. No-one is there to shoot you down.
Also, bear this fact in mind: A panel interview is a much fairer hiring process. If there’s only one recruiter and they don’t take a liking to you, you’re snookered. There is much less chance of this happening with a whole group of recruiters.
As with any interview, there are the common areas of etiquette that you need to know. You should spend some time reading the interview section of this site and definitely read my free guide “how to prepare for an interview”.
This interview will be competency based, just like the previous telephone interview. Use the same guidance and follow the STAR method.
The importance of (really) being yourself
Be yourself. Don’t put forward a false position, that won’t help you in the long-term.
An interview is a two-way conversation, if you won’t be a good fit for MI5 it’s better for you to find that out now. Be yourself. Get the job on your own merits and genuine personality or find out that you’re not a good fit (and wouldn’t enjoy working for MI5). Either way in this scenario, you win. Be yourself.
Get the job on your own merits and genuine personality or find out that you’re not a good fit (and wouldn’t enjoy working for MI5). Either way in this scenario, you win. Be yourself.
Important! Update your CV before your interview
Lots of candidates make the mistake of thinking they don't need to improve their CV once they've been invited to interview.
Big mistake. Here's why:
1) You should update your CV before the interview event and take a fresh, new-and-improved version with you. (Ideally one that is TAILORED to the role you want.)
2) At interviews and assessment days, your CV will form the basis of your interview. (Whether the interview is competency-based or not.) You'll be expected to answer questions on your CV and usually to walk your interviewer through it.
3) This is the big one: After you've left your interview or assessment day, your CV will be held in the hands of the people who are making the hiring decision. They will literally be looking at your CV while making the hiring decision.
(I've been in this position many times. After spending an entire day meeting and interviewing lots of people, the candidates' CVs are the documents you use to remind yourself which candidate was which and also to revisit the candidates' skills and experience.)
Your CV summarizes the 'professional benefits' of you and is what leaves the last impression. So one last time: Your CV makes your first and last impression; it's a crucial document. Make is as strong as it can be.
Two final resources
Nothing will boost your chances of success in the MI5 testing elements than repeated practice.
- You can practice the MI5 online tests and MI5 assessment centre exercises here.
- You can buy my Ultimate Interview & Assessment Day Guide here.
Thanks and good luck
I hope you enjoyed this free guide and found it useful? Good luck for the future and in your MI5 assessment centre.