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Mastering the MI5 Assessment: Essential Tips for Success

Do you see yourself in dark glasses, wearing a trench coat and trilby? Possibly not. However, that is the picture Hollywood has given us of a secret service agent.

Today’s secret service world is a little different to that, as you will find when applying to work at MI5.

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And one of the major differences is that you will have to prepare yourself for is the rigorous pre-employment testing you will have to undergo.

School-leavers, experienced hires, and applicants for internships and graduate programmes all have to go through a vetting process. They face assessments and interviews before being admitted into Military Intelligence 5.

Read on for more information on joining MI5 and the resources that will help you get a job in the Secret Service.

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Are the MI5 assessments hard?

mi5 security service

MI5 uses Cubik’s assessments, and yes, they are challenging. Given MI5’s status on the world stage, that is not surprising.

Like all global organisations, they are committed to getting the best people to work for them and putting applicants through a rigorous testing process is one of their ways of doing that.

How can I prepare for the MI5 assessments?

When preparing for the assessments, you, first of all, need to find out the format of the exams and then get sample papers to practise on.

This means using the services of a job test preparation company. For this, we recommend using Job Test Prep, a company with vast experience in preparing applicants for the pre-employment process.

Using Job Test Prep, you will get accurate information on the recruitment process as well as preparation materials for the assessments.

They will supply you with a test prep pack containing sample papers modelled on the real tests, comprehensive explanations of questions and answers, as well as assessment centre and interview preparation guides.

Using the sample papers in every preparation session you do, ensures:

  • You become familiar with the style of questioning
  • You learn to work within the time allowed for each exam
  • You can check your scores on tests and monitor your progress
  • You avoid getting any unpleasant surprises in the real tests
  • You identify difficult areas and can work on rectifying them

To get an idea of the type of tests that Job Test Prep provide, try your hand at this free sample personality test.

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The MI5 recruitment process

As you can imagine applying for a job at MI5 is a little different from applying for other jobs. Expect pre-employment vetting and screening before you embark on the recruitment process.

When you begin the recruitment process, you can expect to encounter differences as well. You are, after all, applying to work at one of the world’s best known secret services.

Pre-screening Process

Your initial application to MI5 is a submission of your name and contact details. On receipt of this, MI5 will ask you to answer some pre-screening questions. If your answers show your eligibility for a role at MI5, you will be sent an application form.

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Online Tests

However, you can’t fill out the application form immediately because your testing begins before you submit it. This factor means you need to get started on your preparation before filling in the form. You will be asked to complete two online tests:

  • A Competency Questionnaire
  • A Verbal Reasoning Test

Competency Questionnaire

The competency questionnaire is a Situational Judgement Test (SJT) which assesses how you would respond to certain work-related scenarios. Your answers in the SJT will let MI5 know if you have the personal skills required to work with them.

Before attempting this assessment, it is important to get an idea of the personal qualities required for a job in the Secret Service. On their website, MI5 lists the following competencies as essential for working with them. You must be capable of:

  • Working with others
  • Planning and delivery
  • Communicating and influencing
  • Problem-solving and judgement
  • Learning

Throughout the recruitment process, you need to keep those competencies at the forefront of your mind. The assessments and interviews will be looking for those critical skills.

The competency test is one such attempt to discover if you have the required skillset. Practising on SJTs before doing the test will help you maximise your chances.

To get a head start on your preparation, try a free sample situational judgement test.

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning test is as much a test of your time-management skills as of your verbal abilities. You will have 25 minutes to answer 36 questions.

You will be given a piece to read and questions to answer on it. The purpose of the test is to assess your ability to absorb and analyse written information.

Practising on similar-style tests will hone your skills in extracting relevant information from the piece. More importantly, it will test doing that within a very tight time frame.

Practice question:

To get started on your preparation, try the following sample question.

Cubiks Tests Sample Question #3

Dada was an artistic and literary movement that originated in neutral Zurich, Switzerland in 1916 as a reaction to World War I and the ubiquitous nationalism that accompanied it, consisting of artists who rejected the logic, reason and aestheticism of modern Western society and traditional art by expressing nonsense, irrationality and anti-bourgeois protest in their work. The movement organised public gatherings and demonstrations and published art and literary journals to spread their anti-war, anti-art message. Dada was practised as the antithesis to traditional art—the focus on meticulously planned works of art shifted into incorporating chance into them, challenging artistic norms and questioning the role of the artist. The art techniques the movement used include collages, photomontages and cut-up techniques. Dada artists utilised readymade objects in their work, buying and presenting everyday items as art with only little manipulation. Using prefabricated objects encouraged the discourse of artistic creativity and the purpose of art in society. The Dada movement dissipated with the establishment of Surrealism, a movement that aspired to liberate thought, language, as well as human experience from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism and was influenced by the Freudian theories of the subconscious.

Which one of the following assumptions is definitely made in the passage?

A) Dada is known for its premeditated works of art.
B) Collages are considered a traditional method of art.
C) Surrealism is a more prominent movement compared to Dada.
D) Not all countries in Europe participated in World War I.

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Application Form

When you have completed the online tests, you will be sent an application form to fill in and submit. If the recruiters are happy with your application and online tests, you will be invited to a centre to do a written exercise.

Written Exercise

The written exercise is done at an assessment centre and is MI5’s way of assessing how capable you are of dealing with vast quantities of information.

You will be given a brief containing a large amount of information. Your task will be to read and analyse the information and then select the relevant information to do the written exercise.

For the written exercise, you may be asked to write a letter or report related to the information you have read.

Your ability to make balanced decisions is assessed by the pieces of information you decide to include in the written exercise.

The written exercise is also a test of your ability to prioritise and select the most important points from vast amounts of information and gives the assessor a picture of your analytical and problem-solving skills.

The test is subject to a time limit, meaning you will have to use your analytical skills while working against the clock.

Practising written exercises is your key to doing well here.

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Telephone Interview

You can expect a telephone interview if MI5 is happy with your performance on the written exercise.

This is a wide-ranging interview focusing on your past work experiences, your reasons for wanting to work for MI5 and competency-based questions.

Your competencies are judged from your past work experience. You can expect the interviewer to ask, for example, if you have experience of working with others or if you have ever successfully solved a problem. From this, the interviewer will be able to judge if you have the personal attributes necessary for a job in the Secret Service,

Double-check the skills mentioned on the job advert as different skills are needed for different roles. Also, cast your eye once again over the competencies listed above. If you do not as yet have work experience, they will accept examples from college or personal life experiences.

MI5 places as much emphasis on the telephone interview as they do on face-to-face interviews so prepare as thoroughly for this one as you will for the face to face interview that comes later.

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Assessment Centre

Consider getting to the assessment centre as an achievement in itself. You and the other applicants you will meet at the centre have satisfied MI5 to this point. But there is still a way to go.

Make sure you continue with your practice before the day itself, revisit your past work experiences and bear those competencies in mind. Assessors at the centre will be keeping an eye on you throughout the day’s exercises and measuring you against what the ideal MI5 employee should be.

You can expect to do a range of tests and exercises at the assessment centre, all focusing on the role you have applied for.

Role Play Exercise

Many applicants find doing roleplays challenging. However, for the employer, they are one of the many ways a future employee’s behaviour in the workplace can be measured.

For your roleplay exercise, you will be given a brief about a situation you might encounter while working with MI5 and told about the part you have to play in the scenario.

While you are carrying out the role play, assessors are watching how you behave and deciding if you are a good fit for the Secret Service. They are also checking if you display the competencies outlined above.

To carry out an impressive roleplay, ensure you practise with the roleplay exercises from your test prep pack.

Written Exercise

Applicants for roles other than graduate-level jobs will be asked to complete a written exercise.

As with the earlier written exercise, assessors will be looking at your analytical skills and your ability to make balanced judgements.

Before the assessment centre, you will need to do some practice on the written exercises that deal with information. A few sessions working on your sample papers will hone your skills in this area.

Group Exercise

For many applicants, the group exercise is challenging and repays thorough preparation.

Working with a small group of fellow applicants, you will be dealing with a topic relevant to the role you have applied for. As a group, you may have to choose, for example, a course of action in a particular situation that could occur while working at MI5.

While you are working with other applicants, assessors are checking that you are making valuable contributions to the group discussion. You, on the other hand, need to be conscious of the emphasis MI5 places on teamwork. You do not want to come across as someone who would not listen to colleagues.

Essentially in this exercise, you have to strike a balance between being too dominant or passive. You will also need to show you have the key competencies required to work at M15.

Before doing the exercise, remind yourself again that your teamwork, social, and communication skills will all come under scrutiny during the group discussion. And remember that listening is part of your communication skills.

Practising group exercises in your test prep pack is a good way to prepare for this stage at the assessment centre.

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Applicants can expect another interview after the assessments. For prospective intelligence officers, for example, the interview takes place at the end of the assessment day when they are interviewed by a selection board.

Again, in this interview, you can expect to be questioned on your reasons for applying to MI5 and your vision of what working at the Secret Service is like.

However, you can expect competency-based questions also as the organisation determine if you have got what it takes to work for them. Ensure you are as familiar as you can be with the work they do and the values they operate by before attending the interview.

MI5 cannot tell you the key competencies they will be asking about at the interview, but they do advise you to list 2 or 3 phrases for each of the competencies listed and think of situations where you may have used that skill.

Five or ten minutes are devoted to each interview question. An initial question on an area is followed by shorter questions probing further for information about your experiences and your suitability for the role you have applied for.

Expect questions examining the relevance of your past experiences to the role you are interviewing for. Ensure you have done the groundwork by having examples from previous experiences ready to fall back on.

They may, for example, ask where you used a particular skill to achieve a positive result and what you learned from the experience. Or you could be asked about a situation where working as part of a team played an important role in achieving a goal.

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How is the interview scored?

MI5 advises using the STAR method when answering interview questions.

This stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Explain the Situation, what your aims were i.e. the Task, the Action that you did, the Result, did you achieve what you set out to do.

They also stress that they want to hear about you, the candidate, so using I is preferable to we.

You will find more helpful tips for your interview in your test prep pack.

Preparing for the recruitment process

The MI5 recruitment process is challenging, but with the correct preparation, you can approach it:

  • Confident you have done the work
  • Knowing you have worked on similar tests already
  • Knowing that you deserve this

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Arrive at assessments and interviews well-rested and clear-headed, prepared to go in there and give it your all!

If working for MI5 is your dream job, you will find all the resources you need to ace the assessments and interviews here.