Logic puzzles, behavioural tests: Applying for internships gets more complex amid competition

18 Jun 2024

The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2024, Logic puzzles, behavioural tests: Applying for internships gets more complex amid competition
When 24-year-old Ms Tan applied for a marketing internship with a multinational corporation (MNC) here in May, she had to complete mathematics and logical reasoning puzzles, in addition to a remotely recorded interview, before she could proceed with a face-to-face interview.
Known as a psychometric test, the puzzles assess an applicant’s skills and cognitive abilities.
However, the Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduate, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, could not complete the task and failed the test.
“During an interview with another MNC, they asked me what my horoscope and zodiac sign was, which took me by surprise,” said Ms Tan, who is pursuing a double major in marketing and digital business.
She took another three months to secure an internship with a different company.
Ms Tan is among some undergraduates here who are finding the search for an internship more challenging than expected as the application process for such positions becomes increasingly complex, say experts.
Typically, it takes about six months to secure an internship, according to students and experts interviewed by The Straits Times.
Ms Betul Genc, senior vice-president and head of Asean at workforce solutions company Adecco, said: “Many companies, particularly MNCs, are implementing a rigorous selection process for internships, typically consisting of two to five interview rounds.”
At HSBC, for example, “interns would need to undertake a series of tests and interviews, which are focused on values alignment, and then go through further cognitive, behavioural and technical assessments”, said Ms Amie Wiseman, the bank’s regional head of emerging talent acquisition for the Asia-Pacific.
These tests aim to assess the communication, curiosity, teamwork, drive and problem-solving abilities of the candidate, she added.
The company allows candidates to practise for every stage of the application process on its website, regardless of their application status, to prepare for their eventual assessment.
Ms Wiseman noted that HSBC’s summer internship programme in Singapore for penultimate-year students has seen an 18 per cent increase in applications over the last year.
Completing an internship is part of the graduation requirements for undergraduates at SMU and the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Nanyang Technological University also made internships compulsory for all new students enrolling from August 2021.
The competition to chalk up work experience also means that undergraduates may try to complete multiple internships during their time in university.
SMU students, for instance, complete between two and six internships during their university years, said Ms Prasanthi Guda, senior deputy director of the university’s Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre.
Ms Guda added that complaints from students in search of internships include “indefinite waiting for outcomes as not all firms promptly respond to applications received or inform the applicants about the outcomes due to, perhaps, the high volumes of applications they receive”.
She said: “Companies are more vigilant and have incorporated longer and possibly more complex recruitment protocols to ensure they select their talent carefully.”
Adecco’s Ms Genc said there has been an increase in the use of psychometric and personality assessments to identify the most suitable candidates. This is due to the greater emphasis on soft skills, beyond technical proficiency, she added.
Some undergraduates say they have encountered a few head-scratching interview questions as a result. One of them is 22-year-old Ms Goh from the Singapore Institute of Management. During an internship interview in early 2024 with a beauty company, she was asked what her “spirit animal” was.
Caught off guard, she replied, “a hamster”. She was then asked to explain her reply. But she struggled to respond and eventually failed to get the job.
“From that interview on, I knew I had to prepare for questions that are more personality-based,” said Ms Goh, who declined to reveal her full name.
Ms Genc noted that some companies believe that zodiac or horoscope signs are reflective of the personality traits and cultural fit of the candidate. However, these lack scientific validation and may not directly correlate with the job scope or the candidate’s capabilities.
“Based on our experience, this does not influence the decision-making process for hiring of talent,” added Ms Genc.
Another common obstacle is that some employers favour applicants with prior experience.
Ms Tan, who took between three and five months to land each of her four internships, said: “This was quite frustrating because I want to take up internships to gain experience in the field, but needing experience just to get an internship was challenging.”
Ms Genc said that “an increasing number of companies now prioritise candidates with prior internship experience”. This is due to the industry insights these candidates have and their honed technical and soft skills, she added.
Agreeing, Ms Guda said: “Graduate employment outcomes over the past few years show that students with strong internship experience and demonstrated learning outcomes tend to secure jobs faster.”
In general, students in degree programmes that do not restrict graduates to specific jobs or industries or equip them with a clear set of defined skills may find it harder to acquire internships, added Ms Guda. “They must be given more opportunities for demonstrating their calibre during the recruitment process, which may not always be possible practically.”
On the other hand, aspiring interns in certain sectors, such as accounting, technology or law, have a clear set of skills that are easy to test, and therefore may have an easier time getting internship stints, she added.