How to answer BAE Systems' graduate interview questions

As part of BAE Systems’ recruitment process you might face a video interview, especially if you’re applying to its Sigma leadership programme. You’ll then also be invited to attend an assessment centre. This includes a face-to-face interview comprised of competency-based, motivational and technical questions.

Here are our tips for tackling BAE Systems’ interviews, including example questions and how to answer them.

BAE Systems’ video interview

BAE is very tight-lipped on its website about what the video interview involves. Don’t take this as a free pass to do no preparation though! The interview will focus on your past experiences and your ability to meet the role requirements.

The first part of your preparation will be figuring out what the role requirements are. Read the programme description (pay particular attention to the ‘what you’ll need’ section) and think about what skills and qualities you’ll need to do the job well. So, for example, the Sigma leadership programme description says you’ll need to be able to build strong relationships with people quickly.

This doesn’t mean you should tell your interviewer ‘I can build strong relationships quickly’. The second part of your preparation will be brainstorming your past experiences and thinking about how you can use them to explain how you fit the bill. So, for example, can you think of a time in the past when you’ve developed a good relationship with somebody, whether that’s a colleague or customer at work, your fellow society committee members or the old people at the care home you volunteer at?

Preparing for BAE’s assessment centre

Again, BAE Systems doesn’t reveal much about its assessment centre but previous candidates have faced group exercises, a presentation, a written exercise and an interview. To prepare, re-read the job description to refresh your memory on what skills the role requires and see the BAE Systems advertisement in The Guardian UK 300 for a list of the core skills the company requires, such as problem solving abilities and initiative.

If you feel unsure about any of these competencies, or how to show that you possess them, look at our skills and competencies articles. We break down some of the most common competencies that employers look for, such as creativity and teamwork, and give examples of how to show recruiters that you have the skill.

However, don’t obsess over second guessing what the recruiters want to see or hear at the assessment centre. It’s a much better idea to be yourself and let your skills, personality and values shine through.

BAE Systems’ competency interview

BAE’s face-to-face interviews typically involve competency-based questions. Previous candidates have been asked the following questions, but bear in mind that questions can change from year to year:

Top tip: it’s clear from the examples below that a number of questions in the past have been based around resilience and responding to tricky situations. Make sure you prepare several examples of times when you’ve overcome the odds, such as failing your first-year mock exams, or shown commitment, such as training for a marathon.

Name a time when you overcame a problem as part of a team

This is a fairly straightforward competency question. Use the STAR (situation, task, action and result) technique to structure your answer. (Read our article on competence-based interviews and the STAR technique if you're not familiar with this structure).

Here is an example to help you get started:

  • Situation – our student society wasn’t attracting enough new members.
  • Task – we needed to find a way to approach potential new members and persuade them to join.
  • Action – as a team, we met up and discussed ideas on how to appeal to new students. We decided to target specific departments and came up with a few things we could do, such as asking permission to speak to students at the start of a few lectures, having a stand in the department building for an afternoon and putting up posters. We were then assigned a department each to put this into action.
  • Result – we managed to gain 20 new society members in total.

This is quite a specific scenario so if you haven’t got an obvious example you could draw on, don’t make something up. Be honest and say ‘I can’t think of an example of when I’ve solved a problem in a team but I can give you an example of when a team I was part of achieved our goal’ or ‘Here is a scenario where I solved a problem’. A slightly different example will still show the recruiters that you have the fundamental skills they’re testing for, such as working well with others and achieving results.

Name a time when you’ve faced a difficult situation

Again, use the STAR technique to guide you here. Don’t dwell too much on the situation though; a strong answer will focus on the action and results. Outline the steps you took to overcome the situation and what outcome you managed to achieve. A key skill BAE Systems looks for in its recruits is resilience so they want to see that you can pick yourself up and move forwards.

How do you deal with setbacks?

This question might sound like the recruiters just want you to talk them through how you manage setbacks but the best answer will give them an example of when you’ve actually dealt with a setback. This could be anything from not getting the grades you needed to get into your first choice university to being part of a friend’s campaign for Student’s Union president and losing.

Reflect on your experience. What went wrong? Was it easily fixable then and there? And how can you avoid facing a similar setback next time? BAE’s recruiters want to see that you can learn from setbacks.

For help with answering this question, read our article on answering a similar tricky graduate interview question: 'What has been your biggest failure?'.

How do you ensure success?

This question comes back to one of BAE’s values: programme execution. They want to know that you’re somebody who strives to do something and that you do it well. Like the question above, rather than just talking the recruiter through how you try and ensure success (eg ‘I stay organised and I always have a plan B’), give them a concrete example of when you’ve succeeded at something and outline the steps you took to get there. How did you define success? Did you do any planning? Did you stay motivated? How?

Do you prefer working individually or as a team?

There isn’t a clear right and wrong answer here. Use your knowledge of the job description to help you: does your role involve working in a team or independently? Probably the best thing to do is to come up with an example of when you’ve done both well.

BAE System’s motivational and technical interview questions

Depending on the scheme you’ve applied for, you might face technical questions related to your specialism. For example, a materials engineering applicant could be given a brief and asked to assess the suitability of three different materials to use on the project.

You should also prepare to be tested on your motivations for applying; previous candidates have been asked ‘Why do you want to work for BAE Systems?’ and ‘Why did you choose this area of the business?’. These questions are tricky to answer on the spot so it’s a good idea, before the assessment centre, to identify your reasons for applying. Read up on BAE Systems and on the role you’ve applied to and think about what impresses you about the company and the job you’ve applied for.

For example, if BAE Systems’ emphasis on learning and development appeals to you, say so. One of your career goals might be to become a chartered engineer: this is good to say but a lot of companies support their engineers with this so you’ll need to make your answer more specific to BAE Systems. Its graduate development programme incorporates a ‘Graduate Developing You’ training programme, for example. Read up on this and think about what appeals to you about the training on offer. Take inspiration from our profile of Denise Purton in The Guardian UK 300. She’s a graduate on the project management stream of BAE Systems’ graduate development framework and she outlines the training she received.

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