How to prepare for Mott MacDonald's graduate and internship interview questions

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Mott MacDonald has a strength-based approach to their recruitment process, which focuses on identifying what you enjoy doing, what you are good at and how you are likely to behave in the role. Since moving away from a competency-based application process three years ago, its recruiters have found that they are able to hire a much more diverse cohort of students and graduates.

‘We have found that this has helped us to offer a fairer and much more inclusive process for candidates,’ Melissa Hopper, early careers talent acquisition manager at Mott MacDonald, tells us. ‘One of the downsides of competency-based interviews is that they can unintentionally disadvantage students who have not had the opportunity to gain lots of work experience or taken part in a range of extracurricular activities; a strengths-based system focuses on students’ future potential. Possibly because of this, we have found that we have not “lost” certain groups of students throughout the recruitment process: for example, BAME students and female students.’

The structure of a Mott MacDonald interview

Unusually for an employer of its size, Mott MacDonald does not run formal assessment centres for its graduate and internship positions. Instead (at least in normal, non-Covid-19 times) you have an interview in the office where the role is based, with managers from the business area you have applied to.

‘We have identified the key strengths that are required to be successful at Mott MacDonald and built our assessment process around those strengths to ensure that candidates meet our minimum standards while ensuring that we are a good fit for each other,’ says Melissa. ‘There are no trick questions.’

You are given a set number of questions that are mostly focused around:

  • scenarios you might face at Mott MacDonald
  • how you would prefer to work and what you are good at
  • your reasons for applying.

Your technical knowledge will also be tested if you are applying for a technical role. ‘Each part of the business adds their own technical element to the recruitment process,’ Melissa tells us. ‘It could be a short presentation on a feasibility study or it might ask you to make some calculations or you could be asked to present on one of your group projects. You will be told in advance what to prepare.’

Tip: start with self-knowledge

The main preparation you can do for Mott MacDonald’s strengths-based interview questions is to look back at all aspects of your life to date – your experiences in education and academia; your extracurricular activities; your part-time jobs and work experience; your personal and social relationships. Consider what drives you in life, what is important to you, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. If it’s hard to know where to begin, try answering the following questions:

  • When are you happiest?
  • In which sort of environment and in which circumstances do you work the best? For example, do you need an urgent deadline to motivate you or would that stress you out? Do you work best to silence or to music? Alone or in a team? With a clear set brief or with the freedom to define your own brief?
  • Similarly, how do you learn the best? Solo through e-resources, for example, or in a classroom?
  • What are you particularly good at? What are you not so good at?
  • What skills would you like to develop in the future?
  • What makes you miserable, angry and/or stressed?
  • What does ‘success’ mean to you?
  • What motivates you to achieve something? When do you tend to lose motivation and why?
  • Who do you most admire and why?
  • How do you like to be treated? How do you treat other people?

Having reflected on these questions, you will be less likely to be thrown by Mott MacDonald’s actual interview questions; you will be able to give a considered, self-aware response.

When thinking these things through, make sure you also consider the reasons behind your conclusions and note examples of times when your strengths were best on show. Using examples from your past wherever possible will help you explain why you prefer to act in certain ways or why certain things make you feel more motivated than others, which will enhance your interviews answers.

Tip: don’t get boxed in trying to give the ‘right’ answer

Strengths-based interview questions are often phrased in either/or terms – for example, ‘Would you prefer being a team member or a team leader?’ – and this can lead candidates to feel that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ answer. Melissa assures us that this isn’t the case: ‘It is just about your preference on a scale,’ she says.

Melissa also says that you shouldn’t try to waste time by guessing what they think a ‘more right than wrong’ answer is. ‘We are assessing a mixture of strengths at one time and you won’t know what those are. The best thing you can do is answer honestly.’

If you are asked an either/or question – and not all strengths-based questions are – don’t feel that you must choose one option or the other. If, having reflected on your own motivations and preferences, you feel your genuine answer is ‘both, depending on the circumstances’, then give that answer and elaborate on what those circumstances might be.

Tip: revisit your research into Mott MacDonald

Review the research you did for your initial application and take it a step further. ‘It is important to us that candidates are enthusiastic about the part of the business they are applying to,’ says Melissa. You can use your research to answer the ‘Why did you apply to us?’ question and to help you come up with informed questions of your own to ask.

Gain an idea of how Mott MacDonald works as a whole; how your division (or business area), team and job role would fit into that; and how your business area and job role would contribute to the company’s revenues. Take a look at the company’s ‘publications’ webpage. Then look more widely around the Mott MacDonald site. Focus on your particular business area and get a sense of the most recent challenges facing that sector, recent projects and what the job you would be doing involves.

Next, consider how developments in the construction industry, the economy and society at large could affect the day-to-day work in that business area. For example, if you want to work in rail, what do you think about the latest political developments with HS2? If you want to work in fire engineering, how do you think the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire and the Fire Safety Bill will change regulations? If you are wanting to work in highways or bridges, what do you think of the increased use of the design-and-build procurement model in that sector? And how will the ongoing impact of coronavirus (including possible staff shortages and problems with the supply chain)?

Tip: apply your technical knowledge to a real-world context

As noted above, the precise nature of how your technical knowledge will be assessed will vary, but one thing that Mott MacDonald's hiring managers will be interested in is whether you can apply your academic knowledge to real-life projects. If you are given a feasibility study for a new railway station and line, for example, you will need to consider factors such as the distance from local communities, the challenges of the terrain or environment and human behaviour. Obviously, having work experience in the industry will help you to do this, but so will thinking laterally.

‘Technical knowledge is as important as strengths,’ says Melissa. ‘We interviewed a candidate who matched our strengths really well and was really enthusiastic, but fared poorly on our technical interview questions. They didn’t get an offer.’ However, it is important to note that the technical levels are in line with what they’d expect students in your year group to know.

Is Mott MacDonald a match for you?

Up until now we’ve focused on how to make a good impression with Mott MacDonald, but Melissa stresses that this is only half the equation. ‘Use the interview to discover whether we are a good match for you,’ she advises. ‘We are different from many of our competitors, as we are employee-owned. This means that we make decisions that are right for the business and our people, rather than external shareholders – but make sure you would be happy working with us.’