Female student looking through binders on shelves

Assessment centres are considered by many employers to be the fairest and most accurate method of selecting staff, because they give different selectors a chance to see candidates over a longer period of time, usually a day, although sometimes over a couple of days. It gives them the opportunity to see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do, in a variety of situations, both individually and in groups.

Selectors at assessment centres will measure you against a series of competencies that are relevant to the organisation, using a variety of activities designed to assess one or more of these areas. So it is important to remember to make sure that you demonstrate the qualities that the organisation has highlighted as important to them rather than trying to compete with other candidates.

Once you have been invited to an assessment centre, make sure that you understand the structure of the day(s) beforehand e.g.: will it involve interviews, group exercises, presentations etc.? If you don't have this information, contact the recruiter to find out, as you will need it to prepare properly.

How will the employer assess me?

Generally you will be in a group of six to eight applicants. You will be observed by one or more assessors in a range of tasks, both individually and as a group, designed to assess the competencies the employer requires. Most employers have a standard rating scale for each candidate and exercise and team of assessors consolidates their findings at the end of session. The variety of activities gives the employer a balanced evaluation of each candidate.

Employers will be assessing areas such as:

  • How you work with other people
  • How you would fit into the workplace
  • How you behave under pressure
  • How you cope with work related tasks
  • How you approach problem-solving

What happens at an assessment centre?

The employer should tell you what to expect and what will be involved. If you are not clear you can contact the employer for clarification. The activities selected will be used to test the skills, knowledge and behaviours considered necessary for the role. Typically an assessment centre will include some (or all) of the following:

Information Session

These provide you with more information about the organisation and the job roles available and often precede the rest of the assessment centre. Listen carefully and if you are unclear about anything – ask.

Social Activities

Often lunch during the day itself or occasionally dinner the night before, these give you the opportunity to meet a variety of people – including other candidates, the selectors, recent graduates or senior management. They are excellent opportunities for you to find out more about the organisation, and to ask questions in an informal setting. Although these events may be billed as informal and not part of the assessment process, you should still behave in a way that will reflect positively on you.

Psychometric Tests

Many employers regularly use psychometric tests in the selection process. Mostly these tests are administered online as part of the application process, although some organisations still use tests at the Assessment Centre stage. The most common type of tests used are aptitude/ability tests and personality assessment.

Business Case Study

Although this could be a group activity it is often an individual task and it is designed to simulate a typical business problem situation. You are typically given a large amount of material relating to a specific situation and asked to come up with a proposal, or recommend a solution to a specific problem. This might be in the form of a brief written report or you may have to present and discuss it with one of your assessors. You are being assessed on your ability to analyse information quickly, to identify the most important points and to put your case clearly and logically, justifying the decisions you have made.

Group Exercise

Most graduate jobs will involve you working with other people in some way, and most assessment centres involve a substantial element of group or teamwork. Whether you have to complete a practical task or take part in a discussion the selectors will be looking for your ability to work well with the group. Remember that you are not competing against other members of your group and you are expected to work as a team.

Whilst it is not desirable to be too dominant, it is also important not to be too quiet. You might have some excellent ideas to contribute to the group but if you don't actively speak, up your skills cannot be assessed. The assessors will be looking closely to see how you help your group to complete the task as effectively as possible within the given time. To do this:

  • Make sure that you read the brief and that the whole team understands and agrees what the task demands.
  • Remember that the exercise is timed so make sure good progress is made and that the team members stay solidly focused on the task.
  • Make sure you contribute ideas and suggestions – persuasively rather than aggressively.
  • Establish a friendly helpful rapport with the others, demonstrating to the assessors that you encourage and value everyone's contributions.
  • Be prepared to substantiate your views but also to back down to the majority view to arrive at a consensus – don't get involved in any arguments!
Presentation

You may be asked to give a short presentation to the other candidates and the selectors at your assessment centre. Sometimes you will be asked to bring a prepared presentation to the assessment centre, but you may be required to prepare it on the day. You may be given a subject or have a completely free choice. Although the content of the presentation may be relevant to the role you have applied for, the organisation is likely to primarily be looking for whether you can structure a talk and communicate information effectively.

Interview

The assessment centre programme usually includes at least one interview with one or more of the assessors. This may include some questions similar to those you were asked in your first interview or more technical questions. You may be asked for your assessment of how you have performed so far in the group and individual tasks. The interviewers may want to discuss skills which you have not adequately demonstrated so far and it can give you an opportunity to provide other evidence.

Top Tips for Success
  • Arrive in good time and be polite to everyone you meet, including other candidates, assume you are being assessed at all times.
  • Smile. It creates an instant good impression on all around you.
  • Move on quickly, if you make a mistake. Assessors are not expecting you to be perfect in all areas, so try not to dwell on any errors. If one exercise doesn't go well you can compensate for this in other exercises. It is your overall performance and potential that is important.
  • Listen carefully to all instructions
  • Be enthusiastic. Join in with discussions, including informal ones (e.g. during lunch/dinner).
  • Be assertive during group and individual exercises and try to draw others into group discussions. Your assessors want to see evidence of good leadership and teamwork skills as well as your own intelligent input.
  • Remember the key skills and competencies which you have identified the employer is looking for and aim to demonstrate these effectively.
  • Food and alcohol are often freely available during social activities. Be careful, when nerves ‘kick in' it can be tempting to overindulge. Keep focused and professional.
  • Be yourself, give everything your best shot and above all try to enjoy it!