Preparing for an assessment centre

Many employers use Assessment Centres as the key process to decide which graduates they want to recruit. The good news is that usually only those applicants with a good chance of gaining a job get offered one – so the odds are moving into your favour!

The challenging news is that they are a rigorous process not to be undertaken lightly since you will be assessed in much more detail than at first interview; you will face a range of assessment activities such as in-depth 1-1 and group interviews, individual exercises and various team-based tasks: details below

Case studies

You will be given information about a certain issue and asked to write a brief or report based on the facts, such as numbers, reports, newspaper cuttings and correspondence. A case study tests your ability to take information in quickly, analyse it and then make your case to the reader convincingly and succinctly. You can practise a case study by giving yourself a short time frame to speed-read any article or section of a book and then noting down the key facts.

Group discussions

Typically in groups of 4 to 8, you will be expected to discuss and agree on an approach to a situation that may relate to the work of the organisation.

You will be assessed on your ability to explore the issues, understand other points of view, persuade others of the value of your opinion and achieve agreement within a tight time frame. Sometimes you will be asked to play a certain role within the organisation.

Often you will be expected to assimilate copious or complicated data immediately prior to the discussion and use this appropriately as you engage with the rest of the group. Bear in mind that depending on the role you have applied for this data may be technical in content. Check out before you attend.

E-tray exercises 

These include e-tray exercises where you have to respond to various emails by providing advice, information, and make decisions. Be aware subsequent emails may ask you to justify earlier ones!

You are assessed on your ability to respond intelligently, with an awareness of the organisation’s work, client focus and its culture whilst having to absorb a lot of information and working under time pressure.

There are not many free ones available to try but do check out the option on the Civil Service website and Deloitte’s career pages.

Psychometric tests

These might be a re-test of previous online tests or a different range of tests. They will be either verbal/numerical or similar aptitude tests such as logical and abstract reasoning, technical or possibly personality assessment tests.

You can practise verbal and numerical tests through the Careers Centre website and our Psychometric Coaching article will provide you with more help. Other websites such as Wikijob and SHL will let you try different tests.

Additionally, the main library has 7-day loans for popular book titles such as ‘Practice Psychometric Tests’ and ‘Test your Numerical Aptitude’ and one copy of ‘Advanced Verbal Reasoning Tests’.

What team role can you best play for?

Think through past team experiences that have gone well -and those that have not! What have you learned from those situations?

If you are unclear about your team strengths –try and gain more experiences soon through clubs, societies or your degree.
Try Belbin for a better understanding of different team roles.

Presentations

You may be asked to give a presentation on a set topic or of your own choice to the selectors and possibly the other candidates.

Presentations are usually used to assess general presentation skills and possibly relevant knowledge.  Typically they last for ten to fifteen minutes.  Often they will they will include follow up questions from the panel which could be a key part of their assessment of you. Previous examples of this have included: ‘Tell us about yourself and what you can offer this organisation’ and ‘choose a current affairs topic and tell me about it’.

Be clear what the employer is assessing.  Practice your presentation in front of a friend to ensure it comes across well and is within the time limit.  Done well, PowerPoint can be an effective application to compliment a presentation.

Social events

These can include meals or drinks with various members of the organisations or informal discussions with recent recruits. While this is not usually part of the assessment procedure the impression you make does matter, so assume that everyone you meet may be asked what they thought of you.
If you meet recent recruits, use the opportunity to find out more about what they do, how they work, and how they are managed; this can help you gain an insight which you can then use at an interview, and also help you decide if the job is right for you.

What next? Final steps for improvement

Employers tell us the two reasons students fail at assessment centres:

  • A lack of understanding about the role, the skills needed, and the organisation.
  • Failing to promote themselves sufficiently at interview and group sessions so assessors have the evidence to see they are a good fit for the organisation.

You need to prepare thoroughly for assessment centres since often there is a short time between the various rounds of the application process.

Do talk to an adviser about how you might address any areas of potential improvement and use them and others to practice your interview technique.

Not everyone is good at certain exercises, but remember that the assessment centre will give you a number of chances to show your strengths and meet the organisation’s criteria.

If you have a disability and you are concerned this may affect your performance in any of the exercises mentioned you might like to look at our Disability sheet that explores the issues around disclosure to the employer before attending the assessment centre. Those with a visual impairment may wish to refer to the RNIB guide to psychometric testing (www.rnib.org.uk/aboutus/research/reports/education/pages/psychometric.aspx).

See our video clips on assessment centres.

What next?

  • Do read the preparation for interview coaching sheet
  • Think through how past interviews have gone – how could you improve?
  • Have a mock interview with an employer visiting the Careers Centre or one with a Careers Adviser
Taking it further

There is very useful information about assessment centres on the Prospects website.

Look at our other Careers Coaching materials on tests.

View the AGCAS video on Assessment Centres (requires UoR login).

For an employer perspective on tests, interviews and assessment centres have a look at this information from TARGETjobs.

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