Assessment centres are typically held over one day and consist of a combination of tests, interviews and activities. The process is used to judge each candidate’s wider skill set, going far beyond the telephone interview and online application. You’ll normally get an invite to an assessment centre if you’ve gone for a larger company or applied to a graduate scheme, where they often look to hire in large volumes.
Though assessment centres can vary hugely depending on the nature of the job, these are some example activities and tests you could find yourself doing on the day.
Presentation - Can be pre-prepared, by yourself or in a group.
One on one interview - A much more in-depth interview (commonly with the hiring manager), further to your previous telephone interview.
Competency tests - Depending on your job role, you can be assessed on things like numerical and verbal reasoning, situational judgement, cognitive ability and error checking, to name a few.
In-tray/ E-tray exercises - Another type of test, but one that deserves its own bullet point as it’s not so self-explanatory. Essentially, candidates are given a work-based scenario where they'll need to prioritise and complete a set of tasks accordingly under a time constraint. In-tray simply refers to a paper based task, and E-tray, (you guessed it), refers to an email based task where you'll work through an inbox.
Group activity - This can be any exercise, such as a role play, involving all (or groups) of the candidates. It aims to test teamwork and communication skills.
This is just a snapshot of the long list of activities assessment centres can adopt, and they will differ depending on the company and job role. Read more about assessment centre exercises here.
Now that you know a bit more about them, here are our 8 top tips to assessment centre success!
1) Complete your tasks
It is paramount that you complete any pre-assigned tasks well in advance. It’s common for the employer to ask you to prepare a PowerPoint which you’ll have to present to the assessors and sometimes other candidates too. Don’t leave this to the last minute, as you’ll want to give yourself as much time as possible to rehearse. Even if you’ve not been asked to complete such task beforehand, don’t rule out the possibility that you might be asked to do one on the day either alone or in groups, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your speaking and presenting skills.
2) Prepare and prepare some more
The more you prepare, the less pressure you'll feel when the day arrives. You may be asked to complete a range of psychometric and aptitude tests, as well as written, numerical and verbal tasks. There are many practice tests available online which can at the very least give you a rough idea of what to expect on the day. Even if you’ve already had to take these tests to get to this stage in the process, it’s not unheard of for companies to ask you to repeat these to clarify your abilities.
There are many websites and forums where candidates have shared their assessment centre experiences at certain companies which can give an indication of what to expect when you arrive. However, approach with caution, as the activities can be ever-changing so it’s not a good idea to rely on this as you might get thrown off.
Assessment centres usually take place towards the end of the process, often being the penultimate or last stage. It can often be a while, sometimes weeks, between the assessment centre and your previous interview(s). Don’t assume that because you’ve passed the previous stages, you won’t be questioned on the same or similar areas again. Make sure you’re not rusty and be sure to go over all of the information you had researched before your first interview as it’s likely that there will be an overlap. Know your CV inside out and be prepared to elaborate on what was discussed in your previous interview.
4) Show enthusiasm
Enthusiasm and confidence is vital, however there’s a fine line between this and coming across as a bit arrogant and full on. Remember to always be yourself and don’t try to fake anything as the assessors will pick up on it!
5) Don’t compare yourself to others
Although this is hard, remember why you were chosen to attend the assessment centre in the first place - there's a reason why the employer chose you over many others. They have filtered their long list of applicants down to just a handful, so don’t waste time dwelling on someone seemingly being “better” than you as this will only distract you from concentrating on the task at hand.
Going back to point number 4, you might think another candidate is coming across as really confident and making you look shy in comparison, but to the assessor they might actually be coming across as too dominating. Try not to think of the other candidates as fierce competition, as companies can potentially hire the whole group if everyone meets their expectations.
6) Stay professional
Even if the assessors seem more relaxed during the lunch breaks, remember to remain polished! Breaks can be used as an opportunity to judge your interactive and social skills so it’s vital to maintain a professional (yet friendly) demeanour with your peers and employers throughout the whole day.
7) … but enjoy yourself!
Assessment centres are nerve-wracking, but that’s not to say you can’t have an enjoyable experience. Use the lunch break to get to know the other candidates and prospective colleagues – it’s a great chance to build rapport and to learn more about the company. You’ll most certainly have to engage in at least one group activity, so try to have fun with this as it will put your interactive and interpersonal skills in a good light, showing that you can form good relationships with your peers.
8) Ask questions
It's likely that there will be some opportunity for questions at the end of the session, so use this time to ask anything that wasn't covered in your interview or throughout the course of the day. Try and prepare about five of these, as chances are there will be at least one left unanswered. It will show your interest in the company and will leave you looking like an eager candidate.
P.s, check out our careers advice page where you can find more advice on other aspects of the recruitment process.