Pioneered in the UK by the armed forces, assessment centres are now used by a number of organisations to recruit junior managers, graduates and professionals. They are often re-labelled 'development centres' and used for internal selection purposes to identify fast-trackers and people with potential for career promotion. For most candidates it's a once in a lifetime career opportunity.
Exercises for graduate assessment centres
Assessment centres, unlike graduate interviews, are usually designed to include exercises which measure you against the aspects of the job. For all of the exercises, make sure you understand the chairperson's instructions or the written brief. If you don't, make sure you ask. Not listening and not reading instructions thoroughly are the two biggest causes of frustration in candidates. Having a go at the chairperson of The Assessment Centre is a career-limiting step. Remember, you're being tested!
The following are examples of common exercises:
You are given the 'in-tray' of a senior manager and have one hour to 'get through it' - otherwise, you'll miss your plane! You'll be asked what you would do with each email and write replies if needed.
Sales or negotiation role-play
You are asked to sell a product or negotiate a deal; even if you haven't applied for a sales job, persuasion skills are important in many careers.
This may be paper-based or computer-based. You are split into small groups, and over a series of rounds, compete with other groups to develop, manufacture, market and distribute products. Great fun!
Group discussion (interactive skills)
You are given a problem to solve as a group. Common problems are simulations where your group have been stranded at sea, in the desert or on the moon.
Graduate psychometric testing can be personality evaluations, which attempt to see how well you match against their idea of an ideal candidate for the job, or ability tests that measure your skills at things like numerical or verbal reasoning.
To assess your self-confidence, ability to communicate, and ability to handle a mini-project, some organisations may ask you to make a short presentation either to a group of managers or, for very senior positions, to the board of directors. The subject can vary: debating the pros and cons of subjects like E-commerce, or you may be asked to present a mini-marketing plan for one of the company's products. They may even leave the choice of subject to you. Choose a business-related subject that you know something about. The time you are given to prepare can vary from 30 minutes to many days.
If you are asked to give a presentation, do take it seriously - management time is very valuable and if the company have gathered an audience to listen to you, then you can be sure that they will be taking it seriously.
Insider Tips for your assessment centres
Rest well beforehand
Get as much sleep as you can the night before. It's highly likely that, just as you're starting to relax, you'll be handed a mammoth task with a tight deadline to see how you respond under pressure.
Stay aware and present
Keep your eyes and ears open and observe the performance of the other candidates at the assessment day. You may be asked to rate their performance. Be prepared to give a factual and analytical summary of their contribution and don't be afraid to be complimentary about other candidates.
Be social, but remain professional
If you've been invited to join everyone for dinner the night before the assessment centre, don't be lulled into a false sense of security, by thinking the assessors are off-duty. They will probably be assessing your social competence over dinner, in the bar, over breakfast and so on.
Practise your presenting
Even if you haven't been asked to prepare a presentation, brush up on your skills. There is a good chance that you'll be asked to prepare one at short notice. Pre-select two topics, such as: 'an improvement you've made to xx' and an 'interesting angle on your hobby'.
Remember: What are they looking for?
Try to think about the graduate employability skills and qualities the assessors will be looking for: leadership, interpersonal skills, ability to handle stress, verbal and written communication, flexibility, negotiation skills, problem-solving, business skills, commercial acumen, decision-making, initiative and creativity. Clearly the weightings will be dependent on the job, but commercial acumen, interpersonal skills and flexibility must be high on everyone's list.
Don't be that person
Don't try to suppress other candidates in an attempt to make the assessors notice only you. You will come across as overbearing and insensitive.
Make the most of each assessment centre
An assessment centre is a tremendous opportunity for you to show what you know, and impress a potential employer. Prepare yourself well and enjoy it.