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What are employers looking for at an assessment centre?

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When you arrive at an assessment centre, it’s important to be aware of which skills and competencies employers are likely to be looking for during each activity. You should always remain professional, positive and enthusiastic during your tasks, but also try to focus on how those tasks relate to specific aspects of the role you’re applying for.

Employers will be assessing your abilities through various activities:

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Working in a group

Key skills: teamwork, listening, leadership, persuasion, commercial awareness

This will involve you and the other candidates in your group discussing a defined objective, which should be clearly explained to you beforehand. Employers will be watching:

  • how well you work with others in a team
  • how you communicate your opinions while taking others’ views into account
  • how you solve tricky problems
  • how you respond to a stressful situation 
  • your skills of persuasion 
  • your commercial awareness

If you’re a natural leader you can demonstrate this too, but don’t take over and shout everybody else down – assessors will be looking out for people who don’t respect others’ opinions and bark orders. Do be sure to participate and make useful contributions though; if you stay silent employers will think you’re bored, lacking confidence or unable to work in a group.

An example brief might read, “Construct a bridge using only the materials provided on the desk”, where you’ve been set a budget and each material has been assigned a value. It’s not the bridge itself that matters here; it’s how you all work together and decide on a plan of action. Demonstrate your problem-solving skills and ability to listen to other people, and if you can, bring previous knowledge or experience to the challenge – do you have any technical training that could help with building the bridge? Show commercial awareness too by staying focused on the budget.

Top tip: Contribute your ideas with confidence but always listen to and encourage others.

Discover top tips to succeed in a group exercise at an assessment centre

Case studies

Key skills: problem-solving, analytical, time management, commercial awareness

Assessors will be looking for problem-solving and analytical skills when they give you a case study to solve, as well as the ability to think on your feet. You’ll be presented with the relevant information – usually based on a real world business scenario from the organisation – and it’s up to you to analyse the data and draw a conclusion. You’ll usually be asked to present your solution, and you could be working alone or in a group.

Make sure you’re completely clear on the objectives. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need to double check anything; it’s better than giving a presentation that misses the point. If you’re working in a team, stick to the same guidelines as for group discussions. Don’t dominate or dismiss other candidates’ views, but be sure to contribute. You might decide it will help to split up tasks between you, in which case this should be done early on.

Top tips: Read the information provided carefully and identify key talking points straight away in order to avoid missing any vital elements. Always keep an eye on the clock and plan your time carefully, as you’ll have a tight deadline.

Read what to expect from an assessment centre.


Key skills: confidence, professionalism, public speaking, planning

You’ll be given a presentation topic either before the assessment or on the day. If you receive your presentation topic beforehand, spend plenty of time preparing and practising. It’s not unusual for candidates to find this the most daunting aspect of an assessment day – presenting to a roomful of people doesn’t come naturally to everybody. But nobody’s expecting you to be a flawless public speaker; you just need to demonstrate confidence in what you’re saying and the ability to get your point across clearly and convincingly.

You could be presenting to employees from the organisation, third party assessors and/or other candidates, but don’t just try to pinpoint the most important person to present to. Address everyone.

Top tips: structure your presentation with a start, middle and end, and make good eye contact with everyone in the room. Speak clearly and confidently.

Learn how to be confident at assessment centres

In-tray/e-tray exercises

Key skills: time management, prioritising, response to pressure

As the name suggests, this exercise is based on how you handle the correspondence you might find in your in-tray should you get the job, like reports, letters, emails and memos. You’ll be asked to prioritise the tasks and explain how you would respond to each: return a phone call, reply to an email, book a meeting, order supplies, etc. You’ll be assessed on your ability to identify the most urgent tasks and anticipate how long they’ll take. You’ll need to deal with everything in your tray so don’t spend too long thinking about each item.

Top tips: read the information as quickly as possible and identify the most important tasks. Discard low-priority issues and use your time management skills effectively.

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