As well as group activities, interviews and psychometric tests, an assessment centre will offer plenty of networking opportunities. Throughout the whole day, you’ll interact with the recruitment team and your assessors. At breaks and lunch, current trainees and employees are likely to pop in and say hello. And very likely there will be a specific networking session – drinks and canapés, where you might meet anyone up to and including the CEO.
Make sure it's time well spent
Networking is a key part of the day, and the impression you make is very important. You are being judged at all times, and the right words to the right person could be the thing that wins you your place. Here are a few tips for making your networking a success.
1. Interact with your fellow candidates
While there will be plenty of higher-ups from the company to network with, don’t neglect the others in the same boat as you. If you can make some friends and enjoy yourself a little it shows your ability to connect with your peers, which is vital in a work environment.
2. Make a good second impression
If there’s a chance you’ll run into a company employee you’ve met before – at a careers event, perhaps – dig out their business card and take a look on LinkedIn. Check out their picture and pick up a few details. It might save you from that awkward situation where they can remember your name but you can’t remember theirs.
3. Do your homework
If someone mentions the CEO, a big client, or a key office location, you need to recognise the name. Make sure you’ve thoroughly researched the company and would feel confident making small talk about their last few appearances in the media.
Find out what to expect from an assessment centre.
4. Don’t be overbearing
You want to be noticed, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to interrupt or talk over people. Neither does it mean launching into a monologue on your opinions. Impress your observers with your courtesy and respect for those around you, your ability to fit in, and your listening and social skills.
5. Always be positive
It’s great to connect with people by finding common ground, but approaching another candidate with, “I’m so nervous – are you nervous?” is the wrong attitude. Imagine how it would look if a company employee came to join your conversation.
Positivity is also important when asking questions about the company. While you want to get an inside perspective from current trainees and employees, you don’t want to lead anyone into making negative comments. Don’t ask “What do you think the company?” or, “Is the training good?” Instead, phrase the question in a way that encourages a positive response; “What do you like best about working for the company?” and, “How has the training helped you?”
6. Keep it 100% professional
You might be eating finger food and drinking wine, but you’re still at a job interview. No matter who you’re talking to, only say things you’d happily say if an interviewer were sitting across the desk from you. Off-limit topics include religion, politics, what you did on Saturday night, your opinions on the assessments so far, and any gossip about or criticism of the people around you.
7. Give everyone your full attention
During every conversation, you need to listen and engage. Don’t glance around planning your next networking move. Don’t worry about what new task is looming after lunch. You need to impress with your social skills. Even if you’re just standing at the edge of a conversation, it’s important to appear interested – and whatever you do, don’t be tempted to pull out your phone.
Take the Bright Network Academy course on 'how to succeed at assessment centres' for tips.
8. Come prepared with questions
When you’re faced with a higher up, it’d be nice to ask some intelligent questions. There are probably a million things you’d like to know about the company, but it’s easy to go blank when you’re put on the spot. Before the assessment centre, write down a list of questions you legitimately want to know the answers to.
Again, make sure you phrase your questions positively. Don’t just ask, “What new projects has the company taken on lately?” Instead, try, “What’s the most exciting new project the company has taken on lately?”
9. Eat (neatly)
There’s very likely to be a networking session over lunch. You’re nervous, you’re talking, you’re trying to impress, and you may well be standing up with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other. It’s hard to focus on getting a decent meal – but you need the energy.
To make sure you get a chance to eat, ask your companion if they’d like to join a group at a table. The more people, the better – it means someone else can do the talking while you eat. If there’s nowhere to sit, join a group of people standing, abandon your glass and focus on the food.
If you’re not sure on the etiquette of whatever you’re eating (finger food or knife and fork?) watch the people around you and go with the majority vote.
Take time to relax. You’ll be going full throttle all day. If you need a breather, sit in the bathroom for five minutes and recharge your batteries. Then go out and face the world.
To get your networking game up to speed, careers author Jake Schogger gives his top tips and tells you how it can directly impact your career. Start the Bright Network Academy 'how to network effectively' module today.