What to Expect from an Assessment Centre

Assessment Centres are a staple of most graduate recruitment processes.  They are a brilliant opportunity not only for you to demonstrate your abilities in a variety of scenarios, but also to get to know your potential employer a bit more.  The exercises you take part in will vary from assessment centre to assessment centre. 

They may give you an insight into the office culture, the type of work you’ll be doing, or testing you for core skills that you need to fit in with their brand.  How will you know what to expect?  Often you’ll be sent information ahead of the day outlining what exercises will be involved.  If not, there is no harm in asking the recruitment team for some more information. 

Below are three typical ‘exercises’ you could expect on the day. Remember, it's highly likely that you'll be surrounded by lots of fellow bright minds on the day – so don't let that put you off. You deserve to have got this far – and as long as you have done the right preparation – you have just as much chance of succeeding as the person stood next to you. 

Interviews

Not every Assessment Centre has them but you should be prepared for both biographical and technical ones.  Biographical – just in case you’re not sure – will be about you, your experiences, strengths, weaknesses. 

Technical interviews, on the other hand, tend to feature question that are specific to the role you have applied for.  These are more commonly used for graduate jobs that are technical or specialist (e.g. engineering). 

You could be shown a diagram to complete, or a line of code to fix.  It could be something to do with your coursework.  They can be used by companies that require graduates with analytical mind-sets.  For example, Investment Banks will often use these to test how numerate a candidate is or to test how logically they think. 

You could be asked a brain teaser – e.g. how many people go in and out of Heathrow every day? – or a tricky arithmetic question – e.g. what’s the square root of 200?

Tests

Inevitably you will have to do a test at your Assessment Centre.  There are a huge variety and you may be asked to do more than one. Depending on how you do on one, you may then be asked to do another.

Here are the most likely ones you should prepare for...

1. In-tray Exercises

An in-tray exercise typically takes the form of a business simulation where you are given a task (normally typical to the role you are applying for) where you are asked to pretend to be a member of staff and tackle accordingly.  These can be paper-based or electronic.   A typical example is being presented with a busy inbox and you are asked to prioritise tasks.  Key things to bear in mind:

  • There will likely be a lot of information to read so make sure you use your time wisely.
  • You will have a time limit to keep a close eye on the time.  Sometimes you won’t have enough time to complete everything so don’t panic.  Just ensure you prioritise and justify why you didn’t get everything done.
  • Beware of curve balls – often things will be added in half way through and you’ll have to show how  you deal with it.
  • You may have to write emails / letters to demonstrate your writing ability.
  • There may be a de-brief afterwards where an assessor asks you questions about your work / decisions so make sure you think logically as you are going through.

2. Psychometric

There are many different types of psychometric tests and it would be very hard to prepare for them all.  Find out what you will be facing so that you can prepare accordingly.  See our top tips for handling psychometric tests here.

3. Ability

Ability tests vary as they will be tailored to suit the role you are applying for.  They may check things like your understanding of the basic principles of the technical side of the role, your writing ability, or your basic arithmetic. 

4. Case Studies

Case studies are becoming more and more common – they test how candidates deal with large volumes of information to come to logical business conclusions. These can be individual or in groups.  Read our top tips on case study interviews here.

5. Group Exercises

A group exercise can take the form of a case study (see above) but they can also be completely non-business related.   Group exercises can be used just to test how you work together with others to see if you have the necessary team-work and leadership skills they are looking for.  

For example, you may be asked to build something out of supplied materials, faced with a hypothetical survival situation, or posed with a completely different sector and business question.  

The best way to impress in these situations is to be flexible, enthusiastic and take the lead when appropriate.  Speak clearly, listen to others and be wary of not just the dominant people in the group but the shy ones too.  Above all, make sure you remain focused on the objective at hand and keep your team focused on it too.

Presentations

Presentations are used to assess your communication skills and how you work with / analyse information.  Again, they vary depending on what job you’ve applied for. You might be sent information ahead of the day to prepare your presentation.  

If this is the case, make sure you read the instructions very carefully so that you follow the presentation guidelines.  

Click her for the ulimate guide to public speaking.

Social events

Finally, be prepared to have a social event tied into the day.  This could be a lunch, dinner or just networking over teas/coffees.  You are being assessed from the minute you arrive on site so make sure you do everything you can to make a good impression.  

Be enthusiastic, polite and do your best to help others engage in conversations too.  Don’t dominate a conversation at the expense of other candidates. Prepare intelligent questions to ask representatives from the organisation should you be thrown into a social situation.  

It is a great opportunity for you to learn more about them and what they do so if you do get offered a job you’ll know if you want to take it!