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Assessment centres

Outside of office building

If you have been invited to an assessment centre, congratulations! You have made it to the sharp end of the recruitment process, where many employers make their final selection decisions.

Assessment centres are made-up of activities designed by employers to assess candidates’ potential to fulfil the role.

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What are employers assessing?

Each employer has its own list of desired skills or competencies, which they assess candidates against. These can include:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • organisation and planning
  • analytical
  • problem-solving skills.
  • technical skills, if required by the position

Remember: you are not in competition with the other candidates.

You are being assessed against the employer’s criteria, so focus all your efforts on demonstrating the competencies they require.

 

Typical assessment centre activities (and websites to visit)

The length and structure of assessment centres varies from employer-to-employer; some consist of a morning or afternoon of activities, whereas others last a full day - even longer in rare cases.

If you require adjustments to be made to activities, let the recruiter know well in advance so they can be made.

Welcome and introduction

Listen-out in the introduction for clues as to the skills and competencies being assessed in each activity.

Registration is the first networking opportunity of the day, so plan in advance how you will make a positive introduction to assessors and the other candidates.

 

Written exercise

You will need to process and analyse information relevant to the role before communicating your findings and recommendations in writing.

Carefully structure your report and use business-formal language, unless instructed otherwise. Double-check your spelling and grammar before submitting.
 

E-tray or In tray exercise

You’ll need to evaluate the relative urgency and importance of tasks before deciding how and when to deal with them. It’s all about effective prioritisation and time-management.

It’s also likely that you’ll be required to complete some of the tasks yourself (e.g. writing a short blog entry or responding to an email).

Tips for success

  • Before doing anything else, read all of the tasks from start-to-finish. Some of them will inevitably be linked, so take time to get the whole picture before committing to any decisions.
  • Give top priority to the needs and reputation of the business as a whole: tasks impacting on client or customer satisfaction are likely to need urgent and careful consideration.
  • Order the tasks into piles/folders: Urgent (deal with straight away), Hold (can wait for now), Drop (doesn’t need dealing with at all), and Delegate (pass to a colleague)
 

Case study

A work-related scenario in which you will be required to process and analyse information and communicate your findings or present recommendations either in writing or verbally.

Make sure that you fully understand the brief and always justify recommendations made with evidence. It’s worth allocating time at the start of the exercise to plan the structure of your written report or presentation.

Find out more about case studies 

 

Presentations

You might be asked to prepare and deliver a group or individual presentation which, for many candidates, can be a daunting prospect.

Fear not, we’ve put together some practical advice for delivering a solid presentation, whatever the topic.

Top tips on preparing your presentation

 

Psychometric tests

Many employers will ask you to re-sit psychometric tests to ensure consistency with your results from earlier in the recruitment process.

Some employers may also ask you to undertake personality profiling assessments to identify your strengths and preferences.

Try our FREE practice psychometric tests

 

Group activity

There is a great variety of activities which employers could use to assess ability to interact in a group environment. 

Find out more about group activities

 

Interview

You will be assessed against the selection criteria for the role, as well as the degree to which you ‘fit’ the company’s values and mission. 

Find out about different types of interviews and how to prepare
 

Company tour

During the day you may go on a company tour to see the facilities and working environment. 

Make sure you pay attention throughout (there may be some useful information to use in activities) and show your interest in the company by asking questions.  

 

Lunch, dinner and social event

Your ability to interact with others might be assessed during lunchtime or social activity in the evening. 

Remember to network effectively and have positive conversations with both company representatives and other candidates. 

 
 

 

How to ace an assessment centre

Shelley Ashenden, Senior Careers Adviser, gives her top tips for acing an assessment centre. 

 

Frequently asked questions

What if an exercise goes badly?

Don’t allow the experience to ruin your performance for the rest of the day - it is likely that you performed better that you think. 

Remember that assessment centres are designed to test a variety of skills, strengths and weaknesses and very rarely is anyone perfect at everything!

If given the opportunity to reflect on your performance at the end of the assessment centre, explain what you would have done differently – self-awareness is a characteristic that employers value greatly. Above all, demonstrate your resilience by continuing with a positive attitude.

 
What if I encounter a really dominant or aggressive member in a group exercise?

The most important thing is not to rise to the negative behaviour of others.  It is likely that the assessor will have already identified these traits of the candidate in question.

It is important that you remain calm, but be assertive in all of your interactions, remembering to back-up your arguments with evidence.  Acknowledge the other candidate’s point of view but look for opportunities to bring other members of the group into the discussion. This will detract attention from the dominant/aggressive member and show that you value diversity of opinion – this is supposed to be a group exercise after all.

 
Everyone's so impressive and they’ve got lots more experience than me – I can’t possibly compete.

For a start, don’t assume that it’s a competition - it’s entirely possible that the company has enough vacancies for all of you. Think of it like an exam: if you do the right preparation and you perform on the day, there’s every chance of a positive outcome.

Also, don’t believe everything that you’re told. Some people amplify their achievements as a way of overcoming their own insecurities and nerves. Smile, nod and be polite, but take everything you hear with a pinch of salt and concentrate on what actually matters: doing yourself justice in the activities.

 

 

 

 

Careers and Employability Service

The University of Nottingham
Portland Building, Level D
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 3680
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 3679
email: careers-team@nottingham.ac.uk