What is an assessment centre?
If you have been invited to an assessment centre, congratulations! You have made it to the business 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.
What to expect at an assessment centre
In this short video we'll cover an introduction to the types of activities you might be asked to take part in, when invited to an assessment centre.
An employers perspective
We believe assessment centres are the best and fairest way to assess the high numbers of applicants we have to our programme. For 2021 we are conducting our assessment centres virtually to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of our candidates. Virtual assessment centres have also served to improve the accessibility of the process, as candidates no longer have to travel to attend their assessment day.
Beth, Development Executive, Charityworks
What is an assessment centre?
An assessment centre usually involves a series of tasks and activities designed to test your suitability for a role. Assessment centres can be held in person, at the employer’s offices or a central location, or online via video conferencing platforms. The number of candidates attending the assessment centre will vary according to employer, from eight to twenty, but it is important to remember you are being assessed against the employer’s criteria, not against each other. Stay focused on your own performance.
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.
How is the day structured?
The day will often begin with a welcome talk, followed by a tour or video tour before the assessments begin. There will usually be one or two assessments during the morning before a break for lunch when you will have the opportunity to socialise or network online with other candidates and possibly some employees. After lunch there will be more assessment tasks followed by interviews and final evaluations before the end of the day.
Who runs them?
Large recruiters will run assessment centres usually for graduate trainee positions.
Why do employers do them?
Employers use assessment centres as an opportunity to evaluate a pool of candidates against a set of criteria. It allows the assessors to see how candidates react to situations they may come across in the role as well as how they interact with those around them.
Typical activities at an assessment centre
There is a great variety of activities which employers could use to assess your ability to interact in a group environment, these can include; case studies, discussion exercises and ice breaker or team tasks.
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.
E-tray or in tray exercise
A real world scenario in which you are judged on your ability to prioritise a number of tasks based on factors such as importance and urgency.
In an interview, you'll be asked a series of questions by one, or a panel, of company representatives. Employers use a range of different question 'types' to help them draw out your experience, skills, knowledge and personal attributes, as well as your enthusiasm and motivation for the role.
You might be asked to prepare and deliver a group or individual presentation. This could be on a topic provided by the employer or you might be asked to choose your own topic.
For an individual presentation, you might be sent details in advance so you can prepare your presentation ahead, in order to deliver it on the day.
Psychometric tests are typically done online, under exam conditions, and consist of questions designed to identify your skills, knowledge and personality.
Employers use the results to check whether you've got the right skillset for a role, and also that you’ll be a ‘good fit’ with the company culture and values.
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.
How do I prepare for the assessment centre?
Things you can be doing before the day
Now you are aware of how a typical assessment centre is structured it's time to start researching to make sure you are up to speed with recent activities at the company.
This will help give you the edge during decision making exercises and show the recruiters you are serious about the company.
Remember to go back through the application and check the requirements of the role. Refresh your memory about what you can bring to the table, recruiters have selected you because they think you might be a good fit.
Keep the key competencies of the role in mind and make sure to showcase these skills when completing tasks.
For in-person assessment centres double check the start time and your travel arrangements.
For online, make sure your device is fully charged/plugged in before you begin. Think about your environment; do you have a neutral background, reliable wifi, and somewhere where you won't be disturbed? Check any links the employer has sent you to ensure these will work on the day.
Request adjustments if necessary
If you require adjustments to be made to activities, let the recruiter know well in advance so they can be made. If you want advice on when and how to disclose your disability during the recruitment process, watch the Get that Job videos.
Get that Job videos - advice for students with disabilities
If you have time why not book onto an assessment centre workshop?
Or take our online course: How to prepare for assessment centres
Tips to remember on the day
What are employers looking for?
Each employer has its own list of desired skills or competencies, which they assess candidates against. These can include:
- organisation and planning
- analytical skills
- problem-solving skills
- technical skills, if required by the position
Remember you are being assessed against the employer’s criteria, not against each other. Stay focused on your own performance.
Top tips from a senior careers adviser - how to ace an assessment centre
What questions have other students asked?
What if an exercise goes badly?
Don’t allow the experience to affect your performance for the rest of the day.
Assessment centres are designed to test a variety of skills and strengths across a range of tasks, and different activities may be weighted differently by the employer, so try to put the last activity behind you and focus on the next task.
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.
Remember that you have earned your place at the assessment centre by going through the same application process as the other candidates. It’s very likely that the other candidates are nervous and comparing themselves to you too.
Reassure yourself by reflecting on the research, preparation and practice you have done so far and focus on being yourself, and doing yourself justice in the activities rather than being distracted by what other candidates are doing.
Am I being assessed throughout the day?
Although some parts of the day will not be linked to a task, such as a welcome presentation, or tour, or may be informal, such as arrival or a lunch break, it’s good practice to assume you are still being observed.
In these instances, even though you probably aren’t being assessed against specific criteria, the employer will still want to see how you interact with others, and your genuine interest in the company. You can plan for this by considering some questions you could ask to other candidates and/or company employees to start a conversation.
What happens if my wifi crashes or I cannot access the link on the day?
Don’t panic. These things happen, simply log back in and rejoin the activity. You can make a simple, brief apology/explanation to your group and the assessor, but then move on. Check you know the telephone number for the employer before the assessment centre starts in case you do have difficulties joining in, but we strongly advise testing any links sent to you in advance so you don’t have problems on the day.
What should I wear to an assessment centre?
Unless you are advised otherwise, choose a smart, professional outfit. If your assessment centre is online it might be tempting to be more casual, seeing as you will be at home, but we recommend making the same effort to dress for the occasion, and make a good impression by showing how seriously you are taking the activity.
Things to remember after an assessment centre
After an assessment centre it’s a good idea to reflect on the tasks and review your performance. Here are some questions you could try, to help you reflect:
- What kinds of tasks were part of the assessment centre?
- What did you think went well?
- In what situations did you feel most comfortable/confident?
- What went less well – what do you feel impacted that?
Assessment centres are typically the final stage in a highly competitive process, so don’t forget to reflect on what you have achieved so far, and what you did well, as well as anything you want to improve.
Talking things through can help process your thoughts and feelings. Speak to family members, friends, perhaps your tutor, and of course, do feel encouraged to make an appointment with us if you feel you would find that helpful.
Contact the employer to ask for feedback (whether you were offered the role or not) as this will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, and give you useful tips for your next application.
Don’t forget that you can access further help from the Careers and Employability Service. Complete our short online courses, review the advice and tips on this page, or consider booking onto a mock assessment centre as part of our skills workshop programme.
Feeling rejected hurts, but luckily there are strategies you can use to help turn this situation around.
In group activities it is very easy to begin to doubt yourself, but you have to remember that you got to this point in the recruitment process because you are capable.