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There are many stages of a graduate recruitment, and if you are applying to a big graduate recruiter then there is a good chance that a trip to an assessment centre will be required.

So what are assessment centres? How do they work, and how can you succeed?

In this article, we look at everything you need to know about assessment centres including what they might involve, how to prepare and how to stand out to the recruiter.

What is an assessment centre?

An assessment centre is a big part of the recruitment process for many graduates and employers.

In a nutshell, an assessment centre is a day or two of tests and activities that allow recruiters to assess your abilities and to see whether you have the skills to join their organisation. They take place following the first round of interviews and before the final selection, and are either held on their premises or in a hotel or conference centre. If the assessment centre is over two days, the employer will provide you with accommodation.

Assessment centres are also referred to as selection centres, and you will be presented with a mixture of online tests, group/individual exercises, case studies and presentation exercises.

Why do recruiters like to use assessment centres?

For many companies, assessment centres are a must to help select the right candidates to join their graduate schemes and this is for many reasons.

For example, recruiters can see how you perform in real life situations, such as a business exercise, rather than relying on your own self-assessment. For example, if you are given a task where you have to work in team, recruiters can see for themselves how you interact with others in your group, you go about solving problems and how effectively you work with others. It also gives them a chance to see how candidates who are equal on paper fare in real life situations, as they could have completely different approaches when it comes to the task at hand.

Another benefit for both recruiters and candidates is that assessment centres are more accurate than a standard interview. Everything from interviewer bias to the differing opinions of the interviewers, assessment centres allow for much great objectivity.

What does an assessment centre involve?

During your assessment day you will work individually and as part of a group on a range of exercises. These could include:

  • Psychometric testswork-experience
  • Role play exercises
  • Group discussions
  • In-tray exercises
  • Presentations
  • Written tests
  • Case studies

As you can see, there will be plenty of opportunity for you to show off your skills and abilities to your assessors.

How will I be assessed at an assessment centre?

An important thing to note about assessment centres is that employers aren’t just looking at how well you will be able to do the job; they will also be looking to see if you are a right fit for the company.

How you are assessed really depends on what you are doing. If you are doing structured testing, such as literacy and numeracy tests, then there will already be a framework in place. Psychometric tests are slightly different, as the employer will set the pass score in accordance to their own requirements.

When it comes to in-tray exercises, group discussions and role play exercises, assessors will score your actions against a competency framework. The assessors are usually a mix of line mangers and HR consultants, and will discuss all aspects of your performance at the assessment centre. Some of the things that the assessors are looking for could be;

There will be many opportunities for you to show these skills to a recruiter and one of the benefits of an assessment centre is if you don’t perform as well as you would have liked in one task, you have the opportunity to make up for it in another task later on in the day.

How should I prepare for an assessment centre?

As with all aspects of the recruitment process, from writing your application to your final interview, preparation is key when it comes to an assessment centre. Before you attend your assessment centre, consider doing some, or all, of the following;

  • Review your CV and application form
    • Highlight any skills you think will be important to demonstrate and think about the best ways to demonstrate them.
  • Re-read the job description and determine which skills, interests and experiences the employer is looking for
  • Re-read the research you did before your first interview with the company and do some further research
    • This could include reading up on the company’s history, researching their competitors and reading any white papers or press releases they have published recently. However, do not simply read them and then forget about them, make notes and form opinions so you are prepared to share these in the interview.
  • Do some practice psychometric tests and in-tray exercises online
    • You can find some free ones online and while the employer will have their own marking criteria, it will help you understand what sort of thing you can expect.
  • Review your first interview
    • Think about your first interview and how you performed. If there are any questions or situations that you found particularly difficult, then think about how you can improve on this for your assessment centre.
    • If you want to be really prepared, you can ask them for feedback too.
  • Visit your careers centre for advice
    • Your careers centre will have loads of resources to help you prepare for an assessment centre, from one-to-one coaching to hosting mock assessment centre interviews. Your university careers centre is a fantastic free resource so don’t take it for granted!

Top assessment centre tips

The Assessment Day has finally arrived, you are prepared and focused and ready to impress the recruiters. Now what? We share some tips on how to keep your cool and impress recruiters;

  • Avoid drinking too much caffeine!
    • Free tea and coffee sounds like a great idea at the start of the day but you will regret it when you’re shaking your way through the ‘build a bridge out of straws’ ice-breaker.
  • Be friendly and polite to everyone you meet
    • You are always being assessed so make sure you are polite to everyone. Also, although you are vying for a place on a much coveted graduate scheme, the other candidates aren’t your enemy so take some time to get to know them because you could end up working with them come September.
  • Make sure you understand the requirements of each task
    • Read the brief a few times and make sure you understand the overall challenge
  • Be assertive during the exercises
    • But be wary not to dominate the conversation – the assessors are looking for people who do not shy away from leadership but they are also looking for team work too.
  • Don’t worry about other candidates
    • Focus on yourself and demonstrating your skills and abilities
  • Don’t dwell on any mistakes
    • It can be disheartening if you feel you performed badly in a task, but try not to think about it too much. Always keep your focus on the task at hand and concentrate on performing well in the next one.

Hopefully you have a better idea of what an assessment centre is, what sort of thing is involved and how best to prepare for them. While they can seem daunting, they are a really good way for a recruiter to see if you are a good fit for the company, and they also give you plenty of opportunity to demonstrate a wide variety of skills that you might not have been able to demonstrate in a standard interview. Good luck!


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