Assessment Centres: What They Are and How to Prepare for Them
It’s that time of year again where soon-to-be graduates are looking to the future and applying for graduate schemes. Most people in this situation soon find out that assessment centres are a staple of most graduate recruitment processes, and are pretty unavoidable in this day and age. Although, they’re not just a popular avenue for graduate recruitment, but for any recruitment right up to senior and executive positions, so you can come across them at any point in your career.
So, what’s actually involved in assessment centres and how do you prepare for them? One of our Directors, Lindsey Boxall, has experience of running assessment days, both internally for Eden Scott and externally for clients, and has provided some valuable insight into assessment centres and how to prepare for them.
What Are Assessment Centres?
Assessment centres are a compilation of interviews, tasks and exercises candidates undertake during a recruitment process to assess their suitability for job. These are favoured by recruiters as they goes beyond a standard interview and affords candidates more opportunities to demonstrate a range of skills and prove what they can do, rather than simply say what they can do.
Assessment centres are typically half a day or a full day and can include around five to ten candidates (however, this is subject to the organisation and their preferences). Assessment centres are also often one of the last stages of the selection process for large recruiters – so very well done if you have reached this stage!
Why Do Companies Use Assessment Centres?
There are many different motivators for recruiters and organisations to use assessment centres to find new staff members. Just a few are;
- They are an effective way to assess competencies and behaviours through different exercises – the multiple stages make for a more consistent assessment and therefore more reliable results.
- It is an effective way of shortlisting candidates for a final interview (if there is one), particularly when there is a large number of candidates, which is often the case in graduate recruitment.
- It is fair and transparent as everyone goes through the same process.
- It is objective rather than subjective – there are no pre-conceived ideas of the candidates and what is captured on the day alone is what you are scored on.
What Happens in Assessment Centres?
There are a variety of different tasks and exercises involved in assessment centres and they depend on the type of skills required for the job or the type of candidate desired. Candidates on assessment days will need to complete a number of exercises that will be constructed to extract certain behaviours and traits that are necessary for the role.
Assessment days will normally have a mixture of the following;
This is very popular method of interview that, rather than investigating your technical talents, assesses your skills and abilities through scenario-based questions. These can last between one and two hours (one hour for graduates, potentially longer for more senior positions) and usually consists of the same number of questions as there are competencies listed in the job description. Check out our blog on competency-based interviews for more information.
Lindsey’s top tips for interviews
- Review your CV and have a think of good potential examples, but don’t go to the assessment centre with pre-defined examples to discuss; you need to think of the right example at the time (reviewing your CV will allow you to do this).
- Try to think of different answers to what your peers might be saying – this can be particularly difficult with graduates as they often have similar examples of university experiences. You’ll stand out more if you give more unique answers, so try to think of life experiences that set you apart.
- Try to think of an array of situations – mix it up with examples from your study, personal and professional experiences.
You can be asked to prepare these in advance of the day, however many companies task candidates with a presentation on the day. You will likely be provided a brief (i.e. what it should be about and how long it should be) relevant to the firm/vacancy you have applied to. Assessors often give you approximately 30 minutes to prepare, but this is down to the employer.
Lindsey’s top tips for presentations
- Always stand up to present – presentations can’t be done from where you are sitting; you must be visible to everyone in the room.
- Introduce yourself – doing so could help keep you in the assessor’s mind.
- Be mindful of time constraints – you’ll be surprised how often people go over their time limit and don’t get to finish their presentations.
- Ask if the audience has any questions at the end.
- Utilise whatever facilities are being provided – this could be a flip chart, PowerPoint, and so on. It is always better to have some form of visual aid to keep the audience engaged (but don’t rely on them too much!)
- Have a clear conclusion.
This is similar to the presentation exercise except you will be in a team. Normally you are given another brief or a discussion topic to debate over a set time. There is also usually additional time provided for the team for present back their agreed findings.
Lindsey’s top tips for group exercises
- Ensure that you contribute to the discussion – if you don’t involve yourself, the assessors will have nothing to assess you on.
- Make sure that you acknowledge others’ contributions and invite others into the conversation who are not involving themselves – this will highlight your good teamworking abilities.
- Be prepared to not agree with everyone, but back that up with why – assessors are not looking for your group to always agree, but to come to decisions based on compromise and logical debate.
- Be mindful of time – if you assume the role of timekeeper, make sure you fulfil this role! It’s important to make effective use of the limited time you have.
- If there is a presentation at the end, encourage everyone to be involved in it. If some team members are adamant to sit out then ensure that you at least take part in presenting – it will highlight your confidence and initiative - and you will also most likely stand out in the assessor’s mind.
Other potential exercises include;
- Psychometric testing – there are a variety of online tools, but essentially they are personality tests which ask a number of questions to determine work behaviour or personality of the candidates. These usually take around 15-30 minutes and are often used to gauge how you would fit culturally into the business.
- Numerical and verbal testing – This is another online test and will assess the level of numerical and verbal reasoning ability the candidate has.
- Scenario assessment – this will be a specific scenario that may happen in the job you have applied for; the assessor or company will be looking to see how you handle yourself in certain situations. This could be in the form of a role play or a written format.
- Written assessment – this is again a specific task that is related to the role you are applying for. You may be required to produce a report as if you were in the job position and be assessed on your reading and writing skills.
How Do You Prepare for an Assessment Centre?
- Ask a friend – if you know someone who has experienced an assessment centre, either as a candidate or an assessor, it may be worth while to ask for their take on it. It won’t be the exact same experience as yours since every assessment centre is different, but at least you’ll get more of an idea of the sort of things to expect.
- Research – its imperative to do some online research about the company and the job role. The company website is a good place to start, but try and research as much as you can from lots of different sources to ensure you’re as clued in as possible. Assessors will be able to tell the difference between someone who has done their research compared to someone who only spent a couple minutes skimming over their website!
- Think outside the box - because you are being assessed alongside multiple other candidates it is important to be memorable in some fashion, or at least not get forgotten in amongst the rest. So, if you’re giving the same sort of experiences as everyone else in a competency-based interview, you’re going to get lost in the crowd. Figure out what makes you unique (within reason!) and run with it.
- Investigate further – it may be worthwhile to phone the organisation running the assessment centre to see if they can provide more information about the day. You may not get it, but it’s worth a try and shows that you are being proactive.
- Be yourself - one of the purposes of an assessment centre is to gauge whether you fit culturally within the company, so pretending to be something you’re not and getting the job will just see you in a job that isn’t right for you. It’s important to be in a job that fits your personality and skill set as it gives you a better opportunity to do better work and be happy doing it. Be be true to yourself and the right job will come along.
- Practise makes perfect – the more you practise, the more prepared you’ll feel – this will help to feel more relaxed and less nervous. You can practise with family, friends, or even take part in practice assessments via companies such as Assessment Centre Prep or Assessment Day.
After the process has finished, and if you are unsuccessful, ask for feedback from the assessors (they will likely be happy to give it to you) as you can only do better in the future if you know what you need to work on.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of what an assessment centre is, what is expected of you, and how to prepare for them. While they can be a daunting experience, they are a good way for recruiters to fairly assess your skills and they afford you an excellent opportunity to show what you’ve got. If you’ve got an assessment day on the horizon – best of luck from us at Eden Scott!