Assessment centres – also known as assessment days – are commonly used by large graduate employers who wish to recruit a number of new candidates every year.
An assessment centre can last from half a day to two or three days. It consists of structured activities and exercises designed to simulate tasks and situations you may come across in the job itself.
A number of candidates will attend an assessment centre at the same time; you will work in groups as well as individually.
You will be assessed by a number of people, who will be evaluating you against a set of pre-agreed competencies.
Spending a day or more working under this scrutiny can be daunting for candidates, especially with the knowledge that this is probably the last chance to impress before offers are made.
Nerves are normal, but thorough preparation ahead of the day will give you the best foundation for success. This article will cover how best to prepare.
Ten Tips to Prepare for an Assessment Centre
1. Know What to Expect
Read through your invitation to the assessment centre carefully, so you know what's coming on the day.
Note what kind of exercises and activities you will be doing and if you have to prepare anything in advance, such as a presentation.
You should also check if you need to bring anything with you.
If you are uncertain about any aspects of the day, contact the employer for more information.
2. Research the Firm and the Role
Ahead of the assessment centre, you should make sure you know the firm inside-out and have a strong understanding of what you would be doing if you secured the job.
- Look at the employer’s website for information about what it does, its ethos and what it looks for in candidates.
- Study the job description closely.
- Read up on any news stories involving the company and/or its business sector.
- Speak to people who already work at the company.
3. Review Your Application
If you have been asked to take a CV with you on the day, make any improvements or amendments so you can present recruiters with the strongest version possible.
4. Check the Key Competencies
Throughout the day, recruiters will be assessing you on a range of key competencies that they have identified as essential for the role.
These competencies will vary depending on the sector and the role applied for, so be sure to research the specific competencies sought.
You also need to make sure you can demonstrate that you meet the key competencies. Come up with specific examples that match up each competency – you might draw these from your studies, previous employment or extra-curricular activities.
5. Perfect Your Presentation
Most recruiters will provide information in advance about what you need to prepare, so make the most of this. You will feel much more confident going into the presentation if you are fully rehearsed.
- Find out who your audience will be and check what equipment will be available. PowerPoint slides are preferable to a flipchart or overhead projector but keep them simple – avoid blocks of text and aim for no more than one slide per two minutes of presentation.
- Use simple, clear language and commit as much as possible to memory, so you are not relying on notes.
- Practise delivering the presentation aloud several times before the day, and time yourself to be sure it's the correct length.
6. Practise Aptitude Tests
Check what kind of aptitude tests you will be taking and which test supplier the employer uses. This information may be given on your invitation to the assessment centre; if not, contact the employer’s HR department to find out.
Once you know what kind of tests to expect, do as much practice as you can. This article has more information about aptitude tests, the different test providers and tips on how to prepare, along with some free practice questions.
JobTestPrep is another valuable resource for sample tests.
7. Become an Interview Pro
- Will you be interviewed by a panel or just one recruiter?
- How long will it last?
- Is it an in-depth assessment or more of an informal chat about how the day has gone?
Be sure that you are clear on the skills and competencies required for the job, and prepare examples to demonstrate how you meet each one.
Use the STAR technique to structure your answers effectively.
If you have already completed an interview as part of the application process, ask for feedback to see where you could improve your performance.
Practise answering interview questions out loud to ensure your answers are clear, concise and confident.
Read our various interview advice articles for more hints and tips on preparing for interviews.
8. Succeed in Group Exercises
Although your own performance will naturally be at the forefront of your mind, it is important that you support and encourage other candidates. Remember that you may not be directly competing for the same role, so if you all do well you could all land the job you want.
The group task may involve being given a topic to discuss, debating a work-related problem and then presenting your solution to assessors, or completing a task such as a case study. Try to find out what kind of exercises you will be facing on the day.
Show confidence in the group exercise and don’t be afraid to take the lead or put your ideas forward.
But give others a chance to contribute too, and be sure to treat all ideas and input with courtesy and respect.
9. Look After Yourself
Assessment centres are an intense test of your mental and professional abilities and you will probably feel exhausted by the end of the day.
It’s important to look after your mental and physical wellbeing beforehand, so you perform at your best.
- Getting enough sleep before the assessment centre is vital for concentration and staying alert.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet in the weeks leading up the assessment centre will help you to feel your best. Remember to have a good breakfast that morning – to avoid energy slumps – and to drink plenty of water.
- Regular exercise in the weeks before your assessment centre will promote wellbeing and help reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. If you’re not used to working out then don’t push yourself too hard – try something gentle such as a walk or swim.
10. Plan Ahead
Give yourself plenty of time to plan how you will get to the assessment centre and make any necessary travel arrangements.
Aim to arrive earlier than the specified time and allow for delays such as cancelled trains or getting lost.
If the assessment centre is in an unfamiliar area, it might be worth having a printed map as a back-up in case technology lets you down.
Deciding on your outfit in advance will also help avoid last minute panics and unnecessary stress. Choose something smart and professional, and of course, make sure it is clean and ironed.
If in doubt, ask HR for a dress code or look at the company website for an idea of appropriate workwear.
On the Day of Your Assessment Centre
On the day itself, remember to:
- Arrive in good time.
- Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet, including other candidates. Try to make a note of people’s names and remember to use them.
- Join in with discussions, including informal ones (e.g. during lunch/dinner). Remember that you are being assessed throughout the day, even during the more social aspects, so remain professional and consider the impression you are making at all times.
- Be assertive during group and individual exercises (but don’t dominate or undermine others).
- Move on quickly if you make a mistake. Assessors are not expecting you to be perfect in all areas, so try not to dwell on any errors.
- Try to draw others into group discussions. Your assessors want to see evidence of good leadership and teamwork skills, as well as your own intelligent input.
- Find out when you can call for interview feedback. If you don't get a job offer this time you need to know why, so that you can make sure you get an offer next time around.
Assessment centres can be a scary prospect. Remember though: if you’ve got this far, you’ve already impressed the recruiter and are close to being offered the job.
If you’ve done all the preparation you can, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t excel.
Try to relax, be yourself and enjoy the day – candidates who join in enthusiastically and show a genuine interest in the tasks and their peers are usually those most likely to succeed.
You may be interested in these other articles on WikiJob: