Date posted: 4/08/2016

Assessment centres and how you should prepare

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If undergoing tests, interviews and exercises reduce you to a gibbering puddle at assessment centres, then you should read on to find out more about what you're expected to do, and how you can prepare for it.

Why do employers use assessment centres?

For some employers, having the right qualification or experience may not be enough: they want to know how you actually perform, so they use a process called an assessment centre.

This can be up to a day of activities with other candidates designed to reflect some of the day-to-day skills you'd need in the role.

Running an assessment centre process can be expensive, so not every organisation will spend the time and money. However, those that choose to run them do so because it shows them how all the candidates compare on exactly the same tasks.

Assessment centre activities

Your session should start with a welcome and introduction. Listen carefully to what they say as it'll give you important information about the activities you can expect, including:

  • Group activities - You may be asked to perform a non-business activity, such as creating something out of building blocks, or discussing a topic such as 'What are the advantages and disadvantages of having pets'. Or each member the team might be asked to role-play a position in a workplace, such as the IT manager.
    Here, the assessors are looking for how you work and interact with the team. You'll be judged on your ability to plan, problem solve, and your creativity.
    Make sure you listen to others, and embrace their ideas. You want to make the impression that you're confident with your own ideas, but not wedded to them if a better idea comes up. You don't want to be seen as overly competitive and protective.
  • Case studies - You may be given a commercial or business issue, and asked to recommend a solution.
    Here, assessors are looking for your ability to listen to information, analyse it, and use reasoning and creativity to solve a dilemma.
  • Psychometric tests - These are tests to determine your personality, aptitude, cognitive skills and behaviours. You can read more in our article on psychometric testing.
  • Presentations - You may be asked to make a short presentation to the rest of the group or to the assessors. The assessors will be looking for good presentation and communication skills, rather than the quality of the content. If you're not used to presenting, practise Also, make sure you answer the question or topic clearly. When presenting, stand up, speak clearly - which may feel slow to you at the front of the room, but is ideal for the listeners - and make eye contact.
  • Work challenge - You might be asked to deal with a typical everyday work challenge, or a fact-finding mission. Assessors will be looking for how you deal with problems, often within a short timeframe, and your decision-making abilities.
  • Interview - The assessment centre session may well end with an individual interview. You could be asked about the events of the day, your reactions, and any issues. Or it may be a repeat of a previous interview, in more depth.

After the assessment centre session

Many sessions will end with a social event, such as drinks. Just remember that you are still being assessed, so don't let your hair down too much. Don't expect too much feedback at the time, as this will usually come later.
Some candidates will want a 'post mortem' on the session. Try to avoid this as it may highlight activities you thought you didn't do so well at. Be positive, and try not to dwell on the events.
If you have been successful, you can expect to have a further interview, perhaps with a more senior member of staff.

Some do's and don'ts

Do:

  • Get a good night's sleep before the day.
  • Turn up on time, dressed appropriately.
  • Listen carefully to every task, and ask questions if you are unsure.
  • Once you have been given a task, plan first how you are going to address it.
  • Work quickly but in a controlled and organised way.
  • When in a group, listen to others and don't be too forceful.
  • Communicate clearly.

Don't:

  • Rush or panic.
  • Get so caught up with the detail that you don't have time to address the big picture.
  • Be intimidated by others: you may feel inadequate, but the way you address this may well be a key factor in a candidate's success.
  • Lose focus when not actually addressing a task, such as at the end of the day or in breaks.
  • Lastly, always try to keep things in perspective - the assessment is a good opportunity for you to learn more about the company or job as well! Going to the assessment centre provides good insight on the culture and organisational values of the company, plus if you're not successful, you can still learn from that experience so the next trip won't be so daunting.