Assessment centres

Organisations select employees in a number of different ways. They will all be looking for someone who has the skills (competencies), abilities and personal qualities to do the job well but the method of selection used will vary from perhaps a single interview to an extended form of assessment generally known as an Assessment Centre.

Assessment Centres may last one or two days, sometimes longer. They are considered a fairer and more accurate way of choosing candidates because they offer an opportunity for a larger number of selectors to assess a greater range of job-related competencies over a longer period of time. Some assessors are willing to provide feedback on your performance, so if you are unsuccessful, it is useful to request feedback in order that you can improve your performance at future assessment centres. 

Assessment centres may involve the following:

Social events, eg lunch or dinner with other candidates, recent graduates and more senior management. This is an opportunity to find out more about the organisation in an informal setting, and also to display your interpersonal skills and present a positive image.

Information sessions to update you on the organisation, its activities and job opportunities. Take advantage of the social events and information sessions to make sure you are fully briefed on the organisation and the job roles prior to your interview.

Presentations. You might be asked to bring along a prepared presentation or prepare one at the assessment centre.

Simulation exercises to simulate a job-relevant task and/or elicit your job-relevant skill or competency.

An interview.

Psychometric tests to measure a range of human characteristics including intellectual ability/aptitude, personality, motivation, interests and values.

Read our tips below for how to prepare for:

Further information and advice on assessment centres:

    Presentations

    Giving a presentation is a well-established feature of assessment centres and there are a number of ways in which this can be organised by the selectors.

    It is usually short – five to ten minutes. You may be asked to bring along a prepared presentation, or have to prepare it at the assessment centre.

    You may be allocated a topic (usually from a selection) or given a free choice (take along one already prepared unless it is clear from your joining instructions that you will not be able to choose freely)

    Things to remember

    • Keep to the rules you have followed for your academic presentations concerning structure, content, style of delivery, body language, supporting your ideas with anecdotes, evidence etc.
    • Make sure your subject is not too technical or too mundane; pitch it at the right level for your audience.
    • Engage your audience rather than lecture them.
    • Keep to time! (rehearse beforehand to check).
    • Invite questions; know your subject well enough to handle them confidently.
    • Don't be afraid to use humour appropriately.

    Remember the selectors are more interested in your communication skills and how well you can structure a talk, than in the subject matter itself.

    Simulation exercises

    Individual exercises

    Case studies/report writing

    In this case you would be given a set of documents relating to a particular (often job-related) situation and asked to write a brief report or proposal. Time is usually very tight.

    Employers are looking for your:

    • Ability to work under pressure and prioritise
    • Logical/analytical ability
    • Decision making skills; and
    • Written communication skills

    In-tray exercises

    In this business simulation, you would be a member of staff in a hypothetical organisation. To complete the exercise you'll be given an in-tray full of memos, faxes and other messages from different parts of the organisation, perhaps relating to a particular problem which has arisen and which requires immediate action.

    You'll be expected to respond to the items in the in-tray, make decisions, prioritise actions and delegate tasks in order to deal with the situation. You may have to justify your actions in writing, as part of the exercise, or expand on the reasoning behind your decisions at an interview later in the assessment centre.

    Employers will be looking for the following competencies:

    • Analytical ability
    • Planning
    • Written communication skills
    • Decision making
    • Ability to work under pressure
    • Time management

    Try a sample in-tray exercise from www.assessmentday.co.uk.

    Group exercises

    Practical tasks

    As a group, you may be asked to construct something from materials provided, eg , a Lego model or a load-bearing bridge. The process is usually more important than the outcome. Make sure you get involved, however silly the task may seem.

    The employer will be assess your skills in the following areas:

    • Teamworking
    • Social/interpersonal skills
    • Leadership
    • Oral communication
    • Planning
    • Problem-solving
    • Creativity
    • Self-motivation and energy

    Discussions and role plays

    These range from leaderless discussions where the group is allocated a topic or an issue relevant to the employer's business to a more structured role-playing exercises. For example, you'll be given a briefing pack and assigned a particular role (typically, of a departmental manager within the organisation) and an individual objective for that role.

    Employers are looking for evidence of your:

    • Team working
    • Oral communication
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Planning
    • Negotiating/influencing skills
    • Problem-solving

    Here's how to make a group first impression in a group assessment exercise:

    • Quality of contribution is more important than quantity.
    • Ensure that the group establishes objectives, formulates an action plan and sticks to time.
    • Be assertive, persuasive and diplomatic, not domineering and aggressive.
    • Don't be destructively critical of others' ideas, instead acknowledge their contributions.
    • Listen carefully to other candidates and try to elicit contributions from everyone.
    • Keep calm and use humour where appropriate.
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