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What to expect from an assessment centre for a consumer products graduate scheme

Brush up on your brands, your small talk, your teamworking and your interview technique. At the assessment centre, a place on a consumer goods graduate scheme is within your grasp.

Assessment centre days bring a group of applicants for a consumer goods graduate scheme together for one or two days of activities, typically including group exercises, a case study and interviews. They are a chance for recruiters to see candidates in a range of situations that are close to the everyday reality of working life, and to observe their communication and teamworking skills in practice.

This is usually the final stage in the recruitment process, after online aptitude testing and video interviews, so if you’re invited to take part it shows that the organisation is seriously interested in hiring you. Senior managers often take part, as this is an opportunity for them to assess the fresh graduate talent coming into the company.

Many employers will try to let you know quickly whether you have been successful or not and feedback may be available to you if you are unsuccessful. It’s important to bear in mind that you are being assessed against a set of objective criteria rather than competing for roles with the other graduates present – it is possible that everyone present at your assessment centre could be offered a graduate scheme place.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, you may find that the assessment centre stage of the recruitment process is moved online. Although they will have adapted their exercises to work online (eg they might use questions at interview to assess the kinds of skills they would have looked out for during group exercises), employers are likely to be assessing you against the same criteria. You might want to take a look at our advice specific to virtual assessment centres (in any career sector) after this article.

Which consumer goods employers run assessment centres?

Unilever invites applicants to a Virtual Discovery Centre day which consists of a series of meetings, including meetings with other candidates your ‘line manager’. You will also experience business challenges.

P&G does not run an assessment centre, but instead uses online tests to assess your attitude to work, interests and experience. You can then expect to have one-on-one or panel interviews – which could be online, over the phone or in person.

Kerry Group's' assessment centres typically vary depending on the business function you’ve applied to. Candidates have previously been invited to complete three activities: a presentation exercise, a group discussion exercise and an interview, which is largely values-based.

Assessment centre exercises for consumer goods roles

The assessment centre is likely to consist of some combination of the following:

  • Social time (more likely to take place during an in-person assessment centre and unlikely to be formally assessed)
  • Group exercise, often a discussion
  • Case study, often combined with either the group discussion or presentation
  • Presentation
  • Confirmation psychometric tests
  • Interview or interviews (expect competency-based questions).

Our advice on how to perfect your personal pitch offers tips on how to introduce yourself, whether it’s over coffee, in the lift or at interview.

How to handle social time at a consumer goods assessment centre

Assessment days are structured, relatively formal occasions, but in-person ones generally include social times that are more free-form. It’s important to remember that even if you are not being assessed, your behaviour will make an impression.

Be friendly but professional, and do chat with other candidates at break times or over meals. Remember that assessors are trying to get an idea of how you would fit into the workplace, and aim to behave the way you would in the office if you got the job.

The assessment centre is likely to be attended by a mixture of representatives of the company. Recent graduates, recruiters and senior managers or directors may all be present. Be prepared to play it by ear – if you find yourself sitting next to the head of the department you’ve applied to at dinner, you’re going to need to try to make conversation. On the other hand, you should avoid being overfamiliar or unduly pushy.

Recruiters and senior employees are likely to want to put you at ease in social situations, so they can see you at your best. Try to be responsive and take your cues from them.

You’ll find some suggestions for questions you could ask graduate recruiters over coffee and at meal breaks in our advice on assessment centre etiquette.

What to expect from the group exercise

The group exercise may be a discussion based on a briefing paper, and the group may be expected to explore different possible courses of action based on the information they have been given. For example, the discussion may be about budgets or strategies. It is likely to last for around an hour.

What to expect from the presentation task

The presentation is likely to be based on a case study relevant to the business. For example, you could be asked to study a briefing pack and give a presentation on the course of action they recommend. The nature of the case study and the presentation depends on the graduate scheme applied for. For example, a candidate for the commercial scheme might be invited to pitch a product line to a store.

Before you go: review your employer research

It’s well worth revisiting your employer research before you go. You are likely to be given exercises to tackle that relate to the work of the organisation, and being familiar with key products and recent developments will boost your confidence both at interview and when you’re making conversation with representatives of the employer during social breaks. Make sure you are familiar with the employer’s key brands, and brush up on your knowledge of the competition as well.

Last updated 9 February 2021.

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