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What types of exercises are used at assessment centres for engineering graduate jobs?

Elements such as technical interviews, group activities, presentations and tests are a mainstay of graduate engineering job assessment centres. Here’s what to expect – and how to control your nerves.

Most major recruiters use assessment centres as part of the selection process for their graduate engineering schemes. The content varies from company to company, but there are numerous common elements.

Most recruiters’ assessment centres are designed around their core competences – the skills they most need in their graduate engineers. Technical ability is obviously important, but it’s the soft skills that allow engineers to use this in a business context that really make the difference. There’s no point designing a brilliant new product or system if you can’t communicate the concept to colleagues, convince them of its potential value to the business, or adapt your ideas in the light of practical or commercial considerations.

Typical activities at engineering assessment centres

Common tasks at assessment centres for engineering jobs include the following.

  • Interviews: may be technical interviews, competency-based interviews or both.
  • Group activities: often involve discussing and making decisions around a given business issue in small groups.
  • Giving a presentation: some recruiters give applicants the topic for the engineering assessment centre presentation in advance so they have a chance to prepare (eg discussing a technical project they have previously been involved with). Others give candidates their topic on the day: this often relates to the employer’s business and may involve candidates doing fact finding or decision making before presenting their conclusions.
  • Tests: these can include psychometric tests (for example reasoning tests or numerical tests), which you can practise online before the assessment centre. Other tests include personality questionnaires and tests to check that the candidate understands the basic engineering principles of the area in which the employer works. Some employers also test whether candidates can extract relevant details from a large amount of information, and/or communicate this information: in some cases this links to giving a presentation.

The social side of assessment centres

As well as formal assessment exercises, most assessment centres include opportunities to chat to recruiters or current employees. Use the chance to learn more about the business, keeping in mind that their opinion of you may be sought. Genuine enthusiasm, interest in the company and good manners will go down well.

Dealing with assessment centre nerves

TARGETjobs Engineering spoke to Yan Zhou, a structural engineer and former Imperial College London student, about how he prepared for assessment centres and dealt with nerves.

‘Everyone feels nervous before the day,’ Yan points out, ‘but I felt that the more I prepared, the less nervous I would be. I collected information about the company and I tried to understand what kind of people the company was looking for. I also went to my careers service for advice and tips.’ On the day, assessors will do their best to put you at your ease – they want to see what you can accomplish, and no one performs well when they’re nervous. ‘In my technical interview, the engineers gave me clues when I was facing difficulties, which made it less stressful,’ Yan explains.

Remember that employers will be marking you against their selection criteria, not the other candidates. Keep the employer’s selection criteria in mind throughout the event. ‘I compared the job description and competence requirements with my CV to find out my advantages and disadvantages,’ Yan says. ‘It’s important to get a full understanding of yourself as well as the employer’s requirements.’

However nervous you feel, remember that to succeed at an assessment centre you need to participate fully. You might have great technical skills but if the assessors don’t see or hear anything from you, they can’t assess you. If you have something to say that could have an important effect on the outcome of a group exercise, it’s important to get your point across – but without being overbearing or rude.

One key advantage of assessment centres is that you have the opportunity to demonstrate your skills in a variety of situations. Rather than being judged on your performance in one interview by a single interviewer, you’ll be observed in various situations by multiple recruiters and engineers, providing a much more accurate picture. It’s also a chance for you to find out about the organisation: ‘I found the day a great chance to learn the values, structure and culture of the company,’ says Yan.