The graduate's guide to assessment centres
Assessment centres are a regular feature of the recruitment process for graduate schemes. Employers bring together a group of candidates who complete a series of exercises, tests and interviews that are designed to evaluate their suitability for graduate jobs within the organisation. This format makes it much easier for you to showcase a broader range of skills and competences than you would have opportunity to demonstrate in an interview. For this reason they are a much fairer and more effective way to select graduates than traditional interviews.
Typical graduate assessment centre activities
Graduate employers design their own assessment centres to test for skills and aptitudes that are right for their own organisations, but they typically contain similar elements and exercises. As well as interviews you could expect to do a combination of group work exercises, presentations, aptitude and psychometric tests, in-tray/e-tray exercises, or case studies linked to the job function. Employers will also give you the opportunity to find out more about them and to meet with current employees.
What recruiters and assessors look for
Recruiters assess candidates for a number of things including how you demonstrate core graduate skills and competences such as communication, teamwork and problem solving. The group setting also makes it much easier for them to assess how well you work with others, how you influence and persuade, and how others respond to you. The assessors will want to see how you react to different situations, much as you would have to in the job itself.
Assessment centres aren't about survival of the fittest. Always remember that you are being assessed against the employer’s criteria and not against the other candidates. You need to find a way to work together with your ‘colleagues’ to achieve the goals and tasks set.
How you can succeed at graduate assessment centres
Turn up with an open mind and be ready to get involved, but remember that some standard, practical preparation before the day will be your biggest help and confidence booster.
Use your careers service. Most careers services run practice sessions for assessment centres. At the very least you may be able to practise psychometric tests or book sessions to prepare for the individual assessment centre activities, such as group exercises.
Practise psychometric tests online.
Read carefully all the literature the employer sends you. As well as practical information about the date, location and start time it should also tell you how the day will be structured.
Check whether or not you will have to complete any tasks before the day. You may need to work on parts of a case study or put together a presentation. Plan time for this and don’t leave it until the last minute.
Revise your employer research. Revisit the research you did for your application and go back to the employer’s website to check whether they provide any tips for assessment centre candidates. If you are unsure of what is expected of you, contact the recruiter as soon as possible.
Brush up on your interview technique. Interviews will be included in the format so be ready to shine for the bits where you go solo.
Be self aware. To succeed at assessments you need to be aware, flexible and responsive. Don't attempt to force your personality on the situation. Be yourself, but be aware that ultra-competitive behaviour can easily come across as arrogance. And if you are too shy to speak your qualities won’t be assessed.
Don’t be late on the day Punctuality is the first part of the test!