What happens at a consulting assessment centre?
Many consulting employers use assessment centres to select the best graduates. Here’s what happens and how you can tick the big box called ‘impressing recruiters’.
You’ve sparked a firm’s interest and have demonstrated on paper that you have the skills and qualities they are seeking.
Many consulting firms include assessment centres, which usually last about half a day, as a part of their graduate recruitment processes. It’s natural to feel nervous about attending one, but knowing what to expect should help to make you feel more prepared and in control. First and foremost, bear in mind that an invitation to a consulting assessment centre means you’re doing well. You’ve sparked a firm’s interest and have demonstrated on paper that you have the skills and qualities they are seeking. You can find detailed information about what to expect at specific firms in the TARGETjobs employer hubs, but here’s a rundown of seven of the most common elements you’ll find at assessment centres:
It’s likely that you’ll already have had an interview, either in person or over the phone, and you’ve impressed your interviewers enough that you’ve been invited to the assessment centre. The interview, or interviews, that take place on the assessment day will often be with a partner, or someone at a senior level in the firm, and delve deeper than previous interviews have. Remember that at all interviews assessors will be looking to see that you can demonstrate a strong understanding of the firm, and how you’ll make a good fit. We've got plenty of good interview advice for you.
2. Case studies
One of the interviews at an assessment centre may be a case study interview. You’ll be presented with a business problem and asked to come up with a solution. Assessors will be looking at how you process information, solve problems and react to new and surprising situations. For more on case study interviews, see our article on how to ace them.
3. Group exercises
These are designed to see how well candidates perform in group situations. At Capgemini, for example, candidates are split into small groups. Each group is given a large amount of information, and asked to complete a series of tasks in half an hour. The team’s effort is monitored by assessors, as is each candidate’s performance, bearing in mind the area of the firm they have applied for. Assessors will want to see that you can hold your own in a team, but demonstrate confidence, not arrogance. Capgemini recommends: ‘Be assertive and persuasive, yet diplomatic. Get your message across in a positive, supportive way. Often a company is looking for team player not team leaders. Remember you're applying for a graduate position, not to be the new CEO!’
4. Aptitude and psychometric tests
Often candidates have taken a psychometric test when they first submitted their application. At some assessment centres they are asked to take a follow-up test, to validate their online score. In other firms, the test at this stage will be more about understanding how you approach problem solving and can size up a situation, such as the problem-solving test given by McKinsey & Company.
5. In-tray exercises
Favoured by companies such as KPMG, this involves being given a series of tasks, which typically arrive by email, and being asked to deal with them – these are designed to assess your organisation and prioritisation skills. You can increases your chances of success if you practise a few of these before the day.
At some assessment centres you will be asked to give a presentation, usually to a mixed group of candidates and assessors. It’s helpful to do some practice in advance and bear in mind the following:
- A structure is helpful to prevent your mind from going blank and helps the audience keep track. Once you have a structure you can decide what kind of props you will use; notes are fine but don’t speak directly from a script. Be aware of your timescale and don’t attempt to fit in too much information or your audience will switch off and you’ll run out of time.
- Most of the message of your talk is transmitted non-verbally, by the way you present. Your body language can make a huge difference to your presentation so stand confidently, don’t fidget and look at those who you’re addressing.
- If you’re using a flipchart, projector or PowerPoint slides to support your presentation keep the text brief.
7. Role play
This is a less common element of consulting assessment centres, but very popular with several firms, such as PA Consulting Group. A candidate will be put into a client-facing situation similar to one experienced by a consultant at the firm. The ‘client’, played by an assessor, may be difficult or unforthcoming with information. The assessor will want to see how the applicant is able to deal with such clients – can they exercise diplomacy and tact, but also stay on track with the project at hand? Read these top tips to make you feel more relaxed about role play.
The most common myth surrounding assessment centres is that recruiters use them to trip candidates up. This is simply not the case. Consulting firms invest a lot of time, effort and money in the recruitment process and they want to see you perform well. The experience is designed to give you a taster of situations consultants face on a daily basis to see how you respond to the issues at hand. You’re not expected to know the ins and outs of a consulting project or converse in business jargon – recruiters just want to see how you process and react to information, work within a team and deal with time pressures. It’s also important to remember that it’s a two-way process, so use the experience to ask questions about the profession, the firm and the type of work consultants are involved with. Make notes on what you thought went well and what areas need improving, and ask for feedback on your performance.