Assessment centres for IT jobs: the tasks you'll face and how to tackle them

Know which exercises and tests different IT graduate employers use at their assessment days and what they are looking for.

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Be a good team player – flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen to and help expand the ideas of others.

Assessment centres are a regular feature of the graduate recruitment process. Employers bring together a group of candidates who complete a series of exercises, tests and interviews that are designed to evaluate their suitability for jobs and roles in their organisation.

The group setting makes it much easier for recruiters to assess how well you work with others, how you influence and persuade, how others respond to you and how you react to different situations. And it’s also much easier for you to showcase a broader range of skills and competencies than you would be able to demonstrate in an interview. For this reason they are a much fairer and more effective selection method.

As a result of the pandemic, your assessment centre may be held virtually. Take a look at our feature on virtual assessment centres to get an idea of the differences between these and in-person versions, along with ways to prepare specifically for virtual assessment centres. Perhaps this isn’t a concern for you as someone looking to work in IT, but try not to let the medium of communication phase you: recruiters will be looking for the same competencies, whether you’re meeting them through a screen or face-to-face. It’s likely, too, that you’ll have all the information needed beforehand and that someone will be on-hand if you have a tech issue.

Typical assessment tests for graduates

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 exercises. As well as interviews, expect to do a combination of:

  • group work exercises
  • presentations
  • aptitude and psychometric tests
  • case studies linked to the job function.

Ensure you showcase your commercial awareness, for example by considering the business context of a case study task and the commercial implications of your proposed solution. Employers will also give you the opportunity to find out more about them and to meet with current employees.

Certain exercises might be adapted or replaced in a virtual assessment centre. Some employers, for instance, may remove a group task from the schedule and instead gauge your ability to cooperate as part of a team through interview questions. It’s still important to be ready to face all of the above, however, as they have all been conducted by some employers during virtual assessment centres.

Group exercises: show you’re a team player

Group exercises are used to check out your communication and problem-solving skills, and to ensure that you can work effectively in a team. They include discussion groups, exercises that involve role-playing to a specific brief and, most commonly, working through a job-related scenario or case study. You need to support the group in completing the task that has been set while also promoting yourself. The best way to do this is to show yourself to be a good team player – flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen to and help expand the ideas of others.

Presentations are about clear communication

At some assessment centres you will be asked to give a presentation, usually to a mixed group of candidates and assessors. Here are a few ground rules:

  • If you have a free choice of topic, choose something that you can talk about naturally and easily; don’t choose a topic just because you think it will impress.
  • A structure is helpful to prevent your mind from going blank and will help the audience keep track too.
  • Use whatever form of notes you feel comfortable with, but never speak from a script.
  • Don’t attempt to fit in too much information or your audience will switch off. Five minutes is only enough time to present four big ideas or messages.
  • Much of the message of your talk will be transmitted non-verbally, so your body language can make a huge difference to your presentation (for virtual assessment centres, focus on your facial expressions).
  • You may be invited to use a flipchart or PowerPoint slides – use these to your advantage to support and back up your presentation.
  • If you are asked to put together a presentation on the day, include time for a run-through in the time allocated for preparation.

Have you got the aptitude to do something new?

Many graduate employers use psychometric tests during recruitment as they give some quantifiable measurement of whether or not you possess certain aptitudes and abilities essential for the job. You may already have taken psychometric tests as part of the application process, but some recruiters do a double check at assessment centres.

Ability tests assess general intelligence and skills that someone with your level of education should possess. These are most likely to be numerical or verbal reasoning tests. Expect to use complex information, in the form of words, numbers and diagrams, to solve problems using logical or lateral thinking.

Aptitude tests assess your ability to learn something new. Employees are increasingly expected to be flexible and adaptable in the workplace, so those who show ability to develop new skills quickly are in high demand. If you are from a non-technical degree background and have applied to work in a technical role, you may sit a programming aptitude test, for example.

Personality tests assess your typical behaviour and preferred way of going about things when presented with different situations. There are no right or wrong answers: honesty is the best policy.

You can practise various types of test with Assessment Day.

Forget survival of the fittest; you could all be winners

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. Turn up with an open mind and be ready to get involved. It’s possible for everyone on an assessment day to walk away with a job.

Follow us on Twitter @TjobsEng_Tech .

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