How to prepare for an assessment centre
The secret to ‘passing’ a graduate assessment centre with flying colours is the preparation you do beforehand. Here's your essential checklist.
Methodical preparation for an assessment day will help you perform at your best. It will give you the confidence to cope with whatever activities you are given and also give you handy conversation starters to help you out with the socialising portion of the day.
As a result of social distancing measures, it’s likely your assessment centre will now be held virtually. As recruiters will still be assessing the same qualities and may be looking to make the virtual event as similar to the in-person version as possible, a lot of the advice in this article will still be relevant. However, do take a look at our advice on virtual assessment centres for an idea of how these differ and how best to approach them.
Start with the briefing you are given
- Read carefully all the information 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 put together a presentation in answer to a brief; if so, this should be in the information pack the employer sends you.
- Confirm the format of the presentation, if you are asked for one – for example, check whether they expect a MS PowerPoint and, if so, whether you need to send it in advance, to bring it in on a USB or download it from the cloud on the day. Don’t just turn up expecting them to have the facilities you need. If your assessment centre is virtual, check how you will be giving the presentation. You may have to share your screen with a MS PowerPoint, for example.
Do further research on the employer, the role and the industry
- Read about the company. Revisit the research you did for your application. Check the employer's social media profiles to find out what it is shouting about at the moment: any new project wins, any initiatives, interviews with the CEO, stories in the media and so on. Look at key documents on the employer’s website, such as its business plan or annual report – read the executive summary if nothing else.
- Read about the industry. Head to the big-name news sites and to any sources of industry news – including professional bodies and industry-specific magazines (for example, The Engineer for engineering or Management Today for commercial or trainee management roles). Keep an eye out for issues affecting the entire industry – such as the impact of legislation, environmental concerns or consumer trends – and any news about the employer or its competitors.
- Read about the company’s values and the role’s competencies. Take another look at the job advert and the employer’s recruitment literature to remind yourself of the skills that they will be assessing you on. Employers will also be looking to see whether you share and act in accordance with their values. Your knowledge of what the company seeks could affect your approach to any assessment centre exercises – for example, if one of the company’s values is to respect the contribution of others, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to talk over everyone else in the group exercise.
Practise assessment centre exercises and interview questions
- Use your careers service. Most careers services run practice sessions for assessment centres and specific assessment activities, such as presentations. At the very least, book a one-to-one meeting with a careers adviser to talk through tactics for the day itself. Your careers service can provide support and advice even after you’ve graduated. You should find that most of the services they offer can be accessed online.
- Practise free or paid for assessment centre exercises via our commercial partner AssessmentDay.
- Check the employer’s website and their employer hub on TARGETjobs for any tips for assessment day candidates.
- Brush up on your interview technique. Individual interviews will usually be part of the day. Our guidance on how to answer tricky interview questions will help you prepare.
Get the assessment centre chat down pat
- Prepare your own questions to ask. Whether you are making small talk with assessors, are meeting current graduate employees or are chatting to other candidates, it’s good to have some ready-made conversation topics to hand. These could be based around: your prior research and knowledge of industry trends; information you’d genuinely like to know about the company, such as what the training is really like; or the career path of the person you are talking to, eg what they like about their job and/or the company and about their career development to date.
- Rehearse your personal pitch. Also known as an ‘elevator pitch’, this is essentially how you introduce yourself at interviews, assessment days and networking events and is useful if you are asked ‘Tell me a bit about you’. Read our tips on perfecting your personal pitch.
Plan the practicalities
If your assessment centre is held virtually, think about the practicalities you may need to plan for. Thinking about your tech and outfit (including the bottom half, to be safe!) is a strong place to start, but our article on virtual assessment centres gives more suggestions for how best to prepare.
- Plan your route. It may be obvious, but plan how long it will take you to get there and factor in time for potential delays. If you’re driving, investigate parking options and charges (you can ask the recruiters about parking at their offices). It’s good practice to arrive for the assessment day 10 or 15 minutes early. If the employer reimburses travel expenses, make sure you keep copies of receipts.
- Plan your outfit. How do you dress for an assessment centre? It is always safest to ‘go smart’ in a well-fitting suit or business wear. However, make sure that you are comfortable: you won’t thank yourself for pinching shoes (or ankle-straining stiletto heels) by the end of the day. If you are going for a job in manufacturing or similar and you will be given a tour of a work site, make sure that what you are wearing would be suitable for that.
- Plan what to take with you. It’s good practice to bring an up to date your CV and/or a copy of your application to refer to if needed. You also might want to bring along a summary of your employer research to refresh yourself on the basics before you go in. But there could be other useful items as well, ranging from your phone charger to pre- and post-assessment day snacks to spare tights in case of accidental laddering (if you wear them, that is!). Store the contact details of the recruiter on your phone in case you need to get in touch on the day (for example, if you’ll be late).
Preparation builds on your great first impression
Remember that employers have invited you to an assessment day because they liked you during the initial stages of the application process. All you need to do is confirm that initial good impression. Following the steps above will give you the experience and the knowledge to throw yourself into the day wholeheartedly – something that is likely to lead to a job offer.