Marketing assessment centres and interviews: what to expect and how to prepare

From being a motivated team worker to presenting yourself or an idea to a target group, assessment centres are your chance to show graduate recruiters you can operate in a marketing environment.

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Assessment centres give you the opportunity to demonstrate a range of skills, not just your effectiveness at being interviewed.

Recruiters use assessment centres to test candidates’ suitability for their organisation and the position itself. An assessment centre will usually be the final stage of the recruitment process and are commonly used by both marketing firms, as well as other organisations with in-house marketing departments. In the marketing sector they will often involve a number of exercises designed around ‘real-life’ scenarios and case studies, as well as a job interview (or multiple).

How will marketing assessment centres run in 2021?

Employers will still be running assessment centres in 2021, but it’s highly likely that they’ll be carried out virtually rather than ‘in-person’. Virtual assessment centres can be carried out at home and will usually include similar activities to what you could expect in a ‘normal’ assessment centre (for example, group, presentation and case study exercises and interviews).

You should prepare for virtual assessment centres in much the same way as you would an in-person assessment centre. After all, they are still the best opportunity for you to show off your marketing skills and for you to find out more about the employer.

What skills do marketing graduates need?

The main difference between solely having an interview and attending an assessment centre is, rather than just asking you for evidence of your skills, recruiters are able to see first-hand whether you have the skills needed for the job. But, what skills will recruiters be looking for?

Top skills recruiters want to see in marketing graduates include:

  • teamwork
  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • creativity
  • problem solving and the ability to deal with new information
  • confidence
  • commercial awareness.

Read this advice article for more information about the skills you will need to get a graduate job in marketing, advertising and PR.

Marketing assessment centres: what stages are involved?

The most common assessments you will face in a marketing assessment centre are:

  • Group exercises
  • Presentation exercises
  • Case study exercises
  • Interviews
  • Aptitude/psychometric assessments

It’s important to remember is that all of these assessments will assess a range of skills. For example, a presentation exercise won’t just be intended to allow you to showcase your public speaking skills, but also your commercial awareness, organisation and (potentially) your visual design skills. Similarly, there may be crossover between the above types of tasks, such as a presentation or group task being based around a case study.

Marketing group exercises

A group exercise will usually involve you and a number of other candidates being given a task to respond to. This might take the form of a case study for which you’ll need to produce a response, prepare a creative pitch or create a marketing plan which you’ll need to prepare a response to, a creative pitch to prepare or a marketing project to plan, for example.

Presentations at marketing assessment centres

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to prepare anything in advance for the presentation task; you’ll be given the information and time you’ll need to prepare the presentation in advance. Again, this may be based on a case study you’ve been given, or a creative task. Recruiters will be looking at whether you can structure information and communicate in an organised and convincing manner. Remember to pay attention to your timings and leave room for questions at the end.

What’s involved in a marketing case study exercise?

A case study may be a fictionalised account about a generic project, or it could be based on real information from the organisation’s past. Either way, you’ll be assessed on how you process the information and instructions (or ‘brief) that you are given and on your response. To prepare, familiarise yourself with the work of the organisation you are applying for and read other ‘case studies’ in marketing sector publications, such as Marketing Week or Campaign. Don’t be afraid to bring in your own knowledge of the organisation and its competitors to the exercise. Recruiters won’t expect your responses to be perfect; they instead want to see how you behave in a work-related scenario.

Example marketing case study

For example, if you were applying to an in-house marketing firm at a cosmetics company, you may be given information about their product range, sales figures and previous marketing campaigns. You may then be asked to design a marketing campaign for a new range of shampoo they are producing.

In your response you could choose what market you will promote the shampoo to and why, and explain how this will affect the medium and channels you choose to use. You could offer an estimate at a budget or costing of the campaign and explain your reasoning for how you reached this figure and how you will stay within this budget.

Marketing assessment centres: psychometric and assessment tests

Psychometric and assessment tests are becoming a more and more common part of organisations’ recruitment processes. Many larger organisations will use online tests as one of the first stages in their applications, potentially immediate after submitting a CV or application form. However, depending on the role and job you apply for, you may be asked to complete an assessment exercise as part of an exercise.

For example, if applying for a creative marketing or copywriting role, you may be asked to complete a writing exercise. If the role has a financial aspect to it (such as in media buying or planning) or is more data- or digital-focused, you may be asked to complete a numerical reasoning test. A situational judgement test will look at how you behave in certain scenarios.

What to expect from graduate marketing interviews

A marketing interview will probably be quite similar to interviews in other sectors: you will most likely be asked a mixture of competency, strength-based and motivational questions to assess your ability to do the role, how you like to work and whether you have a genuine interest in the company you are applying for.

Examples of the type of questions that could be asked at a marketing interview include:

  • Why are you interested in working for [employer]?
  • Give us an example of a time where you demonstrated [skill].
  • What marketing campaign or strategy has caught your eye recently?
  • Tell us what you think the biggest challenge facing [employer] at the moment is.
  • How would you have handled this PR crisis that is currently in the news? (said to be asked by WPP)?
  • Why is [organisation] in the news at the moment? (said to be asked by Centrica/British Gas)

Expect to be asked about the skills and qualities that are asked for in the job description or advert, so it’s important that you read this carefully and prepare a number of examples in advance of your interview. When answering these ‘tell us about a time…’ or competency questions, you can use the STAR method to contextualise your examples: explain the Situation, describe the Task, detail your Actions, and explain the Result.

There is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer for strength-based questions (such as ‘What motivates you?’ or ‘How do you judge success?’), as these are used to assess your natural behaviours and whether you would be a good fit for the job. However, pay attention to the values and previous work of the organisation you are apply for, and try and demonstrate these throughout your interview and assessment centre. For example, if you are applying for a digital marketing agency that prides itself on being agile and responding quickly to trends and issues, saying that you like to take your time on problems may not be the best response.

Marketing assessment top tip: Remember! It’s not a competition!

Even though it might seem like survival of the fittest, this is not the case. In a group of eight people for example, it’s possible that all of you might get a job offer or you may all be rejected. You are assessed against the organisation’s criteria not against the other candidates. In fact, being too competitive may count against you: it can easily come across as arrogance.

Marketing assessment top tip: Your careers service can help

Careers services vary as to the level of help available, but most will run practice sessions for assessment centres. Careers services may be able to offer these practice exercises and sessions virtually. At the very least, there’ll be practice psychometric tests, either DIY versions or proper, simulated tests, run by trained staff. There may even be sessions preparing you for other types of assessment centre activities, like group exercises.

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