Assessment centres are set up by employers to observe how you react to a series of tests and to determine your workplace skills.
Rather than being sat in a room with one or two interviewers, you are with a whole bunch of candidates vying for the same position. And while you may fear you will get lost in the throng, they are actually an excellent place to shine.
Here’s our guide to assessment centres.
What’s it like?
Assessment centres generally run over the course of a day and a group of candidates (including you, obviously) will get to show how they would tackle work activities.
There are various tasks that test key hotspots such as group work, leadership and presentation. Rather than you telling the interviewer what you can do, you get to show them what you can do.
You will probably be assessed by different people throughout the day, and you’ll be judged against a list of competencies, across a number of exercises. Your end score will probably determine if you get hired.
What to expect
Each company will have their own way of doing things, but there are general tasks that will crop up in most assessment centres, so you can still do some research beforehand to come out on top. You should be told of what to expect, but here's a guide to the most common tasks.
This task shows your communication skills and that you can work productively in a team. There are various types of group tasks, from discussing a topic, to having a specific problem to solve and ‘ice-breaker' exercises.
Regardless of the actual task, there are key considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, this is a group exercise, so you’re being viewed within the context of a group. Even if you think you’re the next Donald Trump, don't sway in and take over. You obviously need to show you have ideas and a contribution to make, but do so in a calm and considerate manner. You can demonstrate leadership skills in other ways such as keeping everyone on topic or ensuring the task is completed on time.
While they strike fear into many people, employers often use presentations to assess a candidate's communication and information skills.
The key to a good presentation is preparation. Firstly, find out as much as you can about the presentation beforehand. Try and find out what equipment you will need/be using, how long the presentation is and who you will be presenting to. Knowing all of these will enable you to start visualising the presentation and calm you down.
Some employers want you to create the presentation beforehand, while others wait until the day of the assessment centre. Whatever the scenario, there are steps to use when approaching a presentation. Here are our top tips:
- Every story needs a beginning, middle and an end and so does every presentation
- Start with a short intro, move onto the main content and then finish with a summary
- Keep the content precise
- Don't read from cards
- Make eye contact with the audience
Nerves cause people to speed up when they talk, so force yourself to take breaths and pause between slides.
Imagine you turn up for a job to be met with an inbox full with urgent tasks. How would you cope? That's the point of this task – to see how you manage your time and deal with stress.
You'll be expected to prioritise content such as emails, phone messages and reports, and then explain how you would deal with each task.
Read through all the correspondence swiftly. Identify the ones that require immediate action, those you would delegate and then any that could be delayed. Then run through the immediate tasks and highlight what you would do and how quickly you would do it. For the delegated tasks, say who you would hand it over to. For the tasks you would delay, explain what you would do when you got to it.
The written test
If the position you’re applying for involves writing reports or communicating with clients over email, you can bet there will be a written task.
This could be something like having to read a case study and then offer ideas for the next course of action, or summarising the content for a colleague. You’re being tested on your ability to communicate and assess the most important data in a document, so make sure you understand what the task requires and pick out what content you want to include.
Then present your text in a logical manner, concentrating on the most important issues first and ensuring the tone is relevant for the intended recipient. Finally, leave yourself time at the end to check for spelling and grammar errors.
Just because you’re in an assessment centre doesn't mean you will weedle out of a one-to-one interview! Most centres will have an interview as part of the day. It will be like a typical interview, the only difference being that all those skills you boasted about will then be tested.
Approach this in the same way as you would any other interview.
Depending on the sector you are interviewing for, you may have a role-playing task. This could be something like handling a dissatisfied customer or trying to solve a problem in a meeting, and will be used to test your problem-solving abilities and communication skills.
The trick is to remain calm in whatever situation is presented. Keep a logical mind and be confident that you can tackle an issue. Think up some possible scenarios and practise what you would say. Even if the actual subject is like nothing you thought of, you would have got in the habit of forming arguments.
These are used to get an idea of your culture fit and psychological state. The best course of action with these is to answer honestly. If you second-guess what you should say, it will quickly become apparent and could mean you are out of the running. If you are nervous about these, take part in some of the online ones to get used to the kinds of questions you'll be asked.
Extra tricks to ace an assessment centre
Be aware of body language
You’re always being watched in an assessment centre, so do some research on body language and make sure you perform throughout the time there. Don't fidget, sit up straight, make eye contact and smile. Show you are a confident and nice person to be around.
Approach all the tasks with an open mind and show interest in your fellow candidates. You'd be amazed at how many people act like sulky teenagers at an assessment centre, so you can make yourself stand in a positive light just by smiling!
Just as you would do a raft of preparation for an interview, prepare for the assessment centre. For example, consulting with the organiser of the centre and find out as much as you can, and doing a test run to the centre to lessen the risk of turning up late.
If you are prone to nerves, being prepared will help alleviate some of the jitters. But assessment
centres can actually benefit people who get nervous in interviews, because you are judged on various tasks, not just how well you interview.
It may sound trite, but be yourself on the day. Assessment centres are far more involved than normal interviews, and it is more difficult to put on an act.
Do's and don'ts of assessment centres
- Do prepare and research as much as you can
- Do dress professionally
- Do smile and introduce yourself
- Don't let everyone else do all the talking
- Don't lose sight of the time and fail to complete tasks
- Don't constantly talk over others