You’ve done it.  You’ve spent hours on the long application form, somehow passed those time-pressured online tests, passed the video interview, and just received that all-important email “Congratulations, we’d like to invite you to an assessment centre…”.


Now what?  You’ve never done one of those before.  All you hear from other students is how intense they are.  You look them up online and find sites dedicated to helping you practice them.  But you can’t seem to find any guidance on how the day runs as a whole. I’ve done my fair share of assessment centres, and here’s what I’ve learned…


  • There always seems to be time at the beginning where the assessors are sorting things out and you’re awkwardly sitting next to other applicants. It may seem like no one’s paying attention to how you act during this time, but trust me they are. 


No one’s speaking?  Start the conversation yourself.  Usually the people you meet at these assessment centres come from similar backgrounds: their last year of university.  There are simple conversation starters you can use there, such as “what university do you go to” and “what do you study”.  If there’s someone in the group who comes from a different background, it’s even better because you can lead the discussion in a more unique direction.


Assessors will make an effort to assess your networking skills.  If they happen to miss them, don’t worry because the knowledge you will have gained will become useful later in the day.  Even simple things like knowing candidates by their names will help with group tasks.


  • One of the most common tasks is a group exercise. You’ll be allocated a certain amount of time to read a brief, discuss it with your colleagues and respond.  Usually you’ll decide how you want to deal with the situation you have encountered and present this to your assessors. 


I’ve also been in assessment centres where each candidate is assigned different desired results.  In this case, your persuasion abilities are particularly under scrutiny.  Take care to firmly put your point across without taking over!


#TopTip – you typically don’t have enough time to read the whole brief in extensive detail, so try and read as much as you can, especially the last section as there’s always some important information there which others might not get to!


  • Another task could be a leadership exercise where you are alone with an assessor and given a brief. You would be expected to describe how you would react to specific situations and explain the reasoning for this.  Your thought processes and the way you communicate your ideas are what is being observed here. 


Be clear, confident and decisive.


  • You may also encounter a competencies interview, which will probably correspond more with the selection processes you have come across in the past.


Ensure you have read the job description and understand the company’s culture beforehand.  This will enable you to anticipate the types of questions you may be asked and therefore plan your answers effectively.  However, beware of sounding too robotic in your answers, let them flow naturally!


  • Presentations in assessment centres can occur in one of two ways:


– Prepared in advance (conduct plenty of background research on the topic in question!)

– Unplanned and on-the-day (be flexible and calmly consider how to approach the task).


  • Depending on the position you have applied for, you may be asked to partake in a role-play activity.


In this situation, it is advisable to quickly brainstorm what you would like to bring into the conversation.  That way, you will find it easier to structure the role-play.


Some other top tips to help you excel…


Remember to keep your energy levels up throughout the day!  Recruiters often report that the last task is performed to a lower standard because candidates are tired.  Avoid falling into this trap by bringing snacks for the breaks, and keeping hydrated.


Be aware that you aren’t being assessed on only one competency per task; often assessments of competencies are overlapped with different tasks.


Keep in mind that whatever the outcome of the assessment centre, there are benefits to gain from having experienced one.  If you’re successful, it’s great you’ve secured a position you want!  If you’re unsuccessful, there’s still a wealth of knowledge to be acquired, the most important of which is to ask for feedback.  This will be invaluable for your next assessment centre, since you can focus on your areas for improvement.


Good luck!


Jodie Keens: Junior Researcher at Futureboard.

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