Some recruiters may use assessment centres (either online or in person) to explore candidate’s skills and attributes beyond those gained in the lecture theatre by providing the opportunity to undertake a range of work place style activities.  

Assessment Centres

Top Tips
  • Be professional – Treat the assessment centre as a work situation and be polite and helpful at all times
  • Get involved – Contribute fully to all activities to give the assessors evidence of your skills and abilities
  • Collaboration, not competition – How well you work with others is an important aspect of any assessment centre
  • Be confident! – If you are the right candidate for the job and fit the employer’s culture, you should enjoy the assessment centre!
  • Share your experience – If you have been to an assessment centre, tell us about your experience by completing our selection feedback form and help others to prepare
The basics

Assessment centres are usually the final stage of the selection process with large employers. They use a variety of exercises and activities to assess your skills and how you interact with others in a work-like environment. They can last from half a day to two full days or more.

You will be scored against a set of criteria or competencies throughout the assessment centre. It is important to remember that you will not be competing against the other candidates, so be collaborative. It is not uncommon for an employer to select several candidates from one assessment centre and none from another.

What employers look for

Employers will often look for characteristics which are not easily tested through other recruitment methods:

  • Impact – being able to get your point across and contribute effectively
  • Intellectual depth – being able to analyse complex information and think on the spot
  • Persuasiveness – getting others to see your point of view
  • Collaboration – understanding and working with what others have to offer
  • Resilience – knowing how and when to stand up for your ideas and defend your position
  • Judgement – being able to evaluate different options and being realistic
  • Maturity – being able to relate to a wide variety of people, including assessors

Depending on the employer and the type of job, competencies and criteria will vary, so remind yourself of the research you carried out for your application and interview, too.

What to expect

Most assessment centres are a combination of individual and group exercises. Here are some of the most common:

  • Group exercise – Usually, you will be given a scenario and possible solutions which your group has to evaluate. You may also be given different pieces of information or a specific role to play within your group (finance manager, HR manager etc.).
  • Group discussion – You will be given a topic (current affairs, student-related or other) to discuss in an observed discussion.
  • Case study – This is similar to the group exercise but you will be asked to analyse the information on your own and present your findings in an individual debriefing.
  • E-tray exercise – You will be asked to respond to emails (usually through multiple choice) using background information provided to you electronically.
  • Presentation – This can be prepared in advance or on the spot, followed by questions. Usually, you will present to only one assessor.

The range of exercises gives the employer the chance to observe you in a number of different situations. They also give you several chances to prove yourself: If you think you did badly in one element, you can make up for this in others. Usually, you will even be observed and scored by a different assessor for each exercise you complete to avoid personal bias.

Assessment centres also often include another interview – sometimes with a manager rather than recruiter. If you had to complete psychometric tests to reach the assessment centre, you might also be re-tested at this stage.

Do not forget about the social aspects of an assessment centre: Coffee breaks, lunches and dinners can be great opportunities to find out more about your fellow candidates and make a good impression on assessors and recent graduate recruits who will often be invited along. Be friendly, inclusive and ask some sensible questions.

How to prepare

Assessment centres will always involve a certain element of surprise, so keep an open mind and be ready to get involved. However, good preparation will give you confidence on the day:

  • Read anything sent by the employer carefully and take note of any practical instructions. Most employers also give you hints on what will happen on the day and tips on how to prepare.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare any tasks such as presentations.
  • Remind yourself of the employer’s requirements as well as your selling points. Go back to your application and notes from your interview.
  • Use the Careers and Employability Service resources to practise psychometric tests and prepare for interviews. You can also book a practice interview with a Careers Adviser.

If you have never been to an assessment centre, we also recommend that you use our Resources, including our DVD on assessment centres, to prepare.

You are also welcome to chat through your assessment centre schedule and what to expect with us.