Assessment centres

What is an assessment centre?

Many employers use extended selection exercises as part of their recruitment process. These are often run as an assessment centre. Assessment centres are one of the most reliable indicators of future job performance and usually involve a series of exercises designed to show the selectors whether or not you possess the skills required. Typically assessment centres could include any or all of the following elements:

How might you be assessed?

You might be asked to participate in some of the following activities:

Social events

Drinks, lunch or a meal provide an opportunity for you to ask more detailed questions and for employers to see how you perform in more informal situations. Remember that you are being assessed all the time so make sure you behave in a professional manner and avoid drinking too much.

Group tasks

  • Group discussions: groups may be given a topic to discuss and perhaps reach a consensus on. Assessors will observe your interpersonal skills and how you contribute to the group. You don’t necessarily need to be dominant in the group to be successful – employers are looking for team players.
  • Role play exercises: you could be asked to play a role in a simulated exercise e.g. being part of a committee looking at the amenities in a town. This might involve considering how funds are invested to give residents the most benefit. The assessor will look at how you put your views across, whether you can construct a convincing argument and how well you influence and persuade others.
  • Business game/simulation: this usually involves tackling a simulated business situation where a task has to be performed, targets met and difficulties overcome. It is vital to keep to time and allocate tasks to ensure completion of the exercise. Sometimes you may have to present your findings as a group or individually, and then answer questions based on your answers.

Individual exercises

  • E-Tray: involves reading and prioritising emails, identifying action required and any deadlines, drafting replies and preparing reports. The Assessment Day website has example exercises for you to practice these tests. Target Jobs also has some useful information
  • Psychometric assessments: aptitude tests and questionnaires are the ones most commonly used. For more information on what to expect, how to approach them and for practice examples refer to the section on Psychometric assessments
  • Presentations: you may be given the topic in advance (so you can prepare) or you might be asked to prepare it on the day. You will be told what visual aids will be available, who your audience is and the time limit for your presentation. Remember, the key to success lies in anticipating your audience’s needs, delivering within the specified time-frame and communicating clearly and concisely. Also, choose a subject which interests you and you can talk confidently about and answer questions on - your passion will shine through when you are presenting
  • Interviews: even if you attended a first interview before the assessment centre be prepared for more in depth questioning, possibly from functional specialists. Your knowledge, your ability to do the job and your motivation will be under close scrutiny. Visit our interviews page for information on how to best prepare.

How to prepare for assessment centres

Before the day

Revisit your application form. Think about what skills and attributes are required (refer to job description/person specification/employer’s website). Look for opportunities during the assessment to display these. Prepare any required material before the event (e.g. for a presentation) and practise so you are confident with what you are saying. If psychometric tests are involved make sure you practise before the day. Research the company, the sector and the job role and keep in touch with the national and international news and be aware of potential implications for the company you are applying to.

You may be able to find out more about what the day will specifically entail by looking at the employer's recruitment website, or from websites such as WikiJob and AssessmentDay.co.uk.

On the day

Arrive in good time. Be polite to everyone – assessment starts from the minute you arrive. Join in, even at meal times. If you find small talk difficult ask other candidates about their courses. When presented with new material for exercises take time to make sure you understand the facts placed before you and the requirements of the task. Stay calm and focused through-out; don’t dwell on any mistakes just concentrate on doing well in the next task. After the assessment centre make notes on your experience and ask for feedback on your performance.