Some companies run a series of extended selection procedures, called assessment centres, each lasting one or two days or sometimes longer. Usually, these are after the first round of interviews and before the final selection, but they may also be used as an initial selection process. They are commonly held either on employers’ premises or in a hotel and are considered by many organisations to be the most objective and accurate method of selection. This is because a number of different assessors get to see you over a longer period of time and have the chance to see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do, in a variety of situations.

Assessment centres typically include a number of elements:

  • Social/informal events where you meet a variety of people, including other candidates, the assessors, recent graduates and senior management. This is an excellent opportunity for you to find out about the organisation and to ask questions in a more informal setting. These events may appear to be informal and not part of the true assessment procedure, but you should behave in a way that reflects well on you. The drink will be free, but resist the temptation to have too much!
  • Information sessions, which provide more detail about the organisation and the roles available. Listen carefully, as the information provided is likely to be more up-to-date than your previous research. If you are unclear about anything, ask.
  • Tests and exercises designed to reveal your potential. Assessors at assessment centres measure you against a set of competencies and each exercise is designed to assess one or more of these areas. Do not worry if you think you perform badly at any stage, as it is likely that you will have the chance to compensate later on.

Find out if your careers service offers practice aptitude test sessions or presentation skills workshops.

If you have a disability that may affect your performance in any of the exercises mentioned, discuss the matter with the employer before attending the assessment centre.

Remember that you have already done really well to get to the stage of being invited to an assessment centre – many other applicants will have been rejected by this stage.

A typical assessment day

Content, length and structure of assessment centres varies greatly. Here is the outline of one graduate employer’s tips and advice for assessment centres. This is an illustrative example only:

Preparation

Visit the company’s website and read the recruitment and other relevant information. Draw up a list of your main strengths, particularly those you think are relevant to the area for which you have applied. Consider any areas of potential improvement and think about how you will address them.

Think of questions you may want answers to at this stage.

Plan your journey carefully so that you arrive in good time for the start of the assessment centre.

Try to converse with other candidates – this will help when it comes to group exercises later.

What to expect
You will be one of six to eight candidates and there will be four assessors – these are usually managers from the department to which you have applied.
You will be interviewed and asked to take part in a number of exercises, including a numerical reasoning test. The exercises will be based on the type of work for which you have applied.
The exercises, usually undertaken with a number of other candidates, will take the form of an in-tray or case study exercise, a presentation and a group discussion.
At the end of the assessment, you will be asked for feedback on the process. This will not impact on any decisions that are made about your performance and honest comments are encouraged.

Your performance
You do not need to prepare anything specific for the assessment centre. You are not being assessed on what you know but on how you think. Be yourself (at your best).
Listen carefully to the instructions given to you at the start of the day and always read the information you are given thoroughly.

Not everyone is good at certain exercises, but remember that the assessment centre will give you a number of chances to show your strengths and meet our criteria.
Remain focused and motivated for the whole day. You will find it tiring, but your level of motivation will be assessed throughout.

You are not being measured against the other candidates but against certain predetermined criteria. It is quite possible that every candidate will achieve the necessary standard, in which case offers will be made to all.

You will learn…
How you react in different situations. You may find you have previously unidentified strengths appropriate to the company. Recruitment is a two-way process. You will have the opportunity to talk with the assessors and to meet a number of recent graduates with whom you can talk informally over dinner. (The dinner is not part of the assessment, but it will give you a chance to learn what life in the company is like and whether it is for you and about the activities in which you may be involved if you are offered a position with us.) The assessment is loosely based on samples of real work.

Criteria
Your performance will be assessed against predetermined criteria that have been identified as being important in the organization:

  • team working skills;
  • communication skills;
  • leadership skills;
  • time management skills;
  • listening skills;
  • motivation and enthusiasm;
  • data analysis skills;
  • decision-making skills;
  • influencing skills;
  • creativity;
  • integrity;
  • initiative.