Dear [insert name], we have reviewed your application for our vacancy and would like to invite you to attend our assessment centre…
Does that sentence fill you with excitement, fear, uncertainty, or a bit of all three? Most of us will have been to at least one interview by the time we leave uni, but assessment centres are a whole new kettle of fish for a lot of graduates.
Since they’re becoming quite a popular recruitment method – especially for graduate jobs with larger businesses – knowing how to handle them can bump you to the top of the pile in your search for a great grad job. To help you on your way, here’s our definitive guide to assessment centres.
What to expect
First, the basics: assessment centres are anything from a half day to two days in length, there will be other candidates at the centre with you, and there will be several different tasks for you to complete. You’ll also have to travel to the assessment centre (no Skype interview option here, folks), which is usually held at the recruiters’ workplace.
Some common assessment centre tasks are:
- Psychometric/aptitude tests: quick-fire problem-solving and comprehension questions, or personality quizzes
- Written assessment: often used to get a measure of candidates applying to communication-heavy roles
- In-tray exercises: designed to showcase your ability to cope with time constraints and juggle priorities
- Presentations: you could have been asked to prep beforehand or put it together on the day
- One-to-one interview: some recruiters like to get it all over with on one day, rather than asking you back later
- Group exercises: role play, group discussions, group presentations, case studies, team building exercises – the possibilities are endless
- Social assessments: if the recruiters don’t leave you alone with the other candidates during “breaks” and lunch, assume that you’re still being assessed.
How to prepare
It’s normal to feel daunted in the run up to an assessment day – especially if you’ve never been to one before. Never fear: there’s plenty of prep work you can do help your day go smoothly.
You can practice psychometric and aptitude tests online for free, to get yourself used to the format. We’ve found some good places to start here, here and here, but a quick Google search pulls loads of results too.
Just like a normal interview, knowing plenty of background about the company, the work they do, and the role is also a good place to start. Always revisit the job description and triple-check the instructions you’ve been given by the recruiter too; you don’t want to miss something you’ve been asked to prep and bring along on the day. If the info they’ve given is unclear, call or email them to check.
It’s also worth asking if the recruiter is covering travel expenses – many of them do, and we all know job-hunting ain’t cheap!
The day before, decide what you’re wearing (if in doubt, over-dress) and check your route, including making sure you’ve got train or bus tickets booked. Finally, get a contact number for the recruiter in case you hit traffic or have trouble finding the centre.
On the day
You probably don’t need us to tell you this but we will anyway: eat breakfast and leave for the centre at least 20 minutes earlier than you need to. You should have been given instructions about what to do and where to go when you arrive already, so make sure you have those to hand.
When everyone has arrived, there’s usually a short intro from the recruiter and maybe an ice-breaker to help the candidates settle into the day – they won’t usually sit you down for a 2-hour written assessment as soon as you walk in the door.
However, you’ll probably be expected to be “switched on” pretty much the whole time; in fact, the lunch break could be considered a task of its own at some centres. If you’re sitting down to eat with the recruiters, don’t just kick back with a sandwich and scroll through Twitter.
Break times are a great chance get to know the people you might be working with. If you can come across as polite, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, you’ll be into a winner as far as communication skills go. Remember: the recruiter wants to like you.It’s worth remembering that assessment centres will reflect what the company is all about, and the kind of day they set up is a good indication of what they’ll be like to work for. If you want an in-road to the demanding world of big business, for example, a challenging and intense assessment centre might leave you hungry for more (or put other candidates off completely).
The other advantage of assessment centres, from a candidate’s POV, is that flunking an exercise won’t necessarily put you out of the running. Unlike interviews, assessment centres give you the chance to make up for a questionable performance in one task by knocking out of the park in another.
At the end of the day
This is the part where the recruiter tells you when you can expect to hear from them, and then you can go home and chill out – you’ve earned it!
If you missed out on the job this time round, it’s always a good idea to ask for feedback. Employers are usually happy to give it after an assessment day (after all, they’ve put as much time into you as you have into them) and you’ll know what to work on for next time. If you got the job, or got invited back for the next stage, congrats and good luck!!
Jen Anderson writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice.