What To Expect From Assessment Centres

If you are applying for grad jobs within large companies, the chances are, sooner or later, you will face an assessment centre.

But what are assessment centres, why do companies use them and, most importantly, how can you make the most out of them? We’re glad you asked; here’s our ultimate beginner's guide!

What is an assessment centre, and why do companies use them?

An assessment centre will usually be the final or penultimate stage of your application process, so if you have made it this far, well done!

They usually last either half or a whole day, although some may be spread over two days and include an overnight stay, which will usually include some social aspect (hurrah for organised fun!)

Companies like using an assessment centre because a) it allow them to assess a lot of candidates in one go and b) it gives them a better idea of your potential - they can see how you behave in a range of work related situations, rather than just how you respond to interview questions.

What will I be asked to do?

You’ll usually be told what tasks you will face at an assessment centre in advance to allow you to prepare before you are put through your paces. These tend to include the following:

1. Role Plays

The role play will usually be based around a scenario similar to the job that you're applying for. They are most common when applying for customer or client roles, and positions that rely heavily on your communication skills. Your assessor or another candidate will take the part of a client/customer/colleague who will come to you with a problem, which you have to respond to.

The assessor will be looking to see whether you can think on your feet, whether you can tackle the problem at hand, and whether you can do so in a diplomatic and non-inflammatory manner.

Top tips: Make sure you know the traits or strengths of that company, these will usually be called something like 'key competencies' or 'core strengths' and are almost always explicitly stated on the company's graduate recruitment website. Bear them in mind when acting out your role play. 

2. Interviews

A short interview is usually part and parcel of an assessment centre. These interviews are usually highly structured, with assessors looking for specific things. This is great news for you - as these structured interviews tend to be easy to prep for!

The most common type of graduate interview is the competency-based interview, in which the interviewer asks you to give examples of times you have used certain skills or competencies. These are the interviews in which you are asked to ‘Describe a time when you have successfully led a team’ or ‘Tell us about a time when you’ve had to solve a problem quickly’.

Some companies like Nestle, Aviva, Unilever & Ernst and Young are now beginning to use strength-based interviews. Rather than focusing on what you have done in the past, as competency interviews do, strength-based interviews are used to assess what you enjoy doing and what makes you ‘tick’.

Typical strength-based questions include things like: "Are you a big picture or a detail person? What things do you find easy to learn? What gets done on your ‘to do’ list? What never gets done? When deadlines change, how do you feel?"

Top tip: Whenever you are asked a competency-based question, respond using the STAR method - outline the situation you faced, tell the person what task you had to complete, describe the action you took and always state the result. Read more about it here: Interview Body Language Blunders


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