Assessment centre tips – what are they and how do they work?

Assessment centres are getting way more common these days. Know what to expect with our assessment centre tips.

What is an assessment centre? How does it help you get a job? Assessing something means seeing how it fits in, so an assessment centre is where employers see how you’d fit into your role if they gave you a job. With lots of group tasks and activities for you to do, it’s a bit like “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” but with no jungle, bugs or Ant and Dec to cheer you on...

If you’ve been picked to go to an assessment centre it’s a great sign. To get this far you’ve done really well!

What’s the difference between an assessment centre and a job interview? They both help employers to see if you’re right for a job and they’re usually the final stage in the application process, too! There are differences, though... for one thing, assessment centres are done on a much BIGGER scale:

In an assessment centre, you’re joined by (usually) around six to eight candidates. It’s not just you on your lonesome. Assessment centres are a good chance for employers to see how you behave in a group and work in a team. This isn’t a dog eat dog situation (after all, sometimes big companies will be looking to take on more than one person) but it is your chance to shine. An assessment can last anything between a half-day and three days. You get lunches and breaks, of course! They are sometimes held in hotels and if it lasts longer than a day this could be your chance to stay over in a hotel... You’ll be told early on whether lucky candidates are expected to go through their paces in an assessment centre. So you’ll never be caught by surprise! It always pays to be prepared, though. Read instructions on applications and any follow-up communications really carefully to make sure you haven’t missed anything (like being asked to prepare anything in advance). Finally, add in a few (fun) group quizzes and activities instead of you just answering questions in a room with your job interviewer. Who uses assessment centres? Assessment centres are often used by large companies and organisations (e.g. the NHS, British Gas, National Grid, Transport for London, EE, the Armed Forces, retailers and banks). However, it’s not just large companies using them! For example, an employer might use an assessment centre if a role has lots of communication or team work skills attached to it. Employers of any size might also use assessment centres if a role’s had a high number of applications. These days, a lot of graduate positions at major companies are filled using assessment centres. Apprenticeships are starting to be filled in the same way too. Getting wise to what goes on in an assessment centre is definitely a smart move.

What do you do in assessment centres? Psychometric tests These quizzes shine a light on your personality and competencies (a word you’ll see a lot in talk around assessment centre. It means your useful skills and abilities like ‘planning’, ‘decision making’ or ‘customer focus’). These quizzes are usually you vs. the computer. Employers still want to see you face-to-face, though...

Interviews You might get one or two interviews where employers can meet you properly! These job interviews help employers see how well your personality and competencies match the job you’re applying for. Think of it as a standard job interview, no surprises here. Check out our tips on how to ace an interview (with advice from recruitment experts) to prepare for this bit.

Group exercises and discussions Did you apply for an admin role but you’ve just been asked to build a tower out of paper and straws? Some of the group activities at an assessment centre might catch you by surprise! They exist so you can show off your snazzy skills in things like working as a team, dealing with pressure and communicating effectively with other people. Be prepared, go with the flow and play to your personal strengths!

Presentations When you speak in public are you a lion or a mouse? Or a mion? Presentations are not that scary (honest!). They’re just about talking in front of a small group for five minutes about a subject you know well, like your interests or what you did in your holidays. Even if public speaking isn’t your favourite thing in the world, you’ll get plenty time to prepare and it won’t last long!

In-tray exercises There’ll be times when you have a list of super-important tasks at work but there’s no company genie to magic them all away (unless you work at Disney, maybe?). Can you show employers how you keep a cool, calm head when there’s lots to do? In an in-tray exercise (or the digital e-tray version) you’ll get all kinds of pretend tasks to sort through. Important: You don’t actually have to do the tasks! You just have to read through them then say what order you’d do them in, and how you’d handle each one (e.g. return a call, pass the work over to another team member, deal with a complaint, etc.). Easy, right? You can do it. In an in-tray exercise, you just have to show how you would do it.

Assessment centre preparation tips Always read through the pre-assessment centre brief a million times to make sure you’ve understood it all. It helps to make sure you didn’t miss out any chunks the first time.

Make sure you understand the job you’re applying for and what kind of skills are required. If you know what skills they’re asking for, you can keep showing them how you’ve got those skills...

Think about what kinds of questions you might be asked in interviews and have your answers ready. Do your research to find examples of likely questions you might get asked. Practise answering some of the trickier example questions, too!

Remember, an assessment centre isn’t just a job test - it’s a fun experience that teaches you a lot about yourself. You will get lots of chances to prove yourself, and then that bright and shining job, apprenticeship or work opportunity could be yours...

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