What to Expect from an Assessment Centre

One of the most common steps in finding a job as a graduate is attending an assessment centre. Before I’d actually been to one I was so confused as to what it would involve, would I be doing tests, would it last all day, would it just be me there? Most employers/recruiters aren’t actually very good at communicating what an assessment centre is and what you would actually have to do, so I thought I’d put together a little guide based on my own experiences. I’ve been to a few over the past few years for various internships and job applications so whilst I do have a pretty good grasp, it’s important to remember that each will be slightly different depending on the company and the role you’ve applied for.

Essentially, an assessment centre is a group interview held at the company offices, usually taking a couple of hours. It’s a great opportunity for you to present yourself to employers, as well as a chance to have a look around the office and see if you can get a feel for the company culture, which is so important! You’re there to be interviewed, but you have to also make sure the company is a good fit for you.

Will this be my only interview?

In my experiences, unfortunately not. Assessment centres are usually the first or second step (after a phone/video interview) in the application process. Assessment centres can have anywhere between 6-20 applicants attending, which in itself is pretty varied. I recently attended one where there were 29 of us and it was honestly a total disaster. The more people there are the harder it is to make yourself stand out, but stick around till the end of the post for my tips on how to best present yourself and succeed!

I have also been to assessment centres for recruitment companies, where the interview is only for you to get accepted on to their books and not for a specific role. If you are attending an assessment centre like this, I think the most important thing is to be enthusiastic. You’ll have further interviews for the specific roles, so the recruiter is just testing your ability to present yourself.

What will I be doing?

All the assessment centres I have attended have followed roughly the same format. After waiting for the whole group to arrive, you’ll be taken to an interview room, usually a large table with chairs round the outside. The company will then give a short presentation about themselves, highlighting what they do and a bit more about their culture. This is a great chance for you to find out more about them and their style. If I find my mind wandering during this first section then it’s not a great sign that the company is a good fit for me.

This is usually followed by some icebreaker exercises. Introducing yourself with a fun fact – prepare two or three in advance because this has come up at every single one and it’s not a great start if you don’t have one thing to say about yourself! There will then be some group/partner exercises, whether that’s you doing a mini interview with your partner and then presenting them to the group or working together on some sort of group task. I’ve had everything from working together to rank the most important items if you were stranded on a desert island, to having to come up with a product and pitch it to the whole group. Honestly, these group exercises usually have little to do with the role itself and are just a chance for the interviewers to see how you work in a group, so my best advice here is to listen! Make sure you are actively listening to your group members, commenting on what they are saying and offering your own ideas.

There will then usually be a short break, which is such a great chance for you to go and have a nosy round the office! Whether I need to or not I always try and go find the bathroom during this break so I can have a little explore, as you get a much better feel for the office and the people working there when you are by yourself compared to being led around in a group.

Then comes the one to one interview. I’ve written a separate piece on how to best prepare for an interview, but this is your chance to shine. This is when you really need to get your personality across and show why you specifically want the job. The group tasks are great for them to see you working in a team, but the individual interviews are where they will test your competency and determine why you actually want the job.

Sounds fine right?

It is! An assessment centre might seem intimidating, but it’s also a great chance to meet some fellow job hunters and find out how their experience is going! I’ve met some great people over the past few weeks and getting to share my thoughts and difficulties with them and hearing theirs is actually very comforting. Finding a job in a graduate market is so difficult, but really everyone is in the same boat!

One thing that isn’t quite so nice is that unfortunately there can be cuts throughout the process. I did not realise there was going to be cuts when I recently went along to one and I was absolutely shocked. Halfway through they split us in to two groups and half the room were taken away. There’s no other way to describe it other than savage. However, if you do find yourself in this situation and you aren’t successful you have to see the positives – no point in you wasting your time and going through the one to one interviews if they have already decided you aren’t a great fit.

So here are my ultimate do’s and dont’s. After your first one, they really do become easier as you will have a better idea of what to expect! Hopefully this post has given you a bit of an understanding of the process, don’t forget to share it with anyone who’s currently looking for a job and might need some advice!

Do’s

  • Listen to everyone
  • Speak to the other candidates whilst you are waiting – not only is it a nice thing to do, having an ‘interview friend’ will make you more comfortable
  • Bring water and a notepad and pen
  • Give a firm handshake
  • Be confident!

Dont’s

  • Sit on your phone while you are waiting – first impressions count
  • Treat it like a competition
  • Talk over anyone
  • Sit in silence – it’s a hard balance between talking and listening but sitting in silence won’t help you either!
  • Expect it to end on time
What to expect from an assessment centre, pinnable graphic by londonsnewgirl

Dear Diary… I GOT A JOB

Perhaps the most exciting post I’ve written since I started blogging again. So far on londonsnewgirl you’ve all read about my journey trying to find a job in London. I’ve talked about everything from interview prep to dealing with rejection and now I can finally share some good news – I’M EMPLOYED! Well, I will be when I start full time on September 9th.

What an absolutely whirlwind of a job-seeking experience. I knew the day would come when I’d actually get a job but finding motivation when I’m sitting in the house watching Ed go off to work and dealing with rejection was pretty damn hard. I’ve recently written about how hard it is to be a graduate and that post had such an amazing response. I’m glad I can now be an example of how hard work can pay off and help others who are struggling with their job hunting experience.

So what’s my job? For various reasons I don’t want to go in to too much detail, but I’ll be working for a publication coordinating their German adverts. A job in media that uses German? Quite literally a dream! The office is on fleet street and I thought my mum was going to cry when I told her. I’ve always loved writing and journalism, so to have my office on a street that is so iconic makes moving to London feel all that more real. I’m right in the heart of the action and I don’t think that is ever going to stop being exciting!

As I had to go through a recruitment company to get an interview for the role, I had three interviews in total! One assessment centre, an initial interview with the company and then finally a presentation. Luckily for me the process was rather speedy in comparison to others and exactly a week after the first interview I received a job offer.

One thing nobody ever talks about though is how scary it is actually accepting it! I’d been working towards a job offer for months, but as soon as I actually had one I was full of nerves. What if I don’t like it? What if I am not good at it? Am I about to make a mistake? I’m a chronic over-thinker so this probably doesn’t apply to you, but after reconciling myself to the fact that yes, I probably will absolutely love it and yes, they wouldn’t have offered me the job if they didn’t think I’d be good at it, I was thrilled to accept.

So now I have a week or so to sort myself out. Finish collecting some final pieces for my dream work wardrobe, make sure we lock down a flat now that we both have jobs and ultimately enjoy my last little bit of Summer Holiday freedom. The thought that I’m about to start the rest of my life is a little doom and gloom and I’m trying to see it as such a big opportunity to finally start achieving some of my long term goals!

How to Prepare for an Interview

If you read my post on job hunting in London, you’ll know that interviews aren’t actually something that bother me all that much. This might change as I inevitably become jaded by the constantly spinning wheel of London life, being let down and taken advantage of – or so I’m told! But for now, I’m seeing interviews as a positive thing, a chance to find out more about the company and show them why I’m the right person for the job. Or, a chance for me to find out I’m not the right person for the job and they aren’t the company for me.

One of the major reasons I am able not to feel daunted by big interviews is the preparation I put in beforehand. This might be as simple as reading the company’s website the day before if you are applying for a weekend or after-school job. However as I’m competing in the graduate market since I’ve recently graduated from University most positions I am applying for are hotly contested and I need to put in the preparation to show why I deserve the opportunity.

Research is key!

Before you go in to an interview, I want to know what to expect to give myself the best possible chance. There are a few key points and ways you can research the company in order to arm yourself with all the information you need

  • Google them: potentially exceptionally obvious, but I mean really googling them. Google map the office so you know exactly how to get there, what you’ve got around you and use street view so you can see the exterior of the office so you’re not walking up and down on interview day. Click on the news tab to see when they’ve been mentioned in recent stories and if there’s any breaking news you can bring up during the interview to show that you’re active and enthusiastic about the brand.
  • Know their competitors and what makes them unique: if you’re applying for a marketing job, know who the other main marketing company’s are and why the company you are applying for is different. Brands work tirelessly to promote their USP so by mentioning it and illustrating you understand it they will appreciate your efforts.
  • Check their social media: company’s will often retweet or share information they want to promote and social media is a great way to see what the brand is saying directly from the source. I also think social media is a great way to check out the office culture, see if they include photos or videos of social activities or charity events they participate in.
  • Try and find a recent case study or project and make yourself aware of how the brand created it and what they achieved. They might ask you for examples of their work that you enjoyed or what attracted you to them in the first place and being able to discuss their own work with them shows you are interested in the industry as a whole.

Show your skills

One thing I did recently for a job interview which I think really helped was to print out the job spec and go through each individual pointer and write down how I could display that. For example, the job I applied for included working on events so I wrote beside it a list of events that I had helped organise and what I achieved with each one. This way you know you are going in armed with the right skillset and it can really help affirm that the job is for you.

One question I have always been asked, no matter whether it’s a graduate job in London, a Summer internship or working in my local newsagents, is “Why you?” What can you bring to the job and company. Whether that’s endless enthusiasm, specific knowledge of the subject, contacts in the industry or whatever. Everyone has something unique to offer, so make sure you know what you’re bringing to the table before you go in.

Know Yourself

With that being said, it’s also important to know where your weaknesses lie. Very few jobs are completely independent with no sense of teamwork, so weaknesses aren’t something to be ashamed of. They also are not trying to trick you by asking you this question, they simply want to know what areas you’ll want to lean more heavily on your teammates. However I was always told to pick a weakness that could be turned into a strength. For example, I am so not a morning person. It takes me a good hour or two after getting into work to produce my best, but this means I work exceptionally well in the afternoon and can be even more productive. I’m also super enthusiastic and chatty, and whilst this means I can sometimes get carried away, it also means I’m confident enough to speak to people and put myself out there and have the energy to see a project through. Basically, there’s no such thing as a weakness.

Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments so we can all learn from each other and don’t forget there’s a pinnable image at the bottom of the post so you can save it for later!

My tips on how to prepare for an interview, pinnable graphic