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!
- 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!
- 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