Performing well during an assessment centre requires good preparation. Following these tips will increase your chances of success on the day...

What is an assessment centre?

An assessment centre is a combination of tasks and activities that test your suitability for the job. It gives you the chance to demonstrate a wider range of skills than you would have been able to during a traditional face-to-face interview.

Hosted over anything from an afternoon to two days, assessment centres may require an overnight stay, which the employer will normally arrange. You'll usually be joined by six to eight other candidates but it's important to keep focused on your own performance. Assessment centres are often the final stage of the selection process for large graduate recruiters.

What happens at an assessment centre?

Assessment days can be held anywhere from the employers offices to a hotel or training facility. You will work both individually and as part of a group on a variety of exercises including:

  • case studies
  • group discussions
  • in-tray exercises
  • presentations
  • psychometric tests
  • role play
  • social events
  • written tests.

Find out more at interview tests and exercises.

Example assessment day

Assessment centres vary dramatically in length, style and content, but an example assessment day might be:

  • 09.00 - Arrival and introduction
  • 09.15 - Employer presentation and group ice-breaker exercise
  • 10.00 - Psychometric tests
  • 11.30 - Individual task: In-tray exercise
  • 12.45 - Lunch
  • 13.45 - Group exercise: Case study
  • 14.45 - Assessment interviews
  • 16.15 - Individual presentations
  • 17.15 - Evaluation
  • 17.30 - Finish

How will I be assessed?

Employers don't just assess you against job competencies; they also aim to ensure that you're the right fit. Being scrutinised for such a long time can be challenging, but assessment centres allow you to compensate for poor performance in one task by excelling in another. Key skills that employers look for include:

  • adaptability
  • analytical thinking
  • commercial awareness
  • communication
  • creativity
  • decision-making
  • leadership
  • negotiation
  • organisation
  • persuasion
  • planning
  • teamwork
  • time management.

Assessors - usually a mix of HR consultants and line managers - score your actions against competency frameworks. They discuss all aspects of your performance before reaching a final decision on whether or not to hire you. All, several, one or none of the candidates could be successful.

You may find out there and then whether you've got the job or it could take a few days but the employer will let you know when you're likely to hear the result. As soon as you hear the decision make sure you ask for feedback so that you know what you need to work on and improve for the next assessment day.

How do I prepare?

As with interviews, good preparation is vital. Before the assessment day, it's important that you:

  • Call the organisation's graduate recruitment team if something is unclear.
  • Give yourself time to complete and practise any material that you've been asked to prepare.
  • Identify which skills, interests and experiences the employer is looking for by revisiting the job description and any other material that the company has sent you.
  • Practise potential exercises with a friend or family member.
  • Read the organisation's website, social media profiles and key literature (e.g. business plan, financial reports and corporate social responsibility strategy), ensuring that you're prepared to share your views and ideas.
  • Reflect on your first interview, asking the company for feedback, reviewing your performance, and noting any questions or situations that caused you difficulty.
  • Research the news, trends, competitors, history and opportunities of the organisation and its job sector.
  • Review your CV and application form.
  • Visit your university's careers and employability service for further guidance, as many have practice resources, offer one-on-one coaching and host mock assessment centre interviews.

Choose your outfit the night before, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol consumption. Plan your journey, aiming to arrive at least ten minutes early. Completing a 'dry run' if possible also combats nerves. On the day, eat a good, healthy breakfast and avoid too much caffeine.

For free practice tests visit psychometric tests or read our advice on preparing for and answering some of the most common interview questions.

Assessment centre tips

It's important that you:

  • Are assertive during all exercises.
  • Don't dwell on any mistakes, instead concentrate on performing well in the next task.
  • Ensure that the assessors can see your working methodology.
  • Don't worry about the other candidates, instead focus on putting your key skills forward.
  • Draw others into group discussions.
  • Ensure that you understand the requirements of each task by quickly digesting the brief - revisit this once you understand the overall challenge.
  • Join in with discussions, even at 'informal' mealtimes - ask other candidates about university if you're struggling for conversation.
  • Maintain a friendly and polite manner with everyone you meet, and remember that you're always being assessed.
  • Relax and let your personality shine, as assessors warm to individuality.