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Assessment centres

Working together to shine as an individual

Assessment Centres are often used when employers need to observe and evaluate the skills and behaviours of several candidates at once, through the use of a variety of assessment methods.

This approach is very popular with organisations that run graduate and intern schemes; but they are also becoming more popular as a tool to assess individuals at all levels.

While an assessment centre can be a daunting process, it provides a unique opportunity for employers to assess candidates in a variety of situations that will highlight the skills and behaviours they're looking for; equally candidates often get to know more about the company and get more insight from the people actually working within business, enabling them to make an informed decision whether the business or role is right for them.

What to expect

A typical assessment centre will be a day-long event (in other companies it may be longer) and is likely to encompass a number of different activities.

Assessment days typically start with a welcome session which will inform you of the structure of the day and what activities to expect. Most companies will give a brief presentation on the company, department or the role you have applied for.

Assessment Centre exercises

There are an infinite number of exercises and activities you could encounter and these could be a mixture of group and individual exercises.

Activities may typically include some of the following:

  • Presentations
  • Role play exercise
  • Group exercise
  • Interview (one-to-one or panel)
  • Aptitude tests (Numerical, verbal reasoning or psychometric test)

You will find a wide range of useful information on these activities on the internet but you may find the summarised tips below helpful.

Role play exercises

These are often used to assess how candidates act and behave in specific scenarios and give the assessors a good view on candidate's communication, relationship building and influencing skills.

  • Ensure you understand the objectives of the task and ensure that you work towards achieving those objectives.
  • Make sure that if you are meant to be in character, you act accordingly and ensure that you make a strong introduction.
  • Ask questions where/when appropriate and take into consideration any new information given to you. Think about how any new information impacts the objectives of the meeting and adapt your approach accordingly.
  • In most cases the role-player will have further information about the task which will often require you to probe.

Group exercises

These are frequently used as part of assessment centres as they give potential employers a good indication of how you will work with colleagues and customers. This is your opportunity to demonstrate to the assessors that you are not only able to lead, but can also be an integral part of a team.

Often you will be observed by the assessors throughout the group discussion/exercise preparation. The assessors are likely to be paying close attention to how you perform and relate to others in the group.

  • Ensure that you openly contribute to the discussions and actively encourage contribution from others in the group.
  • The way you contribute is as important as what you contribute, so listen to suggestions from your team, co-operate with colleagues and ensure you use the ideas of others to reach the overall decision.
  • In addition to how well you work in a team environment, don't forget that you are still being assessed against the key competencies for the role, so ensure that your contribution is constructive and demonstrates your ability to think analytically, reason logically, while achieving the business objectives; which will be demonstrated by how clearly you keep the goals of the task in mind.

Aptitude tests - numerical, verbal reasoning or psychometric

Aptitude and ability tests are often designed to assess your skills in logical verbal/numerical reasoning. They typically consist of multiple choice questions and are likely to be administered under exam conditions. Results are normally compared to a control group so that your performance can be measured against a benchmark.

Given the nature of these test there's probably a limit to how much you can prepare for these.

  • Take a number of practice tests from the variety of different sources available on the internet (we've provided a link to some here: http://www.shldirect.com/practice_tests.html
  • Try and be in an environment where you are least likely to be disturbed.
  • Have a calculator handy if the test allows.

General assessment centre hints and tips

  • Read all activity instructions carefully and ensure that you follow them closely.
  • Check your spelling and grammar on any written exercises.
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself at the beginning of the day and to share a key fact and some background information about yourself.
  • Be the person you are rather than the person you think they are looking for.
  • Make regular contributions without appearing competitive or domineering.
  • Always back up any suggestions and recommendations with reasons, likewise if you disagree with something say so but clearly outline why you disagree and offer an alternative.
  • If you make a mistake, move on quickly. Assessors are not expecting you to be perfect in all areas, so try not to dwell on any errors. There will be plenty of opportunities throughout the day for you to sell yourself.
  • Give value to the contributions of others.
  • Actively take part in any discussion.
  • Manage your time effectively to ensure you complete every task.
  • Remember that this is a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd but try and make it for all the right reasons.