More and more companies are using assessment centres as a means to filter out candidates. But what can you expect at the centres and how can you prepare for the testing process? Analiese Darninsuang finds out.
How can you prepare for an assessment centre?
"Assessment centres vary enormously, so it is important to find out as much as you can about the company and what will be happening on the day before you go,” says Anna Preston, a careers adviser from the University of Warwick. “Employers give out a lot of information about the assessment centre they will be running, so use it.”
Anna Rollason from Kroll suggests: “Come up with examples that demonstrate your skills at their best, for instance, when you showed leadership or worked in a team.” Doing this will avoid you having to think of quick examples that may not do your talents justice.
What else can you do to prepare?
- Use your university careers service – it may be able to give you practice aptitude tests or other useful exercises.
- Search online for websites that provide practice psychometric tests, such as www.shl.com
- Check the company website, as it may give information about the selection process and what that particular company is looking for.
Don’t forget, the more you prepare for the assessment centre, the more confident you will be.
What exercises are used at the assessment centre?
You will be asked to perform a series of tasks at the assessment centre. While these may seem daunting, Anna Preston says students should remember that “assessment centres are flexible, so you don’t have to do brilliantly in every task, as there are opportunities throughout the day to show your potential”.
The activities that take place at the assessment centre will be designed around the skills and qualities needed for the job you have applied for. They are likely to include the following:
- An interview: this is an opportunity for the assessors to probe weak areas shown in the first interview. It could be an interview by a panel or just one to one.
- Psychometric/aptitude tests: these are timed and taken under exam conditions. The tasks may be numerical or non-verbal, and they are designed to reveal how you think and how you process information.
- Case studies: these are designed to test your ability to analyse information and to think clearly and logically.
- An in-tray exercise: this activity requires you to make decisions that reveal your ability to prioritise your workload, delegate tasks and organise your time. For an example, see KPMG’s website, which features a practice in-tray activity.
- Presentations: this task highlights your ability to structure and communicate effectively. If you are asked to prepare a presentation beforehand, make sure you do so.
- Group activities: these will demonstrate your ability to interact with people, and will show whether you can work well in a team.
Throughout all these tasks, your progress will be measured against a set of competencies, rather than against the other candidates attending the assessment centre.
How to shine at the assessment centre
Assessment centres are focused on the candidates wanting the job, so make sure you stay motivated throughout the entire experience.
- Always pay attention to the instructions given by the assessors.
- If you are unsure of anything, then ask: better safe than sorry.
- Don’t lose concentration: focus on the task at hand.
- Be natural: don’t act a part, because the assessors will soon notice.
Socialising is also important during these events, as a large proportion of any assessment centre will be spent getting to know your assessors and fellow candidates. This is the perfect opportunity to find out more about the company and its people.
Take a lead from the assessors and senior members of the company over the level of conversation and general informality that is appropriate. But do avoid excesses of behaviour, food and especially alcohol, as these will dampen any impression you have made on the assessors.
What happens after the assessment centre?
You should be told at the end of the assessment centre when you will hear back from the organisation. If you are successful, make sure it is what you want to do before accepting. If you are unsuccessful, Anna Preston says: “You should ask for feedback from employers as it will give you clues about areas where you may be weak, which will be useful for future interviews.”