What is an assessment centre?

There’s no need to fear the assessment centre. In this guide we’ve broken them down so you can understand what you’re getting yourself into and succeed.



Assessment centres sound like the final gauntlet you have to run before you meet the boss in a video game. To be honest, that’s not too far from the truth. An assessment centre is designed to test your skills and employability thoroughly to ascertain whether you are indeed the chosen one for the job in question.

The phrase ‘assessment centre’ refers to any combination of techniques with which employers assess your skills in the run up to a potential job offer. Most of them require you to attend a day-long (or half-day) session with other candidates.

You’ll have many questions at this point, young padawan. But there’s no need to fear the assessment centre. We’ve broken them down to the atomic level so that you can not only understand what you’re getting yourself into, but succeed at it.


When do applicants usually attend assessment centres?

You’ll usually find yourself in an assessment centre if you make to the final or penultimate stage of the interview process. This is the most expensive part of the process to run and the part that takes up the most space and time to run on the employer’s side.

Therefore, you can bet that they aren’t going to waste any time or money on candidates that they don’t think can do the job. Most of the other candidates have been rejected at this point, so don’t worry and take the time to congratulate yourself. If you’re in an assessment centre, you’re in the elite group.


What’s the setup?

Just as Elrond appointed a council to decide what should be done with The One Ring, firms also appoint a council of recruiters to decide your fate in an assessment centre. Your day will be conducted by a group of assessors made up of members of an employer’s HR team, departmental managers and partners at the firm.

Just as Elrond appointed a council to decide what should be done with The One Ring, firms also appoint a council of recruiters to decide your fate in an assessment centre.

The idea of having what seems like the world and his wife all assessing you at once is that it makes the process more objective. The final decision must be agreed upon by the whole team, so there’s no need to rely on one person’s opinions and natural biases to select a job candidate any more – it only takes one member of the panel to go to bat for you to swing a decision in your favour.


Assessment centre etiquette

It goes without saying but you’re in the company of what could be your future colleagues. It’s so, so, SO important that you act in the right way. Watch how the employees of the company behave in the office and then, as you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When it comes to fashion, come correct and come professionally. Most assessment centres will require you to wear smart business attire, but if in doubt, dress conservatively.

You’ll get several formal opportunities to showcase your time management and organisational skills. But take this freebie: make sure you arrive on time and make sure your phone’s on silent during the course of the assessment. You’ll kick yourself if it costs you the role of a lifetime.

Try and ask positively-framed questions about the company and the industry to demonstrate your knowledge.

During the break you’ll get the chance to chat with your assessors as well as current working grads, so seize the opportunity. Introduce yourself; be polite and confident, make eye contact and shake hands. In conversation, try and ask positively-framed questions about the company and the industry to demonstrate your knowledge. It might influence your assessors’ decisions.

Don’t compete with your fellow candidates. All, several, one or none of your assessment group may be hired. You need to bring your A-game at an assessment centre, but do so by being positive about yourself as opposed to dragging down other candidates. There will be points in the day when you need to show how well you can work in a team, and this behaviour will kill your chances for sure.


What does a typical assessment day look like?

Well pal, we wish we could help you. The truth is, there is no such thing as a typical assessment day. They all vary depending on the culture and resources of the company involved. But nine times out of ten, it will look something like this:

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

Is it rigorous? Absolutely. But for employers, this process leaves no doubts about who’s wheat and who’s chaff.


How will I be assessed?

Employers in an assessment centre assess you both for job competencies (check the job description to find out what you need to demonstrate) and to see whether you’re a good fit for the company, too. Skills they check for include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Adaptability
  • Analytical thinking
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Decision-making
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Organisation
  • Persuasion
  • Planning
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Remember, it’s a long day and you’re being assessed throughout. So if you mess up in one area, don’t worry too much. You can make up that ground by excelling in a different task.


How do I prepare?

Naturally, it’s important that you prepare thoroughly for the assessment centre. If you’re unsure how, try following this nifty checklist:

    • Try to reflect on the feedback you were given and your performance. Try to remember what your interviewer liked and disliked and which areas you had difficulty with.

    • This is will come back to haunt you if you get asked a question about a specific detail you wrote down on either of these and you can’t answer it. Make sure you know your CV, application and everything else you may have told them inside out.

    • …and any other material that the company has sent you. It’ll remind you of what they’re looking for and how to demonstrate it on the day.

    • When you come to the interview, you’ll need to use their words and show you’ve been paying attention.

    • Check the news, trends, competitors, history and opportunities of the organisation and its job sector. If you can give answers in relation to these, you’re demonstrating the kind of commercial awareness that wins job offers.

    • Whether it’s with a family member or the university careers office, having a dry run will do wonders for your confidence. Start your prep in good time so that you can call the company’s graduate recruitment team if you run into any problems.

That’s the long and short of assessment centres. Next, check out our guide on the tasks they’ll expect you to complete and how to boss them.

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