15 February 2023

Placement Interviews & Assessment Centres: Top Tips

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Sent off your CV, filled in the application form and smashed the phone interview?

The final stage of applying for a placement is usually an interview or assessment centre – or both!

This is a chance for employers to get to know you more, but also for you to find out more about the role and whether it’s right for you.

Read on for tips on how to prepare for the process and give yourself the best shot at securing your dream placement.

Assessment centres

Assessment centres are a series of industry-specific tasks that are designed to test your skills and measure your suitability for a role. They differ slightly from an interview.

In the sense that…

While an interview lets you share your knowledge with a recruiter verbally, assessment centres give you the chance to put that knowledge into practice and prove your capabilities to employers in person.

Typically, assessments take place over an afternoon, but can last anything up to two days. During this time, you’ll be working on a range of tasks where you’ll be assessed on skills like leadership and problem solving.

Here’s a list of exercises you can expect to be doing on your assessment day…

  • Role plays (aka In Trays)
  • Group tasks
  • Written tasks
  • Presentations
  • Psychometric tests

How should I prepare for an assessment centre

As with all job applications, preparation is key.

No-one goes to an assessment centre winging it. So to give yourself the maximum chance of success, you’ll need to take initiative and follow these important steps.

Before the assessment centre

  1. Revise the job description to determine what skills the employer is looking for
  2. Review your CV and highlight the skills you feel are important for your role. Next, think of how you’d demonstrate them
  3. Research the company thoroughly and study its competitors. Read through any press kits or white papers and form opinions. You never know when they’ll come handy
  4. Take a free psychometric test online. Each test will be different, but at least you’ll have an idea of what kind of things to expect.

Employers want to know you’ve done your research. What are they passionate about? Do their values match yours? Read reviews from previous placement students for insider knowledge you won’t find on their website.

They’re also looking for your strengths and weaknesses. These questions are easy to prep for. Just make a list of real-life examples where your strengths and key skills made an impact, as well as those where you overcame your weaknesses. 

During the assessment centre

As daunting as they sound, assessment centres aren’t there to trip you up. They’re there for employers to gauge your skill set and figure out whether you’re the right person for the job.

To help you put your best foot forward, have a read through our top tips.

  • BE A TEAM PLAYER – Employers want to see how you handle yourself in a group situation. So listen to your team, try not to interrupt anyone, be mindful of the brief and speak up!
  • CHANNEL YOUR NERVES – Believe it or not, nerves are a good thing. But don’t let them psych you out! Remind yourself that you’ve been invited for a reason. You are more than capable, so take a few deep breaths and take your time.
  • ASK QUESTIONS – If you don’t understand the question or task that has been set, don’t panic. Ask for further clarification to stay on brief.
  • STAY POSITIVE Assessment centres can be exhausting. There’s a lot of information to take in and it’s a long time to stay engaged. But you’ll stand out if you bring enthusiasm and positivity to each task.
  • GET INVOLVED – Don’t be scared to chat to employees and fellow students there on the day. Being inquisitive and showing interest will leave a lasting impression amongst the team and help keep you front of mind.

Star technique

The STAR technique (situation, task, activity and result) is the perfect opportunity for you to show off your skill set. It’s designed to test your initiative and adaptability in specific work situations and will help you structure your answers clearly. 

For more examples, read our Guide to Common Interview Questions.

What should I wear?

If you’re unsure what the dress code is at the company you’re interviewing for, always email in advance so you don’t end up standing out for the wrong reasons.

Your best bet is to go smart. That way you’ll look like you’ve made an extra effort to look professional and impress your potential future employer. (Think less university library attire, more fine dining with the Queen).

And if your placement interview or assessment centre is virtual, make sure you match your bottom half to your top in case you need to get out of your seat. 

Should I ask questions at the end?

Absolutely! You 100% should.

Most interviewers wrap up proceedings by asking “Do you have any questions?”.

Rather than asking a question just for the sake of it, or to fill the awkward silence, it’s a good idea to come prepared with two or three suitable questions.

This will prove to employers that you’re keen to learn more and are serious about the role.

Here are a few examples of questions to ask at the end of your interview:

  • What is the typical career path for someone in this role?
  • How does the company support professional growth and development?
  • What do people on the team do for lunch every day?

The secret to nailing interviews is simply coming prepared with relevant questions, answers and examples that convince employers you’re the perfect match.

Virtual assessment centres

Since 2020, lots of employers have moved their entire application process online. So you might be invited to what’s known as a virtual assessment centre.

These are pretty similar to the traditional in-person assessment centres – except you won’t need to travel to the company’s offices.

Our Guide to Virtual Assessment Centres contains everything you need to know about virtual assessment centres and how to prepare.

Best of luck! You’ve got this.