How To Prepare For Assessment Centres
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An assessment centre can sound daunting, but it in reality it isn't something to be feared.
They are a chance for employers to get to know you. Most employers aren’t there to intimidate you or to try and scare you out of the job. Remember, you’ve gotten this far, they obviously like something about you!
I experienced some fairly brutal assessment centres and some soft ones in comparison. I’ve also been involved in assessment centres to hire my replacement and other positions here at RateMyPlacement. From these experiences I’ve gained some great tips and tricks that might help you prepare...
What to expect
The Institute of Student Employers have reported that 95% of employers used assessment centres as part of their selection process in the last year. If you’re applying for a placement it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to encounter one. Don’t freak out. They are an opportunity for you to visit a company's offices, meet the team and show off how great you are!
Typically an assessment centre will involve the following activities:
Let's break it down...
09:15 - Employer presentation and ice-breakers
Employer presentations usually provide you with an insight into the company’s history and their values. Pay attention though, I was asked a series of questions on a company following their presentation; this is your chance to earn some cheap brownie points.
Icebreakers are short exercises that put you on the spot and allow other people to find out a bit more about you. An example would be, ‘If you were a sandwich, what type of sandwich would you be and why?’
10:00 - Psychometric tests
I used to dread psychometric tests. In truth, though they can be fairly easy to prepare for, after all these tests are only designed to analyse your reasoning & behavioural traits as well as your written English skills and Mathematical ability.
If you’re nervous just like I was, there are tonnes of practice papers available online. Download a few, work your way through them and you’ll feel prepared in no time.
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11:30 - Group exercises
I’ve experienced a range of group tasks. On one occasion we had to devise a marketing campaign for a blockbuster movie, another involved deciding which items I wanted to be stranded with on a desert island.
The key takeaways here are that you shouldn’t be afraid to take the lead, but neither should you dominate the conversation. Employers will love it if you try and encourage others to contribute throughout the task, this is a great way of showing you are a true team player. It’s important that you treat the other students as your team mates during this task.
12:45 - Lunch
You might think that lunchtime is a safe haven free of any assessment and judgement from employers - you’d be wrong. Employers will be watching you, keeping an eye on how you interact with others.
During my first assessment centre a fellow candidate foolishly discussed loudly through their tuna baguette how much they loved to get drunk and were telling outrageous stories of fights they had been in. Think before you speak is my main advice for you here. Imagine you’re trying to impress your girlfriend/boyfriend’s parents, don’t say anything that might give them a reason to dislike you.
13:45 - Individual Task
At one of the assessment centres I attended, I was asked to write a themed newsletter that would be sent out to the company’s database. Had I not performed well at this stage of the assessment centre I would have found myself heading home early!
My advice for the individual task is to read the question carefully and ensure you fully understand what is being asked of you. Also don’t forget to keep an eye on the time, sounds simple but you would be surprised how many people forget to do this; before you know where you are you’re out of time and all you’ve written down is a title!
14:45 - Interview
The interview is probably the most intimidating part of an assessment centre - they're also one of the easiest parts to prepare for!
I recommend that you know your CV and cover letter inside out and back to front. It’s likely that the majority of questions you face in these interviews will focus on your CV and application. Think if some examples that able to backup your key skills and successes; a great way of doing this is using the STAR technique.
Another way for you to really stand out at this stage is to ask questions! Sounds simple, but employers love it when you ask them questions, it demonstrates your understanding, passion and genuine interest in the business. For a list of great questions that you can ask in your interview check out this handy blog... 6 job-landing questions to ask in an interview.
16:45 - Presentation
Presenting can be nerve wracking, especially if public speaking does not come naturally to, however, it’s a key element of assessment centres. I didn’t look forward to standing up in front of everyone but I saw it as a great opportunity for personal development.
There’s a wealth of advice for presentations out there! For example, it is crucial that you’re able to present with little or no notes - this will look so impressive and make you really stand out from the crowd.
If you can think of any form of audience participation that might be relevant, make use of it! You can even put together a handout with key stats and figures on for the audience to look at while you talk through your presentation. This might sound like a lot of effort, but going the extra mile counts towards a lot in these situations.
Assessment centre tips
1) Plan out your route to the company’s office the night before so that you can get there nice and early and avoid any unnecessary stress.
2) Dress smart! This might sound obvious but always check the invitation; I've been to assessment centres requiring me to be as well dressed as James Bond and others have required me to dress ‘smart-casual’.
3) Doing research is key, I can’t stress this enough! I kept a notebook with all of my findings and questions in it so that I had something to refer to in my interviews.
4) Be genuine - at the end of the day assessment centres are used by employers to get a better picture of who you are and whether or not you will be a good fit for their business. Remember to be enthusiastic and passionate and you'll dazzle.
I understand assessment centres can be daunting, but through using this guide you can approach your next assessment centre full of confidence.
Before you run off to resume your day-time TV viewing, check out the job vacancies - there are opportunities available with some of the UK's Top Undergraduate Employers.