16 April 2020

Virtual Assessment Centres: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare

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COVID-19 completely changed the way we work. Meaning companies also had to change the way they recruited…Enter the virtual assessment centre.

A virtual assessment centre or online assessment centre might sound scary. But you’ll be pleased to know that it’s really not that different from your standard assessment centre.

This blog tells you everything you need to know to succeed at one.

What is a virtual assessment centre?

An online assessment centre is a way for employers to assess a group of applicants through a series of tasks. Most often, it’s the final stage of a recruitment process…And if you hadn’t already worked it out, the ‘virtual’ part means the entire assessment is run online.

That means you won’t need to visit the company offices or meet any recruiter in person — so less money on a train ticket and more towards a cheeky Nando’s.

Typically, a virtual assessment centre will include some or all of the following tasks:

  • Talks and Q&A sessions that give you insight into the company in question
  • Group exercises that assess how you work alongside other candidates 
  • Presentations from current graduates and other employees 
  • Interviews and individual exercises that may be either biographical (about you) or technical (particularly in fields such as engineering)
  • Tests – These may be psychometric or ability based.

Why virtual assessment centres?

Going virtual provided a way for recruiters to vet candidates from a safe distance while opening opportunities to broader talent.

Although the world has officially reopened, the virtual assessment centre has become a staple of the recruitment process for a number of reasons. These include…

  • They’re easier to plan
  • Saves on money (travel, room hires and refreshments)
  • Opens up opportunities for candidates that live in other areas.

What should I expect from a virtual assessment centre?

For a smooth experience with an online assessment centre, it helps to know exactly how it works and what to expect. Just picture an in-person assessment centre, but happening via video!

Typically virtual assessment centres last between two and three hours.

Like the traditional in-person assessment centre, virtual assessment centres are designed to support you in being the best candidate you can be.

So, if you consider yourself to have a disability or health condition, you should share this with your employer beforehand. They can then make the necessary adjustments to ensure you can fully participate.

Before the day

When you receive an invitation to attend a virtual assessment centre, the employer will also send you a briefing email to ensure you can join on the day. You may need to complete some admin tasks before your virtual assessment centre; these can include:

  • Emailing a passport photo to the employer (or a document confirming your right to work).
  • Sending a headshot to the employer so that the recruitment team can identify you on the day.
  • Sharing your contact number with the employer in case of any connectivity issues on the day.
  • Downloading the software the employer will use during the assessment and set up your account. Popular programmes include Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

You’ll also be sent a full timetable of the day’s tasks in advance and instructions on how to prepare and any supporting material (e.g. case studies). Read everything. And study the job description.

On the day

There are lots of little logistical things you’ll want to get right from the get-go. Here’s a checklist:

  • Ensure your laptop or computer has a strong WiFi connection.
  • Run a quick test to check your microphone and webcam are working.
  • Plug your device into a charging socket. Running out of battery doesn’t look professional.
  • Join via the invitation link 15 minutes early, so if you have any issues, you can resolve them.

When you’re ready, join the online assessment centre. You might then have to enter a meeting ID and password. You’ll find these in your initial invite email.

Once you’ve joined, you’ll be moved into the relevant rooms by a member of the recruitment team, according to the schedule already sent to you. Be patient and remain alert and responsive during this time.

You’ll also be sent a full timetable of the day’s tasks in advance and instructions on how to prepare and any supporting material (e.g. case studies). Make sure you read this information thoroughly and study the job description for clues to the types of questions you’ll get asked.

Online assessment centre timetable (example)

Here’s the online assessment centre timetable from RateMyPlacement.co.uk Best Student Employer, Baker McKenzie.

09:00 – 9:30Welcome by the Graduate Recruitment team
09:30 – 10:30Group Exercise
10:30 – 10:35Break
10:35 – 11:20Associate Interview
11:20 – 11:30Break
11:30 – 12:00Case Study Preparation
12:00 – 13:00Partner Interview

What happens if there are tech issues during an online assessment centre?

If there are technical difficulties during your virtual assessment centre, it’s okay! The recruiters will be understanding and do all they can to help you.

For example, if there are video issues, the interviewer might call you via the phone. We talk more about this later.

Try to set yourself up for success by placing yourself somewhere with a good WiFi connection and no noise. This might mean asking your flatmates or annoying younger sibling to head out for a while!

Make sure your device is charged, and feel free to practice by positioning yourself in front of your camera to make sure your webcam, mic and speakers are in tip-top condition.

How should I prepare for a virtual assessment centre?

We’ve teamed up with Baker McKenzie to answer some common student questions about virtual assessment centres.

Q1. What should I wear for an online assessment centre?

You should wear what you would during an in-person assessment centre, i.e. smart and professional attire (unless told otherwise).

So put away your fave One-Direction tee. Save that for another day. The recruiters running the assessment centre will be wearing headsets. You can, too, if it improves your audio.

Q2. Where should I sit?

The main thing is to sit somewhere you, or the recruiter e-working with you, won’t be distracted. A quiet, clean, and well-lit space will do, and neutral backgrounds work best. Also, position your laptop where it is steady and fix your camera at eye level.

Decide on an appropriate location beforehand so you won’t constantly be fretting about interruptions or dodgy camera angles, but don’t worry if the only space you have is your bed. This is common!

Q3. What if I lose internet connection during an assessment task?

You’ve done everything you can beforehand to ensure a good WiFi connection. Then on the day, you are disconnected from the internet… Don’t freak out. These things happen.

As long as you have a contingency plan, you can get past this. 

That might mean switching to a mobile device and using your mobile data or even hot-spotting your laptop. If not, your employer may conduct tasks, where possible, via phone call. So make sure your mobile is fully charged, and you have a number to call in case this happens.

Q4. How can I show good body language via camera?

You’re not playing Charades. Body language is just as important in a virtual assessment centre as it’s in person. Make sure you sit up straight in front of the camera and avoid fidgeting or expressing your answers too much through hand movements.

Good eye contact is also a must. Look directly at your webcam or camera. And a gentle reminder… it doesn’t hurt to smile! Try to look like you’re enjoying yourself!

Q5. How can I prepare for the group task?

Group tasks are notoriously the most disliked part of the assessment centre. Simply because they require working with, rather than against, the competition.

Your group will be given a scenario, and you’ll have to work together to discuss the different routes that could be taken to come up with a solution.

Here are THREE top tips to help you shine in the group task:

  • BE THE TIMEKEEPER – You’ll be set a specific amount of time to complete a task. Remind your peers at intervals of the time remaining. This shows good time management skills. 
  • ACTIVELY CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISCUSSION – Speak clearly and confidently. But this isn’t a game of dominance – show you’re a team player by asking others for their thoughts.
  • BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER – Look directly at the camera, maintaining eye contact and nodding and smiling where appropriate. Whilst others are talking, don’t use the time to think about your next point.

Q6. Is a virtual assessment centre harder than it is in person?

Whilst virtual assessment centres are run very differently (being online and all), the difficulty of the tasks does not vary. As well as ensuring every task can be carried out online, the employer is there to offer you support throughout the process. 

You’re just as likely to be hired during an online assessment centre. Many companies that have run virtual assessment centres have reported their candidates averaging a higher score ratio than normal.

You’re probably raring to go after reading all that!

Just remember to prepare well, read everything and digest all the information the employer sends you in advance. And take a deep breath before getting stuck in!

Rumour has it, students are often surprised by how much they enjoy virtual assessment centres…