What are Assessment Centres?

19 Jun
Find out why employers use Assessment Centres to screen candidates, the different tasks you may be asked to do and what you need to do to succeed. 

Once you start applying for graduate jobs, if successful in passing the interview stage, you will notice that some employers use Assessment Centres when trying to filter out final candidates. They are a common feature in the graduate recruitment process, especially for the highly competitive graduate schemes and are usually the last step in the selection process.

An employer will bring together a group of candidates who will take part in a series of activities and tasks which will test your suitability for the job. They usually last for half a day or a full day, but some employers may run it in stages over 2 days, with an overnight stay required (which they will normally arrange).

Aside from tasks and activities, you may also have a face-to-face interview on the day with different members of the team. This is a chance to show of your personality and bring life to your skills and experience.

What happens at an assessment centre?

Each employer will design their own assessment centre to suit their needs and the requirements of the role. Essentially, they all have very similar elements. It will be a combination of different tasks and activities, the most common ones are:

• Information session
• group discussions & icebreakers
• psychometric tests
• written tests
• in-tray exercises
• case studies
• presentations
• role play
• social events

Information Session:

This usually takes place at the start of the day and will involve an overview of the company, its operations, and an outline of the agenda for the day.

Group Icebreaker:

This allows candidates to introduce themselves to one another and involves a light teambuilding task to complete.

Group Discussion:

The employer may set a group task in which you discuss an issue or a project related to the company, and present it in front of the rest of the candidates.

The employer will be assessing you on key criteria such as teamwork, communication, leadership, commercial awareness and problem solving, so it is important that you actively and confidently contribute to the task. However, it is also important not to try and dominate the discussion, allow other people to speak and try not to criticise team members’ points.

Psychometric Tests:

These are done online and there are two types: aptitude and personality.

Aptitude tests assess your reasoning or your cognitive ability to see whether you have the right skill set for the job role. There are various different types of aptitude testing, which can include: numerical, verbal and spatial testing. Aptitude tests are timed and usually done under exam conditions, with your score compared and benchmarked, meaning you must achieve a certain score to pass the test.

Whereas an aptitude test assesses intelligence, a personality test assesses character. These can be used to determine whether you are a good personality fit for a company. They are used to analyse your emotions and behaviours in different situations.

Written Tests:

May involve writing a report, essay, email or letter on a specific topic. You may also be asked to review or proofread a document to check for errors or discrepancies. These are used to assess your common sense and written communication. If you are asked to write, ensure that you format the document clearly so as it is easy to read and your points are clearly highlighted, and also check thoroughly for spelling and grammar errors.

In-tray Exercises:

This is an electronic task which tests your ability to deal with a real work scenario. It involves an overarching scenario and assesses how you deal with information overload, in the form of emails, meeting requests, reports, telephone messages etc, and how you prioritise the task at hand with the increasing workload.

The primary goal for this task is to effectively prioritise your workload. You will be expected to reply to each communication, so you must be able to explain and justify your reasoning. It is important to check how the task is being assessed and read all instructions carefully.

Case Studies:

These types of interviews are common in accountancy and management consulting firms. The employer uses a case study interview to assess how you analyse information to solve the problem.

You will be given a situation which requires your professional advice. After collating and analysing all of the information presented to you, you provide advice in the form of a verbal explanation or in a report style.

Being able to explain your decisions and justify them is important in this scenario, so it is important to pay attention to detail and read all of the instructions and materials carefully before you start.


Many employers set a presentation as part of an assessment day. It can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, and is used to test you public speaking, leadership, persuasion and communication skills.

The presentation could be on an exercise you have already done, such as the case study, or it may be on a topic related to the industry or the business itself. You will have limited time available to prepare to test your skills under pressure.

To succeed in this, you will need to focus on the main aim of the task at hand, and use this to help formulate a structure. A presentation which is visually appealing and which highlights your key messages and figures will also benefit you. Use things like bullet points, visual prompts and short sentences to focus on the points you want to highlight. And ALWAYS include an introduction, main section and a conclusion.

Now, we aren’t going to pretend that presentations aren’t nerve-wrecking, but in this situation, it is important to stay calm and focus on delivering an effective presentation.

To deliver a strong presentation, make eye contact with your audience (essential!), speak clearly and loud enough for everyone to hear, make sure you don’t run over the allocated time, and don’t rush through your slides – breathe and pause to allow people to digest the information! You got this!

Role Play:

A role play can be a good way to test how you would react in a real work situation. This could involve a role play between you and the interviewers, or you and the other candidates. The employer is using it as a way to test your communication skills and how you would react in certain situations (which usually involve an element of stress or pressure) to see if you handle it appropriately, and in a manner which aligns with what the business expects.

A role play normally won’t last longer than 10-15 minutes, and it may take place in front of other candidates. Try not to sweat it! Everyone is on the same boat so try and relax and understand what the point of the task is. What way do they want you to react? Think about how you communicate with the client or customer to resolve the situation and remain calm.

Social Events:

Last but not least we have social events! These are usually more informal compared with the rest of the exercises, but they are just as important in deciding the suitability of a candidate. The employer is observing how you interact with the candidates, management, recent graduate hires, and other staff. When attending these events, it is still important to behave as though you are being assessed.

It is a good opportunity to ask questions about the role and the company, and it may also be a good chance for you to network. Be confident and make an effort to talk to people!

When attending any sort of interview or assessment centre, you must remember that you are being assessed by everyone, not just by the people interviewing you. This includes people on reception, cleaners, kitchen staff – everyone! Make a good impression by being polite and respectful of everyone you come into contact with. If you don’t this can ruin your chances.

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