Guide

Using an assessment centre for a job application

Updated on 23 April 2022

Many recruiters use assessment centres as part of the process of selecting the best candidate for the role. They will give you the chance to demonstrate your abilities in a variety of practical tasks and work-like activities.

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Typically, assessment centres involve a variety of group and individual tasks. This could be:

  • a group discussion
  • an information processing exercise
  • a presentation
  • an interview

There will usually be plenty of opportunity to mix with other participants and those assessing you. This could include informal lunches or evening events, but it’s important to remember you are in a formal recruitment setting all the time.

All the activities you participate in will be designed to test your abilities against a set of skills (competencies) required for the job or the organisation’s values.

Activities you might be asked to take part in

Group work

You should expect one or more elements where you will have to work in a group with other candidates.

Assessors will be looking for:

  • your team working and interpersonal skills
  • communication style
  • negotiation, planning and problem-solving skills
  • your approach to diversity and inclusion

Examples could include:

  • planning a group sales pitch
  • a mock committee meeting where a group decision must be reached
  • a group planning activity where you are asked to plan and deliver a product or service within a set budget

When working in group setting, make sure you do participate. It’s not about being the loudest and dominating the group – that does not make for good team work. But you cannot be assessed if you sit mutely either. So, try to speak and listen actively, supporting others when they make a valid point or drawing quieter members into the conversation.

Practice a free group activity

E-tray / in-tray

This task will be a series of emails, telephone messages, letters etc. that you will have to the task progresses and will be given a tight time frame to process the information. The aim is to simulate a real-life work scenario and see how you cope under pressure, make decisions, and prioritise your work.

For this type of exercise, it’s important to manage your time well, read instructions carefully and be prepared to justify why you made your decisions.

You can help prepare yourself by practicing a free in-tray exercise.

Presentations

This could be in a formal setting in front of a panel assessors, to a large audience made up of other candidates, or in a less formal one-to one setting. You may be asked to prepare in advance, or you might be given a short period of time to come up with a presentation on the day.

Whether preparing in advance or on the day, aim to keep your presentation structure simple with a clear introduction and ending. Visual aids will be another consideration. Think about your key aim or message and bear in mind your audience and how you might need to adjust your presentation style to suit them. Be prepared to answer questions about your presentation afterwards.

Role play

These are typically used in roles that involve sales but can also be used in assessing for managerial roles as well as some health care roles and even the police. You’ll play the role of someone working for the organisation and you might be asked to interact with a ‘customer’ and deal with their complaint.

Get involved with the scenario as if it were real. You should aim to showcase your skills, e.g. communication, negotiation and persuasion, interpersonal, and to demonstrate your understanding of the organisation's values.

You can get some insight into role play by practicing a free exercise.

Case studies

You’ll be given a large volume of information to process and asked to make recommendations or come to a conclusion. You may be asked to make calculations or understand technical specification.

Case studies can be written or face-to-face with an assessor giving you lots of information verbally. You’ll be able to take notes and would be expected to ask the assessor the right questions to get more information.

These activities can be group based or individual, so as well as interpersonal skills, assessors will be looking for your ability to identify and understand problems, make calculations, make decisions and present arguments.

Preparing yourself

Know what to expect

You should be sent plenty of information about the format of the assessment centre in advance, but you can also do your own online research and might even be able to find people who’ve been to the same assessment centre in the past on groups in social media platforms.

Careers fairs can be a great way to meet people working for the organisation and this will give you an opportunity to ask questions about the recruitment process.

Do your research

Just as you would prepare for an interview, you can prepare in advance for an assessment centre by researching the organisation and trying to understand all aspects of the role.

You can also prepare by practicing things like your presentation and interview skills and by researching the skills, qualities, and values you are likely to be assessed against. It will be useful to think about how you can share these skills and values from past experience, but also to consider how you might demonstrate these on the day in practical tasks.

Make an impact

It’s important to work to time for all activities – whether individual or group, make sure you are aware of the time and aim to deliver within the time limit.

Aim to play to your strengths and minimise the impact of your weaknesses. Usually assessment centres are structured so that you don’t need to do well on every element to pass overall. Aim to shine in elements where you will do well, and practice and prepare as much as possible for elements you are more worried about.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for an assessment centre you might like to visit Assessment Centre HQ (we recommend you browse free resources initially).

You can also ask a careers adviser about preparing for an assessment centre.

Book an appointment with a careers adviser