Assessment Centres

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What is an Assessment Centre?

Assessment centres or assessment days are a regular feature of the recruitment process for graduate schemes. Employers bring together a group of candidates who complete a series of exercises, tests and interviews that are designed to evaluate their suitability for graduate jobs within the organisation. This format makes it much easier for you to showcase a broader range of skills and competencies than if you were just given a regular job interview.

What are the typical graduate assessment centre exercises?

Graduate employers design their own assessment centres to test for skills and aptitudes that are right for their own organisations, but they typically contain similar elements and exercises. You can expect a combination of the following:

  • Information session. You may be given a presentation about the business at the start of the day or have the chance to find out more through informal discussions with assessors.
  • Group exercise. You might be asked to introduce yourself or be asked to discuss an issue related to the industry.
  • Aptitude & psychometric tests You may already have taken these online, but could be asked to repeat them to confirm your results.
  • E-Tray exercise: This tests your ability to absorb information, prioritise, make decisions and communicate.
  • Group exercise This could be a case study discussion, probably involving an issue or project relevant to the business. Alternatively, it could be a group problem-solving exercise. For example, you might be put into teams and asked to construct something.
  • Presentation These are often given as part of a case study exercise when you’ll be asked to present your conclusions as part of a group. However, you might instead be asked to prepare an individual presentation in advance and give it on the day.
  • Written task You can sometimes be asked to write recommendations or conclusions to a case study exercise instead of giving a presentation. Alternatively, you might be set a writing task such as composing an email or business report.
  • Interview. You could have one or more of these, and they could be either one-to-one or panel interviews. Your interviewers could be recruiters from the HR department but are most likely to be senior employees from the area of the business you are applying to, potentially including your future line manager.

What recruiters and assessors look for?

Recruiters assess candidates for a number of things including how you demonstrate core graduate skills and competencies such as communication skills and team work. The group setting makes it much easier for them to assess how well you work with others, how you influence and persuade, and how others respond to you. The assessors will want to see how you react to different situations, much as you would have to in the job itself.

Assessment centres aren’t about survival of the fittest. You are being assessed against the employer’s criteria and not against the other candidates. Don’t think of it as a competition, as it is possible that you might all be successful. You need to find a way to work together with your ‘colleagues’ to achieve the goals and tasks set. It’s  really about your ability to collaborate with others.

A good place for you to practice for your next assessment is:

Catering breaks

During the assessment centre the employer may provide you with refreshments or even lunch. After a difficult task it can be tempting to use these periods to relax a little and lower your guard. The assessor may appear to have left the room, giving you and your colleagues time to chat. Remember that even if the breaks are not an official part of the assessment process, your behaviour and attitudes will still have an impact. You may be starving, but try not to eat all the food. If you are chatting with other candidates, keep the tone light but professional. Avoid subjects which are controversial or do not engage the interest of fellow candidates. You want to show you can get on with all types of people and interests. The employer may join you and engage you in a conversation, again ensure you remain professional and courteous.

Challenging situations

Dealing with dominant personalities

You may find that usually you are the one in your group to take the lead, come up with new ideas or solutions to problems. Suddenly at the assessment centre, someone else seems to be more confident, taking the lead and you don’t know what to do. Don’t panic, ensure you let people have their say but calmly plan how you can ensure you make useful contributions.

Feeling frustrated?

If you feel frustrated with a particular person or task, be careful about letting it show. Grumpy faces, sighing out loud, grimacing when other people speak will be picked up by the employer! Throughout the day the employer’s team of assessors will be analysing everyone, even when you are not speaking, and will pick up on your reactions. Keep up a positive and professional attitude throughout the day.


The assessment centre may end with an interview, either with a Panel made up of different parts of the business (e.g. HR, Engineering Manager, Line Manager) or one key individual. Even if you have an interview on the day and it goes well, it is likely that there will be another stage in the selection process after the assessment centre, such as a second interview. More help and advice on interviews is available in our interview section.

Assessment centre – summary

A few final tips:

  • Be yourself. Your application and experiences have impressed the employer. Aim to highlight the attributes in your application rather than try and become a different personality.
  • Be friendly and professional. Show you can get on with people, remain patient and calm even under pressure.
  • Wear a watch. If you have timed tasks, getting your phone out to check the time will leave a bad impression and could look like you are checking your messages.

More help with job applications

For more help with the recruitment process, why not visit our pages on CVs, Writing Compelling Covering Letters, Soft Skills, Online Application Forms and Interviews.

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