Assessment centres are a part of the recruitment process used by many companies. They involve a series of assessment activities designed to allow you to demonstrate that you possess the competencies required for the role. Many of the activities are based on realistic work scenarios. Assessment centres typically last a full day and are a mixture of individual and group-based activities. You will be assessed on your contribution to these activities.
Nearly all assessment centres will involve psychometric testing. Read more about psychometric testing.
In-tray exercises are designed to simulate the types of problems that you are likely to encounter in a real work situation. You will be given a description of your role and responsibilities in an organisation. You are then given an in-tray of paper work or typically an email inbox to work through. You may also be given information about the organisation’s mission, aims and priorities; a list of important colleagues; and information about key external organisations and relationships, as well as a calendar of important events. You should keep all of these things in mind whilst working through the inbox. You are then asked to complete the work within a set time limit, this may include responding to emails, delegating tasks or scheduling meetings. The assessors are looking at your ability to:
- Process information quickly.
- Identify key issues and prioritise tasks.
- Explain the decisions you have made and the actions you have taken.
Case studies are used to assess a candidate’s ability to deal with real problems faced by professionals working in the sector to which they are applying.
You will be given documents, such as market research reports relating to a particular problem or issue and you will be required to analyse the documents, make business decisions and give a presentation of your findings and recommendations. For example you may be asked to analyse the feasibility of expanding into a new market or the viability of a company merger. Through this process, the interviewers assess your analytical, problem-solving and communication skills.
You may be asked to complete a case study as part of a group activity. Group case studies are primarily used by management consulting firms as well as by investment banks and, increasingly by other types of organisations too.
The best way to prepare for a case study is to review any company reports and financial statements that you can access in advance. This will allow you to get a sense of the type of documents you are likely to encounter on the day, as well as giving you background knowledge on the company that could help with the task. Practice on case study exercises to familiarise yourself with this type of assessment.
Practice Case Studies resources:
- Practice case studies from McKinsey
- Acethecase.com (Tips on preparing for case studies and sample case studies with worked solutions)
You could be asked to give a presentation as part of your assessment centre. Sometimes you will be given the opportunity to prepare the presentation before the assessment day or else you will be given a set amount of time (typically 30 minutes) to prepare it on the day. This type of exercise is common in roles that require you to frequently present complex information including sales, finance and management consulting. The presentation might be based on one of the other assessment centre exercises that you have already completed, for example a case study, a discussion or role play. The assessors are looking for evidence that you are able to structure a presentation effectively and that you are able to deliver the presentation clearly and with confidence.
How to prepare your presentation:
- Identify the three key messages that you want to convey to your audience
- Be as concise and clear as possible. Assessors are looking at your ability to present information clearly and efficiently
- Structure the presentation to include a beginning (introduce what you will say), a middle (content) and an end (summarise your main messages)
- Ensure that you can deliver the content within the time limit
- Be prepared to answer questions.
How to deliver your presentation:
- Smile and make eye contact- it’s important that you connect with the audience. This will also help settle any nerves
- Be aware of how quickly or slowly you are talking. You may speak faster than you normally would when nervous, so make a conscious effort to speak calmly and clearly
- Don’t try to memorise a scripted presentation, and try to avoid reading from note cards or reading out text-heavy slides. It is best if you can deliver in a conversational style
- Try and project a confident presence
- Only use humour if you are confident it will work.
Interviews during assessment centres are likely to be conducted by someone from the department to which you have applied. Your interviewers might ask you questions on a subject that you have already talked about during a role play or group discussion exercise. For more information on interviews please see our interview advice.
The ability to work as part of a team is a fundamental competency that all employers want to identify in their candidates. Group exercises are used to assess your ability to collaborate and work as part of a team. You will be observed and assessed on your ability to participate, to contribute ideas, to persuade, to lead without dominating, and to make practical judgments. The assessors are more interested in how you interact with the group rather than in you getting the “right” answer.
Some general advice when doing a group activity:
- Ensure that your contribution is clear and persuasive without being pushy
- Communicate that you are actively listening to others by acknowledging the contributions of others and giving constructive feedback as appropriate
- It’s fine to disagree with your team mates, but important to do so diplomatically
- Avoid putting down others when making your contribution.
- Encourage other members of the group to contribute if they haven’t done so.
- Ensure that the group stays on task and delivers the task within the time limits.
Role play exercises require you to take on the role of an employee in a work scenario. You will be given information about your role, the organisation and a fictional scenario and asked to contribute to the role play. Employers are looking at your ability to communicate, negotiate and persuade and your overall interpersonal skills. Role plays are especially common in roles that are client-facing such as marketing, sales, law and consulting. Examples of role plays include dealing with a difficult customer, negotiating a sales deal, consulting with a client or supporting a vulnerable patient. The best way to prepare for these exercises is to be familiar with the competencies, skills and aptitudes that are required for the role, so that you can demonstrate these in your role play.
You will be asked to participate in a group discussion where there is no assigned leader. The group must devise a solution for a work based problem. The group will be given incomplete information and must agree the actions they would take to solve the problem.
Practical group tasks
Sometimes you will be asked to complete a practical task as a team. The assessors are again looking at your ability to collaborate in solving a problem. They will want to see how well you negotiate with your team mates and how you creatively problem solve under time pressure. The task could be related to the role, or entirely unrelated. For example you might be asked to build a bridge using spaghetti and straws, or to successfully complete a task without speaking or writing notes to your team mates. These challenges take you out of your comfort zone and show employers how you behave in unfamiliar situations.
Social gatherings and meeting personnel
These events are an opportunity for the employer to get to know you better in a more relaxed environment outside of a formal assessment exercise, and they enable you to find out more about the organisation, the work they do, and the company’s culture. You may get an opportunity to meet a variety of people from the company including recent graduates, recruiters and senior management. You will often be offered food and drink, and while the atmosphere is more relaxed than at a formal assessment, this is very much still part of the selection process and your behaviour will be observed at all times. If alcohol is on offer at these events it is advisable to be conscious of the amount of alcohol that you drink, as drinking too much in a professional context will create a negative impression.