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Assessment centres

An assessment centre is often the last stage in the recruitment process for many graduate roles. If it is part of the process, you will usually be invited to attend an assessment centre after the initial application stage. It may last from half a day to several days, and provides an opportunity for the employers to get to know more about you, to see how you perform at certain tasks and judge your interaction with others. Employers are checking to make sure you have the right competencies and are a good fit for the role.

An assessment centre may involve:

  • A range of assessment techniques (such as interviews, psychometric testing, individual and group exercises) allowing the assessors to see you handling different situations.
  • Assessment on a number of competencies or skills such as leadership ability, team working, interpersonal skills, communication and problem solving.
  • Several candidates being observed together by the assessors.

Preparation for assessment centres

See our interviews page for details on how to research the company, job and sector. There is more information on Assessment Centres on our online careers resource Build My Career (use your student ID and password to log in).

What to expect- FAQs

How long is the assessment centre?

  • Assessment Centres are focused events lasting from a short session of up to 4 hours to 2 full days. 
  • You will be told in advance the timings of the event so that you can make travel plans. 

How many candidates will be invited?

  • Up to 30 other candidates could be in attendance, but you may be divided up into small groups for particular exercises.
  • Some employers invite much smaller numbers. 

What do I wear, and is there anything I should bring with me?

  • Dress as you would if you were attending an interview.
  • You will be told if you need to bring anything extra e.g. clothing for outdoor exercises.
  • You may receive a checklist from the employer stating what to bring to the assessment centre. Make sure you bring everything listed, including any official documents requested, otherwise you may not be able to take part. You should also bring a notebook and pen, and a watch to time yourself during tests and activities

How do I behave?

  • You will be under scrutiny as part of the selection procedure at all times, so act naturally but be aware of the need for good manners, polite behaviour and to act in a pleasant and friendly way towards other candidates and company personnel.
  • Try to relax and be yourself, but ensure that you demonstrate good manners, polite behaviour and act in a pleasant and friendly way towards candidates and company personnel. Assessors often ask for the opinions of the staff who have met you.
  • Do not treat others as if they are in competition with you, as you will also be assessed on your ability to get on with your potential colleagues.
  • You will be expected to socialise well with other candidates as well as with management, and you are likely to be observed at break times and at social events. If alcohol is available, don’t feel obliged to drink and don’t overdo it; it will be noted, and you may regret it.

Do they pay travelling expenses?

  • If so, you will be informed in the invitation letter. 
  • Make sure you keep receipts.
  • Some organisations impose a spending limit i.e. second class rail or the cost of petrol plus hotel accommodation of up to £80.   
  • If expenses are not mentioned, it is acceptable to make enquiries.

What if I have a disability?

  • Make the employer aware of any needs you have so that appropriate adjustments can be made. 
  • These could include extra time given to candidates with dyslexia to complete activities, adjustments to the physical environment, specialist equipment, materials in alternative formats, etc.
  • Contact the recruiter as soon as possible to discuss your individual requirements.

Types of activities

Below are some of the more common tasks you may face as part of your assessment centre. You may not have to do all these activities and you may encounter tasks and activities not listed here.

Presentation by the employer

Often, the Assessment Centre will start with a presentation by the employer describing the organisation, their graduate scheme and career progression opportunities. Generally, you are not assessed during this activity but pay close attention to what is said as it may be useful to you at a later stage (perhaps during one of the activities). Look interested and ask questions too.

Ice-breaker exercises

These are initial exercises to get everyone working together. These might involve a short presentation or group task to build rapport.

Group exercises

In these exercises, the group may be given a problem to solve with a specific objective. It usually isn’t straightforward, and every approach may have disadvantages as well as advantages. The problem may be a physical puzzle to solve, such as building a bridge, or a theoretical one, such as a scenario-based emergency situation where you are presented with facts of the case and must logically work out the best option.

Committee exercise / debates

Within a committee exercise, group members are designated roles and the task may be to come up with a consensus plan that the committee agreed on and puts forward. In this case the topic might be very vague, so the discussion has to be kept focused if the committee is to achieve something. Within a debate, a topic question may be given and the members are free to discuss the pros and cons of different angles concerning it.

Case study

This could be a group or individual exercise in which you are given official reports, tables of figures, newspaper cuttings, memos, etc. and a problem to solve.

Alternatively, the group may be given a business case study, which has to be analysed and understood before making suggestions for subsequent action. You may be asked to make a presentation about the key issues and suggested strategy, demonstrating that you or the group can respond well to assessors posing questions.

There is often not one specific ‘correct’ answer in this exercise. Recruiters are assessing your ability to analyse problems, prioritise tasks and put forward effective arguments with clarity and tact.

In-tray / E-tray exercise

This task is designed to simulate the administrative features of a job. For example, you may be given a pile of papers representing a post tray containing emails, faxes, memos, letters, telephone messages, reports and computer printouts. Alternatively it could be entirely PC-based (known as an e-tray exercise), where you may be asked to organise and reply to emails in Outlook, amend an Excel spreadsheet, or summarise an article in Word (or a combination of all the above and more).

Report Writing / Essay

You may be required to analyse problems and present your summary and findings in a written report or essay. You will be assessed on how you use your skills to present focused information that others will understand, the reasoning for your decisions and to test your written skills.

Presentation

This may be about a case study (see above), or about a specific topic given to you either prior to or on the day, with a short time to prepare. These can be individual, or in groups. If an individual presentation is required, but no specific presentation topic given ahead of schedule, it’s worth having a presentation prepared about a topic of your choice. If you know that the subject will be given at the assessment centre, think about how to structure a presentation, consider what type of visual aids you might use, and find out what resources are available.

To prepare for a presentation about yourself, use the Elevator Pitch Builder on Build My Career and the presentation skills advice and information from Academic Skills.

Psychometric Tests (follow link for detailed information)

Interview

Usually all Assessment Centres include an interview with one assessor or a panel. 

  • The competencies the recruiters have identified as being important for the job will usually provide a framework for the interview. 
  • Be prepared to have your answers challenged as the interviewer(s) probe you further, test your ability to think on your feet and put across your ideas effectively.
  • See the interviews section for more information.

Competencies being assessed

During the activities at the assessment centre, there will be a number of recruiters present making notes about you and the other candidates. They will be looking for various competencies necessary for the role, and the below table describes some of these competencies, and at what what stage they are likely to be assessed.

CompetencyActivity

Adaptability, creativity, initiative

Working in group exercises where creative solutions to a problem are required, in tray / e-tray exercises where new tasks may be added during the exercise.

Leadership, assertiveness, confidence, negotiation

Group exercises, discussions and case studies where groups need to agree on a course of action.

Written communication, basic computer competency, IT skills, information handling, numeracy

All written and practical tests

Business and commercial awareness

Report writing and essays, presentations, case studies and discussions.

Problem solving, analytical thinking, clarity of thinking, judgement, logical thinking, reasoning

Many of the activities will require you to demonstrate solid problem solving skills.

Planning and organising, strategy, action planning, prioritising

In-tray and e-tray exercises, debates and case studies.

Teamwork, co-operation, interpersonal relationships

All group exercises, plus your general behaviour throughout the assessment centre.

Time management, working under pressure

Many of the tasks will be challenging and strictly timed.

Verbal communication, presentation skills

Presentations, group discussions and interviews.

Please note this list is not definitive as each assessment will be designed to test your suitability for a specific role, so read the job description carefully for the kinds of competencies you will be required to demonstrate.

Top tips

  • You are likely to do better at some activities than others but don’t worry too much - a strong performance in one area can balance out a weaker performance in another. Although there may be a minimum score set for each of the competencies the employer is looking for, you don’t have to do brilliantly in everything to be selected.
  • Always pay careful attention to any instructions - if in doubt, ask for clarification.
  • Give everything your best shot – get fully involved in group activities, be assertive and persuasive but diplomatic too. In group activities, show that you are listening to others by smiling, nodding and maintaining eye contact.
  • Remember that assessors are looking at how you behave, so even if you don't complete a task, you could still be judged favourably if you were positive and showed good team working skills (see competencies being assessed, above, for more details).
  • Acknowledge and build on good points made by other group members as well as putting forward your own case.
  • Friendly conversation with other candidates will help you to relax – all (or none) of you may be successful at this particular assessment centre.

 

After the assessment centre

  • Remember, your Assessment Centre finishes only when you leave the organisation, so be professional at all times. Finally, reflect on how it went. Highlight what went well and what could have been improved on, and then think what action you can take to improve in future.
  • If your Assessment Centre has gone well and you are very keen on the organisation, you may want to send an email telling the recruiter how much you enjoyed the experience (and remember to use a formal and professional writing style, i.e. full sentences, and don't use abbreviations, slang or text speak).

Next steps and further information

  • Build My Career: There is detailed information on a range of companies and their interview processes, along with assessment centre tips and practical advice. Log in now.
  • Advice: If you'd like more information on preparing for assessment centres and the tasks you might face, feel free to book an appointment with a career consultant -  call us on 01274 234991 or call in to Careers reception in Student Central and we'll arrange a convenient time for you.
  • Workshops: We run mock assessment centres as part of our careers workshop programme. Check the schedule and book your place.
  • Read our booklet

    You can pick up a copy of our 64-page booklet Your Guide To... Finding a Job in careers reception. It features all the above information plus lots more on finding and applying for jobs, employability skills and the interview process.

    You can also download or read it online via the link below.

Your Guide To... Getting a job 2017
Your Guide To... Getting a job 2017
Our 64-page booklet Your Guide To... Getting a job is written specifically for students of the University of Bradford and covers job searching, applications and the interview process.
Download Your Guide To... Getting a job 2017
(PDF, 1497KB)