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Assessment centre top tips

This guide summarises the essential information you will need to know about what to expect and how to act during an assessment centre.

Assessment centres are becoming increasingly popular with top recruiters who wish to see face to face if an applicant can actually do the job they are applying for. Applicants complete tasks that measure their skills and knowledge against the competencies which are required for the role.

What to expect

Assessment centres vary according to the employer but quite often follow a similar structure. Some may last 2 days or more, some may be residential and, if you’re lucky, some can be over in just a morning. Assessment centres can contain individual/group presentations, exercises, psychometric tests, individual interviews and networking opportunities.

Who are the assessors?

The assessors will usually form managers/senior managers and Human Resources colleagues. Assessors observe one or two applicants in different activities and score them against competencies.

Networking lunch

  • There is no such thing as an ‘informal lunch’ at an assessment centre. Be aware of your body language, your appearance, how you eat and what you say at all times.
  • Employers will be observing to see how you interact with others and conduct yourself in these ‘informal’ situations too.

In-tray exercise

  • In-tray exercises very often form part of an assessment centre. These are timed tests, sat under exam conditions. You may be given documents/emails to analyse in order to write a summary of recommendations.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what you are being asked to do. Check with the assessor before your time begins if necessary.
  • Read all the information very carefully: check dates, times, job titles and make a plan for any document you have to write.
  • Take your time - employers are looking for accuracy and quality and not always speed.
  • Always check your spelling and grammar.

Psychometric tests

  • Psychometric tests are supposed to provide a profile of your suitability for a position; whether you are able to do a job and whether your character is suited to it.
  • Practice! You can improve your score by familiarising yourself with typical questions.
  • Take your time and don’t guess answers as this will bring down your accuracy score. If you get stuck, skip through the questions until you find one you can confidently answer.
  • Don’t panic. Psychometric tests are almost always used with other selection methods, such as interview.
  • Aim to complete 80 per cent of the questions in an aptitude test and to get at least two thirds of them correct.
  • Be yourself. Don't try and second-guess the answers in personality tests. Neither you nor the employer will be happy if the real you is not on display at work.
  • Remember, practice is key to doing well in psychometric tests. You can download free practice tests from www.jobtestprep.co.uk; www.psychomtric-success.com or www.practicetests.co.uk.

On-the-spot presentations

During an assessment centre candidates may be required to do an on-the-spot presentation, either individually or as part of the group exercise. You cannot prepare the content for this but you can prepare yourself.

  • Make sure you understand what the presentation is about and how long you should speak for. Directly address what you have been asked to do.
  • Be creative where possible. Assessors will be listening to lots of presentations in one day. Make sure yours stands out.
  • If using Microsoft® PowerPoint:
    • Ensure your presentation is correctly loaded onto a memory stick.
    • Ensure the presentation is visually pleasing by choosing an appropriate background colour, business font and font size and images.
    • Do not overcrowd slides by using too much text and avoid unnecessary transitions, sounds or animations.
    • If you have notes, don’t read them word for word. It’s ok to take regular short pauses to gather your thoughts.
    • Make regular eye contact with all of the people you are presenting to. Don’t stand stiffly on the spot or pace up and down as these will both show your nerves.
    • Follow the golden rule when structuring presentations: Tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you have said.

Group activities

Group activities almost always form the first part of an assessment centre and set the scene for the rest of the day. Employers use group activities to simulate the work the applicants will be expected to do. It is really important to ‘read between the lines’ as the employer will purposely bombard you with a lot of information to see if you can extract what is important in a short period of time.

  • Make sure you speak! If you stay silent you will not have demonstrated the competencies that the assessor needs to score you against. Encourage the quieter people to speak.
  • Do not interrupt or talk over the other candidates. Don’t argue with anyone - it is fine to disagree but be careful about how you articulate this.
  • Speak clearly and make sure you can be heard. Assessors can’t interrupt or ask you to speak up.
  • Follow the instructions on when to open any envelopes of extra information. Make sure you read all the information carefully. There will often be vital clues right in front of you.
  • The exercise is more about the way you interact with others than the actual task. You don’t always have to be the one with the big ideas to score well.