How to succeed in graduate assessment centres

Assessments centres are a ‘bulk’ recruitment tool used when organisations plan to hire multiple people and expect a large number of applicants. They are frequently used in recruitment for student internships and you will almost certainly encounter assessment centres in your search for graduate jobs.

There are a couple of clues to what to expect in that opening paragraph: multiple people and large numbers of applicants. Assessment centres are very competitive!

Assessment centres usually include interviews, psychometric testing and a set of exercises designed to simulate the organisation’s work environment. They can be quite intense, so be sure you are really interested in the target role before committing!

At what stage of the application process are assessment centres held?

Assessments centres are usually used as part of a broader application process, including online application forms, submissions of resumes and initial online aptitude and behavioural testing. To get to this stage you will usually have been ‘long listed’ based on these earlier stages. The assessment centre is often the sole ‘interview’ stage, but may also be used to select a short list for final interview.

What are they actually assessing in assessment centres?

This will vary from organisation to organisation, but you can be pretty confident that the key things that the employer will be looking for are:

  • Ability to review data, identify problems and work out solutions.
  • Communication, negotiation and influencing skills.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Teamwork skills.
  • Technical skills relevant to the role and/or organisation.

Common exercises to expect

In-tray exercises. You are given the 'in-tray' of a fictitious manager of an organisation and asked to prioritise the papers. The intention is to test your ability to synthesise information, analyse, organise and prioritise work.

Role-play. You may be asked to assume a fictitious role and handle a particular work situation. For example selling a product or handling a complaint within a set of guidelines. This exercise assesses: communication, persuasion, negotiation, customer service and problem solving skills. 

Business simulation. This may be paper-based or computer-based. You are split into small groups and over a series of rounds, compete with other groups to develop, manufacture, market and distribute products. 

Group discussion. You are given a problem to solve as a group. Group activities involve candidates working together as a team to resolve a presented issue. They commonly measure interpersonal skills such as leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and problem solving skills. These may take the form of leaderless discussions or require a leader to be appointed.

Presentation. Occasionally you may be asked to make a short presentation either to a group of peers or interviewers. The subject can vary but will revolve around you presenting the pros and cons of the chosen subject. The intention here is to assess your ability to communicate, handle stress and your levels of self-confidence.

How to prepare for assessment centres

  • Research the company and the role(s) beforehand. Make sure you know their culture and the particular skills and attributes that they look for in recruits.
  • Make sure you are rested and arrive with time to spare.
  • If invited for coffee or refreshments at any point in the assessment, be aware that you are under scrutiny all of the time and do not let your guard down.
  • Take careful note of the other applicants and their performances. You may be asked to critique other applicants’ work. If so, be fair and succinct.
  • Have some thoughtful comments ready to summarise your key interests or skills in case asked to summarise to the group your USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
  • Be yourself but try in equal measure to listen, contribute and be a team player.
  • In team exercises, the loudest is not necessarily the winner!

If at first you don't succeed....

Being invited to an assessment centre is a huge coup and will give you great experience. Prepare as best you can and give it your all. If you don’t make the short list, review your performance, learn from it and use it to perform better next time. The next one will seem much easier.

For more information or help

See our Interview Coaching page, email us or call on 1300 97 87 66We will be pleased to help.

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