You won’t be "seen" in the board room, and you won’t be the victim of an on-screen sacking. So don’t feel obliged to behave like you’re taking part in reality TV.
You're thrust into a room with a group of strangers, asked to play games, and then observed to see whether you're put through to the next round or if your progress is halted. The situation is ripe with uncertainty, and it sounds just like a scene from The Apprentice.
Unfortunately, that's where some participants at assessment centres take their cue from, and that's also where they come undone. Here's why being at an assessment centre is, frankly, not at all like being in a reality TV show.
First of all, and most importantly, there is usually more than one winner at an assessment centre – you are not in direct competition with the other candidates. You are being assessed against the employers’ criteria, not against each other, and it’s important for you to show how well you can work in a team. You need to find a way to work together with your "colleagues" to achieve the goals and tasks set.
Secondly, remember that assessment centres are also a two-way street – this is your chance to evaluate a prospective employer and see if the shoe fits. Better to find out now than a few months down the line!
Know the difference!
|Reality TV Show||Assessment Centre|
|There are group tasks for you to complete
||There are group tasks for you to complete
|You need to strike a balance between fitting in and standing out from the crowd
||You need to strike a balance between fitting in and standing out from the crowd
|You entertain a mass market
||You entertain no one
|Your master reveals the rules of his game
||The task is described but not the underlying rules
|At some point you will be tried by a judge
||You will probably never meet the people who wrote the assessment
|You will need to get on the right side of the judge
||You are judged by how you reveal who you are through doing the tasks. There isn’t a boardroom "execution".
|You are tempted into undermining your colleagues
||The secret is to be who you are and get on with your colleagues
So how do I know if it's all going well?
|You know you’re on track when...||Things aren’t going so well if...|
|You’ve achieved a mix of taking charge and taking a back seat
||You don’t meet anyone – fellow candidates and assessors – whose company you enjoy
|At the end of the day, you realise you’ve actually managed to enjoy yourself
||You walk away feeling suspicious, judged and anxious
What should I expect from an assessment centre?
Graduate employers design their own assessment centres to test for skills and aptitudes that are right for their own organisations. However, most of these assessments typically contain similar elements and exercises.
You can expect to do a combination of the following in most assessment centres:
- Group work exercises
- Aptitude and psychometric tests
- In-tray/e-tray exercises
- Case studies linked to the job function.
Recruiters will assess you for a number of things, including how you demonstrate core graduate skills and competencies such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving. The group setting also 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 good news is that these exercises make it much easier for you to showcase a broader range of skills and competencies than you would have the opportunity to demonstrate in one interview alone (most assessment centres will also include at least one solo interview anyway). This is why some employers feel they are a much fairer and more effective way to select graduates than traditional interviews. Feeling worried? Don’t be! In the next couple of pages, we’ll show you how you can get past these various exercises... and even have some fun in the process!
How to behave at an assessment centre
Though assessment centres may seem artificial, your goal is to show what you'd really be like if you got a place on the graduate scheme. Here are some tips on how you can be your best self on the spot!
It's going to be a long and tiring day, so try to make sure you have a good night's sleep beforehand, as you'll need to stay alert and engaged. Even if you are assured that the informal food and drinks do not play any part in the selection process, you should be careful not to gorge yourself. It's best to assume that if you let your hair down too far, someone will notice.
Don't stand back and turn your nose up. Group exercises are designed to see how well you work with others, so make sure you take part. Be enthusiastic and make an effort, whatever the task. Besides, concentrating on the task in hand will help you to forget your nerves.
Arrive on time and look the part. Be friendly but polite. The assessment centre is partly a social exercise, so do chat with the other candidates at breaks and over lunch. Be prepared to initiate conversations. While it's fine to make small talk with assessors, don't be over-familiar.
Be yourself, but be the most positive version of yourself. Try to relax and behave naturally. You might even find it's possible to enjoy yourself despite the inevitable nerves, and a smile is more likely to make a better impression than a face frozen in fear.