Handling Social Etiquette at Graduate Assessment Centres
More often than not, the trickiest part of assessment centres isn’t the exercises, it’s the composure that you must maintain throughout the entire day.
That said, how should you carry yourself during social intervals, such as the buffet lunch or tea and coffee breaks?
Many graduate applicants have little experience socialising in a professional context, and those bits can be a source of stress for them.
How should you interact with recruiters and other candidates? Is it polite to eat first and talk later, or should you just eat and talk at the same time?
How about seconds, and thirds, and maybe even fourths?
Don’t fret! Here are some guidelines on how you should conduct yourself during the social bits of an assessment centre!
Introduce yourself with confidence
When you want to start a conversation with a recruiter, be pleasant in the way you approach them: a polite smile and a handshake is the standard introduction practice.
While you can’t help it if your fingers are cold, be sure to keep your grip firm nonetheless.
Get the ball rolling by giving your name and some relevant background information, such as your degree and your university.
This is usually a good starting point, as it is an opening to talk about why you opted for that particular degree, your prior internship experiences, and any other questions that you have to ask about the employer.
Eye contact and body posture are very important in conveying confidence too, so never slouch or let your gaze drift.
If you’re nervous about approaching someone for just small talk, then prepare some questions in advance so that you have a reason to approach someone (i.e. you have “a question to ask”).
Questions to ask recruiters during social breaks
Speaking of questions, never approach recruiters during social breaks with personal questions. Play safe instead, and ask industry-related questions to demonstrate your earnestness and determination.
You may also encounter staff from a range of other departments at the assessment centre. For this reason, it’s a good idea to prepare a good mix of general and industry-specific questions to cater to this diversity.
• General questions about recruiters’ career background and time with the company are good conversation starters.
For instance, how long have they been working with the company, and what did they like about it?
Questions like these will help you find out more about the working culture of the company, as well as remove the spotlight from you.
You can also ask about the other graduates that they are currently working with, and what impresses recruiters most about them.
• Follow-up questions about the employer are another good option.
For instance, if you were given an information pack or a presentation prior to the assessment centre, or you had questions that only came to you earlier that day, this might be a good time to ask for more up-to-date information.
• You can also ask a couple of questions about the latest industry movements or trends.
Depending on how familiar your conversation partner is with the inner workings of the industry, you can also ask a couple of questions about the latest industry movements or trends.
Just make sure that you’re able to supplement the discussion with your own analysis and thoughts, so it doesn’t look like you’re just dropping big words you don’t fully understand.
Don’t forget to talk to other candidates and the event organisers as well. If you get a chance to speak to some current graduate employees, take the opportunity to ask them about their experiences with the company so far.
Take care to phrase your questions positively.
Instead of asking questions like “Do you like it here?” or “Are you often loaded with work?” opt for something more optimistic such as “What is your best experience while working here?”
If you don't feel it, fake it
As a fresh graduate stepping out into the working world, it’s inevitable that you’ll be put through a lot of unfamiliar situations. Getting nervous is only normal, but it is also possible to counter the anxiety by faking the confidence until you actually develop it.
Even if it’s difficult, encourage yourself to smile and socialise as much as possible.
Try visualising a charismatic person or character whom you really admire, and pretend to behave as they would in this sort of situation.
Once you’ve faked it for as little as a few minutes, you’ll eventually find the confidence becoming real.
Alternatively, recall other occasions where you’ve had to mingle around with new people. Think about your first day at university, or when you went for your first internship.
How about when you had to take part in a charity event where you were asked to work with total strangers? If you conquered your fears of approaching other people then, you can most definitely do it again!
How to cope with socialising while eating
Mingling during lunch is usually a pretty straightforward affair, especially when you have a seated arrangement, so there’s little confusion about how you should act during those events.
However, if you have to stand as you eat, don’t juggle your food and drink at the same time. Hold on to just your plate or your cup so that you don’t accidentally spill either.
At the same time, don’t forgo eating just because you’re nervous or want take the opportunity to network!
You still have a long day ahead of you, and an empty stomach might jeopardise your subsequent performance.
Avoid sticking with just one group the whole time either!
In some ways, social lunches can be a very good networking avenue because food is a common topic that almost everyone can take part in: “Wow, this is really good, isn’t it?” or “What is that made of?” are easy ways to start a casual conversation with just about anyone there.
Lastly, if you feel like you need some time out to compose yourself before the next assessment session begins (especially for introverted applicants), don’t be worried about having to move away, but do so politely!
A simple “excuse me” will usually be more than sufficient to free yourself.