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assessment centre guide

Assessment Centres – An Insider's Guide

assessment centre guide

An assessment centre is an integral part of the selection process for competitive roles, including graduate placements and management positions. The process gives employers an insight into how candidates cope with the demands of an intense day and the challenging tasks that reflect workplace situations.

What is an assessment centre?

An assessment centre (or assessment day) is an interview stage that comes towards the end of the recruitment process. It can take anywhere from half a day to two days to complete, and consists of a variety of tests and activities.

The employer will usually cover the expenses if overnight stays are required. Only the candidates who have been shortlisted will attend, so expect to be facing other talented peers. Be mindful that not everyone will be going for the same role.

The term ‘assessment centre’ refers to the process rather than the venue. An employer may host the assessment centre if they have the room and facilities; otherwise, hotels and conference centres are commonly used.

Some companies prefer to use virtual assessment centres which are managed via video conferencing software. The candidates log on remotely and participate in activities and assessments adapted from in-person events.

Virtual assessment centres typically last for a few hours and provide opportunities for refreshment breaks and social contact. A virtual event is often considered to be less intense for the candidates, due to the shorter duration and being in the comfort of their own surroundings.

The typical structure of an assessment centre

The specific activities included in an assessment centre are dictated by the nature of the role to be filled, plus the knowledge, traits and skills expected of the successful candidate. The standard exercises include psychometric testing, group exercises, written tests, individual or group presentations, case studies, role play and in-tray tests.

Psychometric testing

The psychometric tests used might include numerical, logical and verbal reasoning, and personality questionnaires. The types of tests are selected according to the skills the employer wishes to assess. No prior knowledge is needed for these tests, as they are designed to measure natural aptitude and personality traits.

Group Exercises

Group exercises show the assessor how effectively candidates can communicate and work as part of a team. Companies often create scenarios that reflect real situations to observe how the candidates behave in the workplace.

In a group exercise, participants take on different roles, with some displaying natural leadership qualities and others motivating and driving the team, or quietly focusing on producing results.

Sometimes a group exercise can take the form of a discussion, whereby the team are given a topic area or current affairs issue that they have to analyse and discuss.

Occasionally, groups are asked to complete a more hands-on task such as solving a puzzle or designing a structure.

Written Exercises

Where the job role in question requires a high level of written communication skills, candidates may be asked to take part in a writing exercise. The timed tests cover grammar, spelling and language mastery, and may involve writing an email, press release or report.

In a group situation, you may be asked to critique a peer’s work or contribute to a joint project.

Presentations

Assessment centre presentations are often focused around the candidates themselves. The employer wants to get to know more about you while also assessing your communication skills, confidence, and ability to think on your feet.

The assessors will often provide you with topic areas before the day itself, so you have time to prepare.

Case Studies

A case study is an opportunity for the employer to see how well candidates perform in a work situation. The case study will reflect a typical situation in the company. You may be presented with a company report, review, or market research findings, and tasked with analysing the situation and presenting a response, either in writing or as part of a group presentation.

Role Plays

Role plays are popular when recruiting for customer-facing roles that require a level of quick thinking and diplomacy. The employer will be looking for calm, polite behaviour and clear communication.

In-Tray Tests

An in-tray exercise tests your ability to organise and prioritise workload and focus on the task in hand. Candidates are presented with a set of tasks that reflect a real work scenario and must work through the tasks in order of importance, explaining their rationale and decision-making process.

An example assessment day schedule

You will be sent details of the assessment centre event with your invitation. This should outline the venue, what to bring with you, and the timings of the day.

The employer will decide which activities to include, so no two itineraries will be the same. The following is an example of what you can expect throughout a one-day event:

  • 09:00 Arrival, meet and greet, collect name badges, coffee
  • 09:30 Introduction to the day, housekeeping and ice-breaker activity
  • 10:00 Psychometric tests
  • 11:00 Coffee break
  • 11:30 Personality/situational tests
  • 12:30 Break for lunch
  • 13:30 Individual task: In-tray exercise
  • 14:30 Group task
  • 15:30 Refreshment break
  • 16:00 Individual presentations
  • 17:00 Debrief and evaluate
  • 17:30 Finish

What are recruiters looking for?

Assessment centres have a proven track record of finding the most suitable candidates for the job. Employers are looking for competencies that indicate how suitable a candidate is for the role.

An assessment centre gives the candidates the opportunity to demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Communication skills – be confident and open, using both verbal and non-verbal communication with your peers.
  • Being personable – be friendly, polite and approachable.
  • Leadership – speak up in group tasks and don’t hold back from taking the lead in situations where you feel it will benefit the team.
  • Teamwork – employers want someone who can contribute confidently and fairly. Don’t be too shy to speak up, or too overbearing to let anyone else get a word in.
  • Problem solving – all roles have some element of problem solving, and the employer will want an idea of how you approach scenarios in work situations.
  • Influencing – articulate your ideas clearly and persuasively to influence peers to support your ideas.
  • Creativity – creative thinking among employees can drive a company forward, so use any opportunity to show that you can approach situations from new angles.
  • Negotiation – a group challenge is a good opportunity to show your skills of negotiation as you and your peers work out how to combine ideas for the best result.
  • Time management – timed tasks simulate the pressures of the workplace, so stay calm and focused to complete tasks in the specified time frames.
  • Planning – approach every task methodically. Effective planning can make the difference between the success or failure of a task.
  • Organisation – an in-tray exercise is the ideal opportunity to demonstrate solid organisation skills, which are highly regarded in any workplace.
  • Analytical thinking – practice analytical reasoning tests before your assessment centre to help refine this skill.
  • Customer service skills – the employer will be looking for calm and professional behaviour throughout the day. Candidates who are seen to be hot-headed or impatient will be considered too risky for stressful customer-facing roles.

The employer is looking to see how you handle a busy day under pressure, as this will simulate a day in the real job. The advantage of an assessment centre is that if you underperform in one area, you can make up for it by excelling in others.

Prepare yourself for leading employers

How best to prepare for an assessment centre

The more prepared you are, the higher the chance of success on the day of your assessment centre. Consider all the different aspects of the event in your preparations.

Check the location, time and date of the event. You want to arrive at the venue in good time to avoid unnecessary stress before the assessments start.

Take online practice aptitude tests. Practising beforehand can give you an idea of the sorts of questions you’ll be asked and the format and timing of the tests.

Research the company. You’ll feel better prepared if you can approach the event knowing about the company’s history, successes, competitors and market position.

Revisit the job description. The original job description outlines all the skills necessary for the role and gives you a good idea of what you may be tested on at the assessment centre.

Carefully read any information you are sent. You’ll be sent an information pack detailing the itinerary for the day, what to take with you, and if there are any tasks to complete beforehand.

How to pass an assessment centre

Follow these suggestions on the day of the assessment centre to give yourself the best chance of success:

Dress appropriately

Choose your outfit the night before, making sure you look smart and professional. Feeling confident in your appearance can give you a boost on the day (or at least one less thing to worry about).

Be confident

Now is not the time for shyness. You have one chance to demonstrate your abilities and you are up against other talented candidates, so speak up and contribute.

Be flexible

Your assessors may decide to add in an extra activity on the day to test how well you can adapt to changing situations.

Revisit your previous interview experiences

The assessment day will build upon previous skills you were asked about in the early interview stages. Go over any examples you gave, and any advice or feedback you received at the time.

Take the opportunity to network

Use the downtime of refreshment and lunch breaks to introduce yourself to people, make connections and show a genuine interest in the people around you. As well as showing a confident and friendly attitude, you never know which other opportunities may arise from building your network.

For more guidance, see these 10 tips on how to pass your assessment centre.

The tests were well suited to the job that I’ve applied for. They are easy to do and loads of them.
Sophie used Practice Aptitude Tests to help pass her aptitude tests for Deloitte. Start your success story

How are assessment centres scored?

Assessment centres score candidates over company-specific criteria using a number of different exercises and simulations under the surveillance of the assessors. By the end of the day, the assessors decide on a person’s fitness for a required profile, taking into account their performance in communication, teamwork etс.

How long are assessment centres?

Assessment centres vary in their length and content, but they’re typically a full day or half a day, so as to correspond with a regular work day. This means timings, breaks and lunches will usually be aligned with that of the company and its employees.

How many people attend assessment centres?

Assessment centres typically take place during the final stage of selection, so only candidates who have passed the previous selections are invited to attend. This can be as few as a handful or as many as a couple of hundred. The number of candidates attending will be closely linked to the number of roles available.

What happens after an assessment centre?

You might not be given feedback on the day of the assessment centre itself. Expect to hear back from the employer when they have had a chance to review all the candidates and have made a decision. This can take anywhere from a few days, to a week or more. You should be given an idea of how long to wait before contacting them if you’ve not heard anything.

How to introduce yourself at an assessment centre

The way you introduce yourself can make a lasting impression. Start by giving your name and offering a handshake if appropriate. Think about what you want to say before you approach someone. Do you have a question you want to ask, or some information that is relevant to that person? Be ready to listen and open up a two-way conversation.

What do assessment centres measure?

Assessment centres measure how a potential worker will handle routine tasks during a working day in the company. All activities, depending on the job specifics, are aimed to test a person’s professional attitude and skills such as critical thinking, decision making, teamwork, leadership, etc.

What to ask at assessment centres?

Asking proper questions at assessment centres is a good way to show your positive attitude. Research the company’s website and social media, find out about significant milestones in the company’s history and the position you are applying for. Ask questions about work culture and recent achievements or issues faced.

What to wear to assessment centres?

There’s a good chance the employer will say, so if you’re unsure, ask. Dress to impress but make sure you wear something that you’re comfortable in.

Which employers use assessment centres?

Assessment centres are largely used by big enterprises. Typically they hire a third-party recruitment company to organise and perform the assessment. It’s an expensive way to select new employees that is often beyond start-up and small companies’ budgets. However, they might still use some assessment centre elements like a mock presentation or in-tray exercises.

Why do employers use assessment centres?

Employers use assessment centres to analyze how a potential employee will manage with daily tasks at a job they’re applying for. Assessment day tests are used to simulate work situations and require candidates to use their abilities as they would during a regular work day. Often they include lunch with future colleagues to evaluate how they’ll fit in with the team.

Why are assessment centres so hard?

Assessment centres are complex sets of tests that are meant to evaluate your performance in a specific position. They involve various events that simulate work-related situations. These tests are designed to be hard to simulate a stressful or busy day at work and see how candidates will perform in this environment.

Where can I practice assessment centres?

Practice is the key to successful participation in assessment centres. If you have never participated in an assessment centre, read our guides to the various tests involved. Those contain plenty of materials for you to get started with, such as exercises, tips and information about what to expect.

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