Used in the latter stages of recruitment, an assessment centre is an opportunity for an employer to see you in action.
Having passed the pre-screening stages of selection, you’ll now be tasked with completing a number of activities that measure your suitability for both the role and the hiring organisation. These often include presentations, case studies and group exercises.
As only the best candidates make it to assessment centre stage, you’ll be up against some tough competition. The good news is that with effective preparation, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Here are ten tips to help you do just that.
1) Find out all you can in advance
Knowing what to expect is key to success at an assessment centre – so do your research.
Your invitation should outline the type of tasks you’ll be asked to complete, but for a little more clarification you could also check employment forums (eg Glassdoor, Student Room) to read the experiences of past candidates.
If your itinerary includes aptitude or skills assessments, take plenty of practice tests in preparation. Make a list of everything you’ll need on the day, and check for any tasks that may need completing prior.
If you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to contact the HR department for clarification.
2) Know the organisation and your role within it
Throughout your assessment day, you’ll be measured on a set or predefined skills and qualities. How well you evidence them will determine both your suitability for the role, and how well you fit with the company’s working culture.
You should already have a good idea of what the role entails from your application, but it’s wise to go through the job description again and highlight the key competencies and attributes required.
You should also research the organisation’s core values, where it stands in the market, how it intends to move forward, and how your role would contribute. The more background information you have, the better your understanding of what the assessors will be looking for.
3) Revisit your application and interview prep
Since only the most promising candidates are invited to an assessment centre, whatever you’ve done up to this point has clearly made a strong impression. Use this to your advantage by improving on what’s gone before.
You may have already attended a virtual or in-person interview. If this is the case, ask for feedback to identify any areas you may need to work on, and those that hit the mark. This is the best way to prepare for the interview segment of your assessment day.
If you’ve not been interviewed to date, thoroughly review your application against everything you now know about the role and organisation. If there are any areas of weakness, consider how you can address these.
4) Prepare your presentation in advance (if possible)
If a presentation is required, you may well be given details of this in advance (such as the topic and duration) and the equipment you’ll have at your disposal.
Use this opportunity to craft and perfect both its content and your presentation style. Make sure you address the topic clearly, and know your presentation well enough not to rely on notes.
Ask friends or family to watch you present, regardless of whether you’re a confident public speaker or not. The pressure of an assessment centre may impact your performance, but the more rehearsed you are, the more confident you’ll be.
5) Make a great first impression
On the day itself, first impressions count for a lot. If you start out on the wrong foot it can be hard to turn things around, so turn up in plenty of time with everything you need to hand.
Be sure to dress appropriately. Your invitation may have included a dress code but you can always contact the employer for clarification if you’re not sure.
Ideally, you want to appear smart and professional, but be comfortable enough to carry out all the tasks in your assessment centre schedule.
6) Follow best practice for group exercises
These are one of the most common tasks undertaken at an assessment centre. It’s vital that you present yourself as a team player here, as this is the key skill they’re designed to measure.
Every team needs a range of personality types, from those that lead to those who keep track of progress. It doesn’t matter which role you take on, so long as you’re contributing effectively to the group dynamic.
Work to your strengths, and encourage others to work to theirs, ensuring maximum engagement from everyone. No matter the task, ensure the whole team understands the brief and is working towards a collaborative outcome.
7) Be prepared for surprises
On some occasions, an assessor may change the requirements of a task at the last minute. For example, you may have been asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation, but find you’re only given 10 minutes on the day.
This is designed to test your flexibility and resilience under pressure, much as you may be required to demonstrate in the workplace.
The key is to stay calm and adapt as best you can. If you’re aware this might happen, you’ll be more open to change.
8) Take a proactive approach
Candidates that stand out at assessment centres are the ones that throw themselves into the experience. You’re being evaluated at every stage – including breaks – so be on top of your game at all times.
Show enthusiasm for the opportunity by asking questions, and demonstrate social skills by networking with other attendees. Essentially, take any chance you can to get involved beyond the tasks assigned to you.
9) Be the best version of yourself
Assessment centres give employers the chance to get to know you outside the interview room, so let your personality shine through.
A positive attitude and personable nature will go a long way to making you a standout candidate, and even if you don’t feel it, try to appear confident. This will get easier the more you relax into the day.
Avoid any negativity, and treat your fellow candidates with the courtesy and respect you’d look for in return.
10) Tweak your approach for a virtual assessment centre
As these have become increasingly common, it’s important to address the challenges they bring and how to overcome them.
If taking part in a virtual assessment centre, keep in mind practices for effective communication differ. Assessors won’t be able to pick up on body language cues as much, so pay close attention to how you’re interacting with others, particularly in group exercises. Be sure to speak up, as well as giving others their say.
By far the best way to prepare for a virtual assessment centre is practice, so set up video calls with friends or family to test out your approach.