Guide to assessment centres
Assessment centres are used by employers to assess your suitability for specific types of employment, and the skills and competencies you offer. They're designed to be objective and fair, with all candidates being put through the same process. Assessment centres involve extended periods of assessment tasks, exercises and interviews, which are often modelled on work-based scenarios and carried out over 1-2 days.
Assessments centres differ from one organisation to another, but the following information can help you to understand different types of assessment tasks and activities. You'll get an understanding of what you might encounter, how you may be assessed, and how you can perform effectively.
You're likely to be assessed as soon as you arrive at the assessment centre - so arrive on time. You'll be observed throughout the day, so be nice and professional to everyone but remember to be yourself.
Try to talk to your fellow attendees. By getting to know them you're likely to get a feel for their interests and abilities, which might help you in the tasks that follow. Remember that while the process is competitive, you're not necessarily in competition with each other. So being a personable, collaborative team player is just as important as any other skills the employer is looking for.
Group exercises are designed to measure your ability to work in a team. Assessors often look for candidates who can contribute to a discussion, articulate their ideas, listen to other people's ideas, delegate tasks, approach problems effectively, demonstrate a can-do attitude and display positive leadership qualities.
Try to clearly show your contribution to group tasks, but don't dominate the group. Activities are likely to have a time constraint so be aware of the time - you could suggest that 1 team member has this responsibility. Throughout the activities, assessors will make notes on each of the group members to identify and record their contribution.
Types of group exercises include ice-breakers, case studies or scenarios, group presentations, group discussion, practical tasks and leaderless tasks.
Commonly used at the start of assessment centres, ice-breakers are often intended as a warm-up exercise to help groups of people relax and get to know each other. Assessors may also use them as an opportunity to evaluate your interpersonal qualities and ability to join in. So it's important to engage and display enthusiasm from the moment your assessment day begins.
For further information on the ice-breaker exercise, view the link below:
This type of exercise involves a group of candidates working together to respond to a work-related scenario (known as a case study). Your group might be given a set time to complete the task and you'll be assessed on your analytical skills as well as your ability to engage in group discussions, make group decisions and recommend a course of action.
Occasionally each candidate is given a different role to play within the group and/or given a different briefing document. The purpose of this is to bring different challenges to the task (reflecting what you may encounter on the job), allowing assessors to evaluate your group's ability to reach a decision and conclusion, despite possible conflicting views and team dynamics.
For more information on group case study exercises, view the following links:
This could be an extension of the case study activity, or you may be asked to deliver a presentation on any topic. It often requires more than one speaker and involves all members of the group cooperating to plan, prepare and deliver the work presented. Collaboration and teamwork is key here but assessors will also be looking for qualities such as verbal communication, time management, confidence, and knowing your audience.
For further information on preparing for and delivering presentations at assessment centres, view the following link:
This task often involves a group of candidates being given a topic to discuss. The topic presented could be a work-related matter or an issue of particular importance/interest such as 1 that's been in the news recently.
You might not get time to prepare for this activity, so we advise you to keep up to date with current affairs, news and trends in areas that relate to the work and industry you've applied for. During this activity, assessors will monitor how you can contribute to discussion, put your ideas forward, and interact with other group members. You may also be invited to explain the comments, views and/or conclusions of another group member or your group as a whole, so it's important to demonstrate good listening skills for this task as well as the ability to communicate verbally.
For more tips and information on group discussion activities at an assessment centre, please view the link below:
A group practical task could be anything, even something unrelated to the job such as working as a team to build a tower or bridge out of newspapers. Assessors will look for skills such as initiative, creativity, ingenuity and leadership, but you should use this task to demonstrate other abilities including teamwork and interacting with your group members.
Sometimes, the most effective groups are the ones that do not complete the practical task but perform well together as a team.
For more information on group practical tasks, please view the following links:
This task allows assessors evaluate your natural command presence, team-working and decision-making skills. They'll be looking to see if you possess natural leadership ability.
You'll often be put in a group with no designated leader and be given a problem or mentally or physically challenging task. As a group, you'll be required to find a compromise solution or reach a decision that's acceptable by all or the majority of the group.
For further information on (and examples of) leaderless tasks, please view the following links:
With leadership tasks, you'll often be set an activity and nominated to be in charge of that activity. Your aim is to lead others to success in a positive and influential manner. Assessors will look for qualities such as the ability to delegate, divide work up between team members, identify and use the strengths of team members effectively, gather and communicate thoughts, and react to any problems. Examples of leadership tasks include leading a group task, chairing a meeting or debate competition, or diffusing a heated discussion.
To further explore effective leadership qualities, please view the following links:
Role play exercises are a common part of assessment centres (particularly for managerial or sales-related roles) where interviewers look at how you deal with and perform in difficult situations.
Role play scenarios you could encounter
- Selling an item to different client groups
- Dealing with an angry or dissatisfied customer
- An unhappy or under performing colleague
- A failing supplier
Competencies evaluated in role play or simulation exercises
- The ability to work under pressure
- Customer service and/or customer focus
- Achieving goals (such as making an effective sale)
- Rapport building
Assessors will understand that you're not an actor/actress but you should aim to project a positive and professional attitude throughout this task to reach an amicable yet constructive outcome.
For more information on role play and simulation exercises including example scenarios, use the links below:
You'll also be asked to complete individual exercises, separate from a group, when on an assessment centre.
In-tray (paper-based) and e-tray (digital) exercises are common assessment centre exercises. They're designed to test your ability to do particular functions of the job that you've applied for
Competencies evaluated in in-tray or e-tray exercises
- time management
- decision making
- attention to detail
- ability to prioritise work
For example, you could be presented with a business-related scenario (such as a report, complaint, series of letters or emails) and asked to respond. No matter what or how many tasks you're faced with you should be methodical in your approach, as you may be asked to explain your decisions.
For more information on (and examples of) in-tray and e-tray exercises, view the links below:
Many companies use psychometric or aptitude tests as part of their recruitment process. They're used to assess your personal attributes, characteristics, general abilities and intelligence.
- Psychometric often refers to tests that measure your understanding of particular formulae, theories and concepts
- Aptitude refers to tests that measure your personal characteristics, intellect and potential for understanding new theories and concepts.
You'll usually do at least one face-to-face interview at an assessment centre with a recruiter or a panel of recruiters. This lets the employer work out if your credentials, personality, abilities and career goals match that of the job and company.
Sometimes, you may encounter a 'joint' or 'group' interview scenario where you and other candidates attend the same interview. While employers will still evaluate you on an individual basis (so it's important to remember that you're not in competition with the other candidates), they might also want to assess your interpersonal qualities and ability to function in a group.
See our advice on interview preparation for further information.
You may be asked to work on an individual case study, stimulating a problem you might encounter in the role. You'll analyse the information provided and decide on a way forward. You may be asked to present your findings, often in the form of a presentation or brief business proposal.
With the majority of case study exercises, there's no one 'correct' answer – it's often a test of your approach to dealing with a problem and also how you arrived at a logical solution. As long as you can justify your reasons and recommendations for deciding upon a particular course of action, you're likely to be scored positively by the assessor.
Competencies that may be assessed include
- analytical thinking
- assimilation of information
- commercial awareness
For more information on case study exercises, please access the following links:
Whether delivering a presentation on your own or in a group, this task often generates much anxiety for candidates. Employers could provide you with information on the presentation exercise before the assessment centre, which gives you time to prepare, or give you the exercise on the day.
Effective research, planning, preparation and practice is key to improving your performance so take a look at our full guide to preparing for presentations.
The following links provide further useful information on delivering an effective presentation:
An elevator pitch is a quick 'advert' about you, a product, service, organisation or process. While it should be brief, around 30 seconds, your message should be clear to the audience. For example, if you are asked to give an elevator pitch about yourself at an assessment centre or job interview, you should explain who you are, what you're looking for in a job and how you can benefit a company or organisation.
An elevator pitch isn't a 'sales pitch'. Avoid telling the employer how great you are. Instead, talk about how you can develop or contribute towards the business.
The following web links provide some useful information on elevator pitches:
Further information and advice
If you need more information on assessment centres, use the resources below to develop your knowledge and understanding in more detail:
- TARGET Jobs - overview of assessment centres
- TARGET Jobs - the graduate's guide to assessment centres
- Prospects - assessment centres
- Assessment Centre HQ - assessment centre exercises hub, including broader assessment centre guides and employer-specific guides.
- WikiJob - A guide on how to prepare for assessment centres
- WikiJob - Top tips on how to prepare effectively for assessment centres
Assessment centre insights
The links below are useful for preparing for sector/employer-specific assessment centres:
- Accountancy and financial management assessment centres
- Construction and building services assessment centres
- Consulting assessment centres
- Consumer products graduate assessment centres
- Civil and structural engineering assessment centres
- Engineering assessment centres
- IT assessment centres
- Investment banking assessment centres
- Law assessment centres
- Logistics, transport and supply chain assessment centres
- Marketing, advertising and PR assessment centres
- Marks & Spencer graduate assessment day role play
- Police constable assessment centre
- Property assessment centres
- RBS assessment centre
- Real estate assessment centres
- Retail banking, insurance and actuary assessment centres
- Retail, buying and merchandising assessment centres
- Teaching and education interviews and assessment centres
Disability, equality and diversity
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the selection process if applicants have declared disabilities. For example, if you're asked to undertake psychometric tests, it's standard practice to allow applicants with dyslexia 25% extra time. If you believe you have 1 or more conditions that may impact on the selection process, it's important that you inform the employer in advance so they can make any necessary adjustments.
For further information on disclosing a disability, please view the Careers and Employability Service's Disability, Equality and Diversity Guide.