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Assessment Centres - what to expect


With the recent pick up in the graduate market, a lot of consultancies, FMCG companies, public sector bodies and financial services organizations are taking on a high volume of graduates for their 2010 Graduate Schemes. The assessment process will almost inevitably consist of a final round Assessment Centre, which often causes many of my candidates to break into a state of panic. Whilst all Assessment Centres are structured differently, there seem to be certain exercises/activities that commonly crop up.

Numerical Testing

·       Practice practice practice. To be successful for a business analyst, consultancy, FMCG or financial services graduate scheme you will need strong numerical skills. You will often be assessed according to how you rank in comparison to other people applying for the scheme. There are plenty of practice examples on the net. Re-create the environment that you’ll be tested in – find somewhere quiet and time yourself. It really is worth running through these before an Assessment Centre – even if you have A at A Level Maths, it’s easy to ‘lose’ your maths skills if you’ve been out of practice for a while.

In Tray Exercise

·       In Tray exercises can come in various shapes and forms, but ultimately they’re all testing the same thing – how well you react in high pressured environment and your ability to multi-task and prioritise. During an in tray exercises (which can also be computer based / electronics, aka e-tray exercises) you will be presented with a series of tasks, memos, emails, requests, and often asked to prioritise in order of importance. Usually it is impossible to complete every single task, so the key is to remain calm and show that you are capable of making business critical decisions whilst under pressure. You want to show the Assessor that you can are efficient and results orientated in a busy working environment.

Group Exercises

·       You may be split into a team of 3 or 4 and asked to complete a task as a group. This can be very hard to prepare for as the task can sometimes be unrelated to the sector/role you’re applying for (‘what would you do if you had to build a school in Vietnam’) and you have no idea what your group will be like. Often assessors will be looking for candidates to demonstrate competencies such as team work, leadership, enthusiasm and organizational skills, but showing these off can be hard depending on who you’re grouped with. It can be hard to show leadership skills when you’re in a group of leaders, and similarly it can be hard to show that you’re capable of following other leaders when you’re in a quiet group and no one else is talking. Show the Assessor that you can adjust to a situation and use your discretion, depending on the dynamic of the group. If one particular member of the group isn’t getting a word in, invite them to speak or ask them for your opinion. If everyone is talking over the top of each other, perhaps direct the group so that each member gets their turn to speak. Common sense is key, you want to show that you are aware of social/group situations and you are a strong communicator (this includes being an active listener).

Competency Interviewing

·       Competency questions are designed to see whether you can demonstrate, by talking about past experience, the skills required by the role you’re being interviewed for. Often you will be asked for examples from your commercial, academic or extra-curricular background. It’s important to structure your answers really well so that you don’t lose the interviewer in too much irrelevant detail – try using the STAR technique:

- Situation = briefly describe the background of the situation

- Task = specifically describe your responsibility

- Action = describe what you did

- Result = describe the outcome of your actions

Not all Assessment Centres are the same, so no matter how many you have done before, it is essential to do as much research as you can beforehand. Always ask the HR team / your recruiter what the Assessment Centre will involve, and use your network to find out if other people you know have been through the company’s assessment process before, or the assessment process for a similar company in a similar sector. Research the company in detail beforehand – assessors will always be looking for your general commercial awareness and also your motivations for wanting to join their organisation. Most importantly, be confident, friendly and enthusiastic… Good luck!

Hannah O’Brien is an Account Manager with our Graduate Team