Assessment Centres (otherwise known as A/C’s moving forward) can be daunting, nerve racking and simply scary, on the other hand, they are a great chance to show how well you interact with others, as well as your logical, reasoning and presentation skills that often don’t get a chance to be displayed in 1:1 structured interviews.
Typically, A/C’s are a way to reduce the number of applicants quickly, which is why it’s used so often in graduate recruitment. You may find those companies with either a small number of applications or a small number of roles (who can reduce applicants efficiently through application screening or phone interviews) may opt not to undertake A/C’s.
Company’s use A/C’s to measure you against the company’s core values, selection criteria and key competencies as set out for a successful graduate hire. It also allows assessors to measure your future on the job performance, current soft skills and identify any areas of development for the future. Often you won’t know what the competencies being measured are- however company values and selection criteria are always readily available and easy to find. You can ask employees or your recruiters about the competencies. As every company is different, ensure you prepare each time based on the criteria and values for that company and not expect that one A/C will be like another, because they truly won’t.
Assessors are looking for well rounded, driven, enthusiastic and motivated students who know where they want to work and what their future career looks like. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to specialise in, to be able to give a clear and concise summary of the type of work you may want to do will suffice.
Assessment centres are not a destination as part of the process, but is a series of various different activities conducted in a set time frame. A/C’s can last from 1.5 hours to a half or full day and may have anywhere from 5 or 6 up to 30-40 or 80-100 plus potential candidates, it all depends on how the company and recruitment manager likes to structure the process.
As assessors, we can say there are many do’s and don’ts of assessment centres that we have seen candidates display year upon year of which we have listed below. It’s how you use this advice that will help get you the job.
We are going to start by jumping straight into what A/C’s look like- the potential activities involved, our advice on how be successful for each, followed by our list of Do’s and Don’ts.
We are writing this to specifically help you be successful in this year’s graduate recruitment period, so take notes, print and highlight the important parts for you and work out if there are any areas you feel you need to work on or develop in order to be successful- be proactive and don’t wait for the time to come, start getting ready now!
Below is a list of potential activities that an A/C may comprise of- please note this list isn’t exhaustive.
The type of group activities that you may undertake are endless, the type of topics may be influenced by the industry, country and social or economic climate you are currently in. For example: An oil and gas company may draw influence on topics from environmental or sustainability topics whereas a Telco or IT company may draw influence on topics from emerging technologies or customer service.
The structure of group activities can also vary greatly, you may be given a topic to discuss in a group, problem to solve, or a competition. You will need to adjust your interactions and behaviours based on the topic and structure of the activity.
There are various types of activities you may have to undertake:
- Traditional group scenarios based on solving problems or finding solutions to an issue
- Analysis of documents or case studies for group discussion
- Videos or interviews to promote group discussions
- Role plays
- Develop a game scenario or solve a puzzle
In any group scenario, you need to focus on a few points :
- Never interrupt, talk over others or disregard/ disrespect their ideas (even if you don’t think it’s a good one). This simply comes across as arrogant and potentially disruptive in future team scenarios. If you don’t feel someone’s idea is going to help the activity, ask them why they think it is going to help and that justification will help identify whether the idea is valuable or not.
- Ensure you TALK. Never ever sit there and say nothing or just reiterate others ideas or only agree with them. Ensure you participate with your own ideas or discussion points. It is ideal if you say something within the first 0-4 minutes of any activity, don’t wait till half way or towards the end as the assessors have already judged you as quiet and a non-contributor, so by then you are already going to have to prove them wrong. You should contribute multiple times during any activity, never just once or twice. But please be very careful to not hog the limelight and talk too much. Ensure you aren’t listening to your own voice constantly and that you are listening to others- then you will be fine.
- A lot of students struggle to master this point and if you do- it’s definitely double points. The ability to reiterate, resonate and create discussion off others shows intelligence, a team player and collaborator. Listen carefully to what others say and if there is a topic you can resonate or create further discussion with or tie your ideas in with them, then we strongly recommend you do this. A great way to practice this sort of thing is around the dinner table at home, or with a group of friends but ensure you discuss topics such as current news stories, politics or debate social topics – as this will ensure you have the ability to hear others personal ideas and views and allow yours to come through.
- Be professional- take notes, watch your language, speak clearly and be concise.
Case study and presentation:
Case studies are a great opportunity to show case your analytical and constructive skills, typically on a 1:1 basis so you aren’t competing with others in a group scenario. Case studies look to assess your logical reasoning, analytical, interpretation, communication, forward thinking and presentation skills.
Our top tips for case study and presentations are:
- Ensure you read the instructions carefully and take notes
- When constructing your presentation ensure it is logical and presented in a sequence that others can follow
- Ask yourself if the idea you are presenting is really clear and easy to understand or are you the only one who it makes sense to? Is it easy to interpret?
- Use props (power point, charts, flowcharts etc if have time to prepare prior) to help your presentation
- When presenting, speak clearly in a concise manner and practice with any one you can. Be confident in your idea so others can also believe in it and you!
- If you are asked a question, you must be able to explain why you chose this idea or concept, so think about this prior. We bet you will be asked at least 1-2 questions at a minimum, so be ready to converse.
Face to face interviews:
Interviews in A/C’s are generally much shorter (15- 30 mins) and can contain either behavioural or motivational questions (refer to the UCGR blog to understand more about these type of questions). If you are shy and struggle with group scenarios (even though you need to work on this) interviews are usually your chance to shine and let your personality come through. Preparation is key so ensure you allow all your preparation to shine through.
Meet and greet with senior business members/ morning and afternoon tea:
Meet and greets are often a 30-40 minute sessions coupled with morning or afternoon tea. You should take this seriously because it’s your chance to leave an impression. Often these leaders are not there for the whole A/C and just come for this session to speak with you. It is tempting in this time to just speak with other students, or maybe even people you know there, but don’t forget that you are there to ‘sell yourself’, so get in front of leaders or assessors for a casual (but still professional) conversation. Allow your personality, interests and hobbies to shine through so they get to know you as a person versus a candidate. This way they will also remember you. Ask thoughtful and prepared questions and avoid questions that you can find the answers for on the company website. Ask them questions about the culture, what their companies values or mission means to them, expansion, technology or growth / change strategies. If you do however, be able to hold your own in these conversations. Don’t focus the entire session on just 1 person, learn how to have a conversation, end it and move onto the next so you can have at least 3-4 conversations in the session. Where possible- ask for contact details / a business card so you can also thank them for the conversation the next day.
Individual presentations (this could be about you or a specific topic):
These are fun! It’s your chance to talk about an easy topic. These are becoming more prevalent as culture and the right fit is on the top of the essentials list. You will usually be told to prepare for this between 24-36 hours prior to the A/C day.
There are typically 2 types of presentations:
- To talk about yourself on any given topic. This is great as you can choose something you are passionate about such as sports, travel or hobbies. Again similarly to the case study presentations ensure your presentation is well structured, logical and has meaning. When talking about yourself, more than ever ensure you are passionate when delivering! Be excited to share with others your topic and why it’s important to you.
- A specific topic such as ‘global warming’. It may not be as easy to prepare if you don’t know anything about the topic or aren’t interesting in it…but that doesn’t matter- get googling. Prepare, ask others for advice and insights into the topic. Spend extra time learning the topic inside out so you will be able to answer questions and let others think that you are the guru. Don’t let your nerves take over once you get the topic if you know nothing, just get researching, preparing and practice delivery multiple times.
We understand and appreciate it’s hard to prepare for particular activities that you don’t know what the topic is going to be. You can however prepare in terms of company knowledge, brushing up on your presentation and communication skills, soft skills and general knowledge. Take the whole process seriously and don’t think just because you did well at an assessment centre last week, you don’t need to prepare for the next company in as much depth.
We want to share with you insights into scoring. It can be varied- but every A/C is based on scores and rankings. Every activity you undertake will be scored either in a number or scale methodology, along with notes and then rolled up into an overall score. This overall score is usually bench marked against others in the A/C and then by others who are interviewing for the same role. So every part of this is competition with others and yourself against the criteria for the role, so ensure you do treat it like a competition. Every element in the A/C is important- so if you don’t like group activities, but love 1:1 interviews- don’t rely on the fact that you will get through on a great interview only. All scores are rolled up and we are looking for well-rounded potential graduates. We know everyone is not strong at all activities- so if you know you struggle in one area- then practice, practice and practice until you feel more comfortable.
Our list of Do’s and Don’t are extensive- (so we recommend to take notes).
|o Get involved
o Put your hand up, ask questions and be noticed (for the right reasons)
o Speak up in group discussion, you don’t and shouldn’t run the show, but do ensure you speak up a multiple times.
o Be structured and analytical during case study/ activities where applicable- it’s always good to display these skills during activities.
o Be a leader where possible- be the person who does one or multiple of the following: takes charge of a group scenario, sets the strategy, direction, help the group to stay on track and talk through the ideas being discussed. If you don’t want to ‘be the leader’ then take on a visible task as part of the team, be the time keeper, the note taker or the person who ensures the topic stays on track.
o Link back discussions and relevant topics to the company or industry you have applied for. It will allow you to show your knowledge and intellect. Ensure you don’t overdo it however. If you are able to tie back the company’s values, goals or mission, do it.
o Dress corporately unless told otherwise
o Prepare for the day & get a good nights sleep before hand. Ensure you know everything about the company, industry and role that you can. As we mentioned, it is hard to prepare for specific A/C topics, however you can prepare to be structured, analytical and considered.
o Leave extra travel time to get to the venue- there is nothing more embarrassing which makes you even more hot and feeling flustered than when you turn up 5-10 minutes after the A/C starts, you will then be on the mental back foot- so ensure you know your address and leave plenty of time to get there.
o Know yourself! Make sure you know your resume inside out, ensure you have prepared, practiced & prepared some more in regards to example scenarios for interviews. Understand why you have applied to that particular company, but more specifically, be able to articulate the why.
o Be unique and let assessors know the real you, your interests & hobbies – but even more so ensure you remind them of your volunteer or leadership experiences as well as your achievements.
o Prepare, Practice and then practice some more- you cannot be over prepared! Sit down with your family, friends, colleagues or university careers services to prepare. If your careers services offers assessment centre workshops- attend them.
o Review the position description (if one exists) prior and if not, reflect on the type of questions you have been asked to date in the recruitment process, the companies values, the graduate pillars and any competencies you can identify that you may be assessed on.
o If you need special assistance or have a disability that may affect the outcome- speak up and don’t be afraid or worried to ask for reasonable adjustments through the process.
So that’s our Do’s and Don’ts list end to end.
With serious mental and emotional preparation along with understanding the company, role and yourself you have a high chance of success, so don’t rely on ‘good luck’ and rely on your preparation.