Careers Service

Assessment Centres

Assessment Centres

Preparation

Assessment centres give the employer the chance to observe you and see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do, in a variety of situations.

Most large graduate recruiters include assessment centres as part of their recruitment process, typically lasting one or two days. 

As with interviews, a key to success is preparation and presenting yourself in a positive way.

How the Careers Service can help you prepare

  • visit us for a chat with an information adviser for tips and advice on what to expect and how to prepare
  • attend one of our careers workshops to learn how to prepare for and have a go at an assessment centre
  • come along to one of our employer skills sessions – led by graduate recruiters, these focus on interviews and typical assessment exercises
  • watch the video 'At the assessment centre' (University login required - note: can only be viewed in Internet Explorer). This shows real students and graduates being assessed by actual recruiters in a range of assessment centre exercises
  • listen to 'How to stand out at assessment centres', an online presentation from the Careers Service recorded in February 2013. It includes advice on how to prepare and how to stand out at an assessment centre, as well as an interactive Q&A session, led by Angus Greenland, Graduate Hiring Manager for Hewlett Packard
  • read our ‌Preparing for an assessment centre handout (PDF: 228KB), which outlines some of the key skills employers are looking for in candidates and ways in which you can develop these skills

'How to Prepare for an Assessment Centre' Online Masterclass

To view the presentation with subtitles, click the CC button in the player below. You can also view a full screen version

Further information

These links to external websites provide further information on preparing for assessment centres:

Employer websites will often include further details of their assessment centres and tips for success. You can also ask employers about their selection procedures at recruitment fairs and employer presentations.

Find out more about assessment centres:

On the Day

During the assessment day, you will have to meet and deal with a variety of people, both selectors and other candidates.

You'll take part in a range of activities, typically including a group task and an interview. You can find advice on preparing for the various exercises on these pages. 

Assessment centres can feel quite daunting, and it's important to keep your energy levels up. Remember to:

  • be confident and try to relax
  • be polite to everyone
  • ask questions and show interest and enthusiasm
  • concentrate during organisational and information sessions
  • don't eat or drink too much during social intervals

For advice on how to chat to graduate recruiters during social breaks, visit TARGETjobs

You can find more tips from TARGETjobs at How to be your best self at graduate assessment centres.

 

Group Tasks

Group exercises or discussions are a very common feature of assessment centres. In these the selectors are looking for how well you work with other people, as well as for key skills such as communication, negotiating, persuading, problem-solving and planning skills.

To take part in a practice group exercise, look out for our 'Have a go at an assessment centre' workshop during term time. You can also watch real students being assessed by actual recruiters in a group discussion exercise in the video: At the assessment centre (University login required).

Tips on dealing with group tasks

  • Read all instructions carefully and understand what the aim of the exercise is - don't jump into the discussion without reading the brief fully, but don't waste time on irrelevant details
  • Decide your objectives and priorities
  • Make sure that someone in the group is keeping track of the time
  • Make sure you contribute to the discussion, but don’t dominate. Be assertive but diplomatic and listen to and support others' good ideas
  • Be persuasive and work with the group. The aim is to help the group achieve its task - remember that you are not competing with the other candidates
  • Keep calm and use your sense of humour

Remember to tailor your approach to the competencies/qualities the employer is seeking, as well as the type of role or organisation.

Further advice on group tasks

The following websites contain more information and advice about group tasks:

Presentations

You may be asked to deliver a short talk in front of the selectors and/or the other candidates. The selectors want to know whether you can put information across effectively.

You could be asked to prepare a short presentation on the day. This could be about a hobby, interest or achievement, or a recent news item. Alternatively, you may be asked to do a longer presentation that you prepare in advance.

If you're asked to prepare a presentation in advance find out as much as you can about the topic, don't be afraid to ask for more information.

Remember, very few of us are naturally talented speakers. Almost everyone will be nervous before a presentation. First time speakers often think nervousness is a sign that they aren't good at delivering a good presentation. This isn't true, all the symptoms that accompany nervousness, such as frequent swallowing, trembling and perspiration, are normal signs that your body is getting ready for something important.

Getting started

Ask yourself these questions before you start planning your presentation:

  • What are my aims?
  • How much time am I allowed?
  • Who is my audience and how much do they know about the subject?
  • Will they understand the terminology?
  • What resources are available, eg laptop/PC, flip chart, etc?
  • Which medium am I most comfortable with and which suits my subject or audience better?

Structure and content

Your presentation should have a logical structure, including: 

  • an introduction – you need to introduce the presentation briefly, include your name and the subject of your presentation, outlining the content and whether you are willing to take questions
  • main content – make distinct points, no more than about five points in a 15 minute presentation
  • conclusion – summarise your main points

Make sure that the content is at an appropriate level to your audience, ie not too technical or patronising. Use examples to illustrate what you are saying.

Involve the audience, if appropriate, and don't forget to introduce yourself at the start of your presentation.

Delivery

Your body language can affect the message of your presentation. Try to relax, smile and be positive. Avoid fidgeting or fiddling with hair, clothing or jewellery.

Follow our tips for delivering your presentation:

  • stand where the audience can see you and your visual aids
  • look around at your audience. Vary the person you make eye contact with
  • dress appropriately, and so that you are comfortable
  • aim for a conversational delivery - use notes as a prompt only; don't read your presentation
  • speak clearly and slow your speech down - there's a tendency to speak more rapidly when nervous. Try taking deep breaths to slow yourself down
  • use pauses to allow yourself time to gather your thoughts and for the audience to catch up

Practise your presentation in front of a friend and ask for feedback. You can also practise in front of a careers adviser, visit the Careers Service to arrange this. If this feels worse than the presentation itself, use a mirror. Make sure you keep to the allotted time.

Visual aids

Find out what resources are available to you. If there's a choice, use what you're most comfortable with.

Here are some tips for preparing your visual aids:

  • if you use a laptop or PC, think what you will do if there is a technical problem
  • don't depend on visual aids alone, you should be able to deliver your presentation without them if necessary
  • consider providing a handout, but decide if it is really necessary and at which point to distribute it, before or after
  • keep your slides clear and simple, they should illustrate or summarise what you're saying, not talk for you
  • consider using images, they give the audience a break from reading
  • don't put too much information on your slides, seven lines per slide is a good guide

Questions

Try to anticipate and prepare for likely questions:

  • say if you’re happy to take questions during the presentation and/or at the end
  • don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't understand what is being asked
  • re-phrasing the question for the audience can give you some thinking time
  • keep the answer simple
  • if you don't know the answer, acknowledge the question and offer to get back to them with the information

Resources for preparing for presentations

Case Studies

In a case study task or case interview, you are typically given a question, situation, problem or challenge and asked to come up with a solution.

Case interviews are often used for management consulting or investment banking positions. You would be expected to ask the interviewer probing questions to help you understand the situation, gather relevant information and arrive at a solution or recommendation. You may be asked to calculate or estimate a specific number, such as market size or profitability.

For some questions, there may not be a right or wrong answer, the employer is more interested in how you demonstrate reasoning and approach problems.

You can also be given a case study that you will need to present on paper.

Case studies can be given as a group activity or as an individual exercise. Typically, you are given a set of papers relating to a particular situation and asked to make recommendations in a brief report. You are being tested on your ability to:

  • analyse information
  • think clearly and logically
  • exercise your judgement and to express yourself on paper

Example case study exercises

  • Transport for London - examples of written case studies with feedback from the employer 
  • Bain and Company – tips on how to prepare plus online practice cases
  • Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – interactive case study and practice cases showing examples
  • Marakon – tips and a practice case study
  • McKinsey – practice case studies and case interview tips, plus video of what to expect during the interview

Advice on case studies and case interviews

The following websites provide further advice about case interviews and case studies:

Role plays and e-trays

There are a range of exercises you may have to participate in at an assessment centre. These include role play exercises and e-tray exercises.

Role play exercises

Role play exercises are typically used to assess skills such as communication, influencing, or negotiation, particularly if the position requires a high degree of interpersonal interaction, for example, in sales and customer service roles. They are also often used in police recruitment and for some healthcare and medical roles.

In a typical example, you would play the part of an employee being presented with a client problem or complaint that you will need to resolve effectively. The assessor would usually play the role of the client.

Role play exercises can also be used to assess suitability for managerial and leadership roles. For example, you could be asked to play the part of a manager having to discuss and resolve a performance issue with a member of your staff.

You should research the role, know the key skills and competencies the employer is seeking and try to emphasise these.

You should also research the organisation, what are its values and principles, eg is it highly client-focused?

Manage your time and pace yourself appropriately. Also try to stay relaxed and demonstrate your ability to work under pressure.

Get into character, try to forget this is an exercise and act as if it’s the real thing.

Further advice

The following websites provide further advice on role play exercises:

e-tray or in-tray exercises

In this type of exercise, you will be given an in-tray containing emails, telephone messages, reports, letters, etc or an email inbox (e-tray) containing electronic versions of the above. You may also be given information about the organisation to help you make decisions as to the actions you would take.

You will need to prioritise the work, draft replies, delegate tasks and recommend actions. You will be assessed on how you handle lots of complicated information in a limited amount of time. You may need to justify why you have made certain decisions.

For further information, see Wikijob and TARGETjobs.

Example exercises

For example exercises see the following websites: