Assessment centres: What are they and how can you be successful?

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What are assessment centres?

Assessment centres are used by many large employers to recruit and are increasingly being used by smaller employers too. Even if an employer doesn’t call their recruitment activity an assessment centre, they may include some of the activities. Assessment centres are an opportunity for a company to assess candidates for a range of skills required for a particular role. The tasks may replicate the working environment or be designed to identify certain competencies required for the role. Common tasks include group exercises, interviews, presentations, role play, psychometric tests, networking, e-tray exercises and in-tray exercises. Each assessment centre is likely to include three to four of these activities. At the current time many employers are using digital assessment centres.


Read on for our top tips:

Each member of staff in the Guidance and Training Team in Careers and Employability – Student Futures, has provided a top tip to help you with assessment centres:


Practice: If you have opportunities to practice, take them. It will make it less daunting when you face an assessment centre in a recruitment process. You are likely to feel more confident, have gained experience and received feedback. You can practise psychometric tests and video interviews on Graduates First and Shortlist.Me. More details about accessing these systems are available here. Take the time to reflect on your previous experience of group activities that you have participated in and practise presentations on your own or with friends or family. Careers and Employability also offer opportunities to practise mock assessment centres each year. (Hannah Perkins, Training and Events Co-ordinator)

Hannah Perkins
Hannah Perkins

Research: Make sure you have read about the company on their website and understood their work ethic, values and culture. Find out more by using LinkedIn; read about the interview and assessment processes and the experience of other candidates using Glassdoor https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/index.htm ; speak to other contacts you know who have connections with the company – this will give you a greater insight into the company and allow you to demonstrate your commercial awareness when answering interview questions and during various activities. (Lowri Evans, Career Consultant)


Be prepared: Arrive early as there may be an opportunity to network. This can settle your nerves and give you a chance to talk about yourself before you meet the assessors. Make sure you have everything that you need ready – have pen and paper ready, have your presentation (if needed) ready, have access to a watch or clock. If it’s a digital assessment centre – make sure you have checked your IT equipment, your lighting and your sound etc. and if it’s a physical assessment centre remember to take any documents you have been asked to supply – passports, CVs, driving licence etc. Be prepared for an “ice-breaking” exercise at the beginning of the day. Think in advance of any interesting facts, achievements, ambitions etc. (Vikki Brockhurst, Career Consultant).

Vikki Brockhurst
Vikki Brockhurst

It’s OK to feel nervous: Nerves show that you are taking the assessment centre seriously. Other participants, even those who look confident, will probably be feeling equally nervous. It is not uncommon for assessors to feel nervous too! To stay calm remind yourself of all your preparation and don’t worry about being offered a job because this is out of your control. Focus on what you can control which is doing your best in the assessment activities. If it is your first assessment centre, then you can think of it as a learning experience from which you hope to learn and get better; and you might still get offered the job! (Peter Shelston, Career Consultant)

Peter Shelston
Peter Shelston

All-encompassing assessment: Be aware that you are likely to be assessed from the minute you enter the building until the moment you leave. Be mindful of how you interact with others at all times (including those not directly involved in the assessment centre) and think about the impression you are making. (Nicola Davenport, Career Consultant).

Nicola Davenport
Nicola Davenport

Pay attention and be present: If you don’t understand the guidelines or something isn’t clear – ask. Listen for instructions including time constraints. Think about your body language and where you are focusing your attention, if you are listening to others – visibly checking your phone messages or staring at something off-camera is not a signal to send to the assessors observing you. (Brian Taylor, Career Consultant)

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor

Leadership: When involved in any group activity make sure there is a leader. A good leader will help the group work more effectively and achieve the task. Even if everyone in the group works positively and collaboratively, a leader can steer, co-ordinate and pull everything together.  You will always need someone to lead the group, but it doesn’t have to be you. You can suggest to the group a leader is needed or adapt yourself to take-up the role of a leader if no one else comes forward. (Rebecca Nethercott, Career Consultant Team Leader)

Rebecca Nethercott
Rebecca Nethercott

Mistakes: If you make a mistake in a group activity or an individual exercise don’t be afraid to admit it. Honesty and humour can be appreciated here. Consider how you can correct the mistake or, if it is too late in the task to correct it, reflect on the mistake and what you would do differently were you to do the task again. The assessment centre will have more than one task designed to assess the competencies that the organisation is looking for. The company should recognise that candidates will be stronger on some tasks compared with other. Try to focus on the next task rather than on a mistake you have made in a previous task. (Amber Gaffoor, Training Assistant)

Amber Gaffoor
Amber Gaffoor

Request feedback: Hopefully, you will be successful in getting the job. Whether you have been successful or not, request feedback to identify your strengths and areas for improvement. Also take the time to reflect on the experience yourself. What do you think you did well/could improve upon? This will help you to develop for future assessment centres. (Lisa Rogers, Career Consultant)


Want further information about assessment centres?

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