Experts reveal all: assessment centres explained
This free guide to assessment centres is an authoritative manual on how assessment
centres work and what knowledge candidates should take into the assessment centre with
them. Nerves and unfamiliarity are the biggest culprits of underperformance. Most
candidates come out of their first assessment centre thinking "I wish I knew that
before". This guide aims to dispel myths and share the experience of assessment centre
What are assessment centres?
Assessment centres are a series of exercises commonly used by employers to test skills
which are not assessable from the traditional interview alone. An assessment centre
usually lasts a whole day but can last anything from half a day up to several days of
testing and assessments. You will normally be invited to an assessment centre only after
you have passed initial screening by the employer, for example an application form and
an online aptitude test. The assessment centre is usually the final hurdle in the
recruitment process, and is where the employer really puts the candidate through their
paces. Designing and running an assessment centre take a lot of resource and time from
the employer, so they put through only short-listed candidates who they think have a
real chance of being right for the job.
Going to an assessment centre? Want to know what to expect and what the assessors are
looking for? This free guide has been written with the help of assessment centre
designers and graduate employers. Get stuck in!
An assessment centre is not a place in itself; it is a name given to a series of
exercises. The exercises can take place at the employer's offices (if they have the
space and facilities) or at a testing centre run by qualified assessors, or any
conference space where candidates and assessors can get together.
75% of assessment centres use group exercises
In the good (or bad) old days, a CV and an interview were enough to get you a job. But
employers discovered that this wasn't always the most effective way of selecting the
right candidate because they missed negative traits and didn't credit some positive
skills. Employers have turned to using assessment centres as a second-round selection
stage because interviews alone are very subjective and open to bias. The assessment
centre aims to unearth the candidate's true potential to perform well in the job. This
means the employer gets a well-matched employee, and the candidate gets assessed fairly
on their true merits.
Assessment centre basics
Almost all employers are happy to provide you with feedback after the assessment
centre. Sometimes the assessors also ask your opinion of the day to help them with
designing future assessments.
The reason your potential employer has invited you to attend an assessment centre is that
assessment centres have a proven track record of finding the most suitable candidates
for the job. Assessment centres are not going to go away any time soon, so get used to
them! They will be attended by a group of other candidates (typically between 5 and 10),
all of whom are being assessed. The day you attend is likely to be one of many the
employer is running. It is important to remember that the assessment centre is just a
way of finding candidates suitable for a role; you are not in competition with the other
candidates at the assessment centre. If every candidate ticks all the right boxes, the
employer will hire all of them. If none of the candidates meet the necessary standard,
the employer will hire none of them.
The assessment centre will usually be run by the human resource department of the
organisation to which you are applying. There might also be managers of the company, to
provide technical input and more probing panel interview questions. Larger organisations
might also have occupational psychologists on the review panel to provide professional
insight into candidates' behaviours. For role play exercises the assessors often bring
in professional actors to play the part of an awkward customer or dissatisfied client.
These actors are very good at adopting a role and because they create a realistic
scenario, candidates often find it easier to behave in the way they would in real life.
Ultimately, the employer is using an assessment centre to simulate the kind of
situations you might encounter in the job, and measure how well you deal with them.
Components of An Assessment Centre:
- 1. Presentation by the employer
- 2. Group exercises (for example case studies and
- 3. Individual exercises (for example aptitude tests and
- 4. Interview (technical or competency)
- 5. Role play and simulation exercises
Throughout the assessment centre you will be examined on a score sheet filled in
by an assessor. Usually one assessor is assigned to each candidate on each
exercise, and then they rotate through the day. At the end of the day the
assessors discuss their opinions with each other to decide on scores. Each
candidate at the assessment centre will be examined against their individual
score sheet and you will not get to see your scores; the assessors often
complete it when you are out of the room. The score sheet will be matched to the
set of competencies the employer is looking for. It is essential that you have
an idea of what competencies the employer is looking for before you attend the
assessment centre, so you know what they are looking for. A good way to find out
what values or competencies the employer is looking for is to check on their
website or the original job posting. If you really want to make sure, try asking
the company's HR department, although they might not tell you
List of Typical Competencies:
- 1. Communication
- 2. Teamwork
- 3. Leadership
- 4. Customer focus
- 5. Influencing
- 6. Problem solving
- 7. Achieving results
The original job description is a good place to look for finding out what
competencies the employer is scoring you against during the assessment centre.
Find out what they are and have these in the back of your mind throughout the
Skills employers are typically assessing at the assessment centre are:
communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, negotiation
skills and your 'fit' for the organisation. Obviously each assessment centre
will be looking for a slightly different skill set depending on the job role.
Don't be put off by the scoring system, it's something which you should be aware
of but not afraid of.
Essential Elements of Assessment Centres:
- 1. Predefined competencies (skills) against which you will
- 2. Realistic simulation of the skills required for the
- 3. Fair and unbiased assessment. For example pooling of
data from different assessors.
- 4. Standardised recording of behaviour, for example score
sheets and video.
Research the company's competitors and how the company sits within the
marketplace. What services does the company provide that others don't? Also
something you should be doing before assessment centres and interviews anyway,
is familiarise yourself with your CV and make sure you can talk about things it
says you have done.
One-day assessment centre example
With your invitation to attend an assessment centre you will be given details of the day
and an overview of what to expect. This will include an itinerary, joining instructions,
address etc. The employer conducting the assessment centre will have put a lot of
thought into the type of exercises they want to use and the exercises will probably be
unique to them. The bespoke nature of assessment centres means there is no set template
they follow, however below is an example of a typical one-day assessment centre.
- 10:00 Arrive, collect name badges, coffee
- 10:15 Introductions and presentation by the employer
- 10:45 Verbal and numerical reasoning tests
- 11:45 Personality questionnaire
- 12:30 Lunch with managers and current employees
- 13:30 Technical interview
- 14:30 Refreshments
- 14:45 Individual task: In-tray exercise
- 16:00 Group task: Case study exercise
- 17:00 Debriefing and payment of travel expenses
- 17:30 Depart
Whilst the informal activities such as lunch and refreshments are not directly scored,
you should use these as a good opportunity to socialise with other candidates and the
current employees you will likely meet. This will relax you for the afternoon's more
interactive activities and the initiative will not go unnoticed by the assessors.
As you can see, the day is jam-packed. As much as your performance in each exercise, the
employer wants to see how you perform under a heavy workload, as this will simulate a
busy day in the real job.