Assessment centres

Many large-scale recruitment schemes use assessment centres as part of their recruitment process. During the assessment centre you will be assessed alongside other candidates on a variety of different exercises.

Types of exercises

Find out more about the types of exercises included in an assessment centre.

Some of these exercises will involve you working individually, while others will assess your ability to work as part of a group. All exercises are designed to assess your suitability for the job by looking at your skills and competence to perform the job role and your personality fit for the organisation and the job itself.

The advantage of taking part in multiple exercises in this way is that you have a much better chance to demonstrate your full range of skills and abilities. They are therefore a much fairer way of recruiting people than an interview alone.

An assessment centre can last for anywhere between half a day and three days. It will normally take place at the organisation's premises but may be held at an external location.

How to prepare for an assessment centre

Research the company, their market and their competitors

Companies want to hire people who can show interest in and enthusiasm for their organisation, and who want to be a part of it. Attending an assessment centre without a basic understanding of the organisation and its products and services is simply bad manners.

Most organisations will have a website so this is a good starting point for your research. The kinds of information you should be looking for are:

  • How long has the organisation been established?
  • What are their products and services?
  • What are their aims and objectives?
  • How many offices do they have and where are they located?
  • Do they have an international presence?
  • What are their core markets?
  • Are there any specific projects they are currently working on?
  • Do they have any expansion plans?
  • Have there been any mergers or acquisitions, or are any planned?
  • What does the organisation say about themselves - what is their company culture, and their ethics and values?
  • How well has the company been performing? Checking their share price is always useful.
  • Who are their competitors? What sets this organisation apart from their competitors?

You are unlikely to find all this information on their website. Searching more widely on the internet and in newspapers/magazines, or consulting their annual report, are good ways of finding out as much information as possible.

Prepare your outfit ahead of the day

Make sure you have a suit or smart dress to wear to the assessment centre. Even if you think the company dress code may be quite casual it is better to be overly smart, rather than risk appearing too casual. These are formal occasions and first impressions count for a lot. An employer will not think poorly of you if you are too smartly dressed, but going too casual can give the impression that you haven't made sufficient effort - perhaps you also are casual about the job itself.

Research the location

Make sure you know exactly where you are going and how long it will take to get there. Have a journey plan and do a trial run if possible so you don't risk getting lost on the day. Being late creates a really bad impression. No matter how well you perform on the day being late may still cost you the job. Make sure you have enquired about parking facilities in advance.

Have the name and phone number of the contact

If you are running late, for any unavoidable reason, it is always good to have a phone number to call ahead and advise of your delay. When you arrive at the organisation, make sure you are clear who you are meeting with and have a clear understanding of the format for the day.

Practise a firm handshake with eye contact

Confidence and first impressions are very important during assessment processes. A limp handshake may give the impression of being unassertive or shy. Make sure you make regular eye contact with people throughout the course of the assessment - this will give the impression of confidence and good interpersonal skills.

Get a smart document wallet for your papers

You will need to make sure you print out and take with you:

  • A copy of the job description and person specification.
  • A timetable and outline of the day.
  • A copy of your CV and covering letter.
  • Any examples of work you want to show.
  • Answers to any online application questions you have completed.
  • Directions to the location and a map.
  • The contact details of the person you are meeting.
  • Prior research you have done on the company.
  • A pen and paper.

Practise your psychometric assessments

Many employers will ask you to complete psychometric assessments as part of the assessment centre. Please refer to our guidance on psychometric assessments for more information on these. It is also a good idea to try completing some practice assessments before the real thing.

Be polite to everyone

Remember that everyone in the company will be aware of you and it is your job to impress them. Any perceived slight to a receptionist or rudeness to an administrator may be reported back to the assessor(s). Be friendly and polite to everyone from the moment you get near the interview location. Do not ask a receptionist to photocopy your PowerPoint slides or try to persuade them to let you park in a disabled spot. Take responsibility for immaculate preparation so that you do not need to ask for help or favours.

If you are late, badly dressed, come across as arrogant or rude in the first few minutes of an assessment centre, it will be very difficult to recover. Time is precious and a bad start wastes your limited time to sell yourself.