STUDENT BLOG: Assessment Centre Activity Day

UoY Careers Balloon illyIn case you missed the Assessment Activity Day, here are some of the key questions happily answered by DWF (a leading business law firm), Mars (the manufacturer that needs no introduction), PwC (an professional services firm that advises other organisations) and IBM (the world’s largest IT and consulting services company).

What are Assessment Centres?

Assessment Centres are often used by organisations as a final stage in their recruitment process, to test candidates’ performance through a range of activities. Some are work-based; Mars gives prospective employees business case studies that force candidates to become marketing consultants for an hour and a half, their developed answers to business problems to be outlined in a 10-15 minute presentation at the end. Others are more focused upon transferable skills that are necessary within the job description; the ability to work well with others is key, and PwC expect all to demonstrate on the day that they can write concise reports from pages of information. Presentations and group work are a main feature within all, so be sure to brush up on your skills of communication and articulation, and stick to your guns if faced with some harsh or probing questions from assessors.

What’s the best way to prepare for Assessment Centres?

Turning up unprepared is acknowledged to be the worst thing by all and, as the day will progress like a normal interview, be smart and be on time! Remember that all Assessment Centres will differ slightly from business to business, so be sure to check on the company’s careers website at what they’ll be assessing. When equipped with a full knowledge of what competences you’ll be expected to emphasise, it’s far easier to let your suited qualities shine.

For example, as is the case with DWF, competence ‘commercial awareness’ is often a deciding factor in determining candidate suitability – be sure to keep up to date with current affairs that week. For DWF, this knowledge may be something more valued than in-depth demonstrations of extensive legal knowledge. Reading the Financial Times and other newspapers of quality could come in handy at all assessment centres as a demonstration of all-round experience.

Last but not least, make sure you have your CV with you and that what’s on it is the truth. This may seem like a no-brainer, but most businesses will be quizzing you on various aspects within it; look at where your CV mentions team work, collaboration etc and think about how you can eloquently express your skills in that area.

What should you avoid when at the centre?

All four businesses were quick to emphasise they don’t wish to trip candidates up, but that nervousness contributes to candidates doing this to themselves. Breathe, smile and be confident; if you’ve made it this far you’ve obviously already impressed at interview, so just make sure to reproduce your natural interview state.

There are, of course, faux pas. “We notice people reciting our website and our mission statement,” says Emily, PwC student recruitment officer. “I work there and I couldn’t tell you it!” As prospective employees, you have no need to memorise great swathes of information, rather just show an interest in the business and its aims.

Group exercise is also an area where graduates commit some errors; the most important advice during these is to be yourself. “Don’t tell the assessors what you think they may want to hear,” adds Helen, Mars talent resourcer. “It’s a long day and you can’t put on some act and expect to maintain it”. This becomes more prominent if the business, such as PwC, requires you to do psychometric tests and personality questionnaires; any mismatch could mean you’re put into the wrong job for your talents and/or character. This is not only bad for the company, but bad for you!

What is good practice within group exercises?

As mentioned, acting naturally is the best tactic. Within exercises, some candidates believe they have to push themselves forwards at every opportunity. But as there are usually lots of opportunities for group interactions at the centres, this isn’t necessary. “You should be involved in all discussions, and ask questions,” mentions Robin, IBM. “But don’t feel that you have to dominate”. Communication skills are what are primarily assessed within these group exercises, but remember that this isn’t just speaking; listening and reacting are just as important. 

Allowing others their say is one way to demonstrate this. If a dominant character threatens to overwhelm discussion, don’t be afraid to push in and pose questions to quieter members of the group. Incidentally, don’t be overly talkative yourself. “One of the mistakes you see commonly is people feeling so desperate to say something that they’ll say anything,” says Nicola, DWF representative. “Yet this doesn’t do them any favours. Don’t be silent, but don’t worry about being quiet.”

While this may be a lot to take in, the most important thing outlined was for candidates to be calm and enthusiastic on the day; demonstrating your breadth of knowledge within your chosen field and an understanding of current events shouldn’t be a chore, but rather fun!

Other useful information: If preparing for a psychometric test (these aren’t dissimilar to the CATs tests of British secondary school yore) that may well qualify you for an assessment centre, be sure to try out some practice papers beforehand, available on the Careers Website. The website also has a list of upcoming events on how to impress at interview, write application forms and gain employee-based skills needed to succeed at Assessment Centres.