Acing a graduate scheme assessment centre

As graduates all over the UK start their search for a job, graduate development schemes are becoming increasingly popular options. A cornerstone of the recruitment process for these schemes, the assessment centre has a reputation for being difficult to come through unscathed.

But they don’t have to be tricky. As with all things, forewarned is forearmed, so here are my top tips for acing assessment centres.

Do your research beforehand

When the company lets you know they’d like you to attend an assessment centre, get as much detail as possible about what it’s going to involve. Ask about the kinds of activities you’ll be put through, whether there’s a presentation you need to prepare ahead of time, and how many people will be there and, crucially, the expected dress code.

Typically an assessment centre will include some or all of a group activity, a presentation – either prepared beforehand or on the day, an individual task, a role play, verbal and numerical testing, and an interview.

Once you have details about the day itself, make sure you do thorough research into the company, looking not only at its website but seeking out other information from sites such as Glassdoor and using your network to see whether you know anyone who already works for them.

Succeeding in the group task

This part of the day is about bringing ideas but not pushing yourself too far forward, or sitting back too much. Make sure you listen as well as contribute, but keep focused on the objective of the task – many of which are created to encourage you to get distracted from the main event.

It’s about being authentically you, showing your personality and demonstrating that you can get along with others – even your competitors in the race for a job.

Finally, don’t lose track of time or be intimidated by the others in the group. Comparing yourself is unhelpful and won’t allow you to be the best version of you during the day.

(Near) perfect presentations

You could be given a topic ahead of the assessment centre day, or have a presentation sprung on you during the day. The subject could be as simple as talking about yourself, something about the organisation or anything in between, so be prepared to be creative and don’t be afraid to ask for resources such as coloured pens and flip-chart paper if it’s sprung on you during the day.

It’s worth practising your presentation skills more generally, which is hopefully something you’ve had chance to do at university. Ask a trusted friend to give you feedback on a presentation you’ve already created, looking specifically at how you present, not what you present. If you can bear it, videoing yourself is a good way to see how you come across to an audience.

Impressive individual tasks

These could range from an in-tray exercise deliberately designed to overwhelm you with detail to a problem-solving task. Be aware that one of the core skills being tested on an assessment day is the ability to filter out useless or unhelpful information so try not to get bogged down reading every bit of paper if your time limit is a tight one.

Watch the time to make sure you can complete your answers in what’s been allowed, and stay cool. Individual tasks are like exams – and you’ve done plenty of those to get where you are. They probably won’t expect you to have all the answers; this exercise is more about showing the way you work.

Acing aptitude tests

There’s a huge variety of verbal and numerical reasoning tests available but it’s still really worth trying a few beforehand as, like exams, much of your success can depend on getting used to the way questions are phrased. Doing a few practise ones will get you in the swing of things. Search for “shl style” tests, the generic name for an industry standard test of the type you could expect.

Realistic role-plays

You may be asked to take part in a hypothetical role-play situation with other employees. There’s not much you can do to prepare for these as they are usually given on the day so the most important thing is just to be yourself and act the way you would if it was a real scenario.

Inspired individual interviews

I’ve written lots about how to do well at interviews. Take a look at my blog on different types of interviews here or on the 10 secrets of interview success here. There’s also lots of advice on the Guardian Careers website too.

This is your opportunity to ask questions, so have a think about what you want to know about the organisation, its culture and vision. Don’t ask about holidays or start dates, you can take care of those details if and when you get an offer.

The last thing to mention is comfort breaks. There may be informal breaks scheduled throughout the day, but you need to still see this as part of the assessment.You might be observed on how you interact, build relationships and network, and your behaviour during this down-time can all add to your overall impact, so don’t let your guard down too much.

You’ve got this

At their heart, assessment centres need treating like exams – prepare well, eat well, sleep well and you’ll be in the best position you can. They are tough to go through, but every one you do will allow you to learn something about the process, and perhaps about yourself too.

If you want individual help to prepare for a job interview, assessment centre or career change, give me a call on 07765 894040 to book a free introductory chat.

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