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Top Tips on Handling an Assessment Centre

Assessment centres are a popular and traditional selection method particularly for graduate recruitment. However, many organisations regularly use assessment centres to manage their high volume recruitment or to identify high potential talent.

At some point during your career it’s likely you will be invited to take part in an assessment event.
Initially you may feel anxious just thinking about what to expect and how you are going to perform on the day. This is natural and most candidates will be feeling a little apprehensive about the day, even if they appear very confident!!


The good news is that you get lots of opportunity to demonstrate skills and competencies throughout the day. Unlike an interview where you get one chance to make a first impression.

During an assessment centre you’ll have a range of different activities and tasks to show case your skills and competencies. If you don’t particularly like tests than you’ll still have lots of other exercises, case studies, role plays and interviews that you can gain those all important additional points.

Usually an assessment centre will be well designed to match the requirements and criteria of the job role and assess associated competencies. There are some common competencies (behavioural competencies / softer skills) that tend to be included in most assessment centres such as interpersonal skills, team working skills, communication skills and presentation skills and possibly your analytical skills and commercial awareness.

Related: How to Research a Company to Prepare for an Interview

Here are my top dos and don’ts for the day

Do listen & read all instructions

Listen carefully to the instructions and read all the information you are given thoroughly throughout the day. This point might sound really obvious but you’ll be surprised how many participants on the day of the assessment want to steam in and or simply panic to complete the task in the allotted time before they have given the instructions the attention required.

When I worked at Pitney Bowes the recruitment team would test new group exercises before we used them in an assessment centre. One particular group exercise had said “Read all the instructions before starting the task.” Someone in the team decided to start playing with all the material to get a head start. Once all the instructions were read the bottom line said “You’ll have 15 minutes discussion time if you haven’t started the task.”

Unfortunately, the assessor told us we had just lost the 15 minutes allotted for the preparation and would now start getting timed on the task itself. We lost some valuable preparation and discussion time because we hadn’t read all the instructions first.

Do stay motivated

Stay motivated and focused throughout the day. It's a tough and often long day - so make sure you've had an early night and slept well.

It’s easy to beat yourself up when you think you haven’t done well at a particular task, exercise, test or role play. However, it’s now history and you need to maintain a positive focus and concentrate on the next exercise. Try to remain upbeat as you’ll gain more from the day with an open and positive mind set.

Assessors want to see you at your best throughout the event – the tasks are designed to get the best out of the participants.

Related: How to Prepare for a Job Interview [INFOGRAPHIC]

Don’t be too competitive

This point may surprise some of you as us recruiters are always talking about standing out from the competition and here we are telling you not to be competitive!!

Remember you are being measured against predetermined criteria - not necessarily against another candidate, so try not to be in too much competition against your fellow candidates.

Work with others on the assessment day, encourage others to participate, voice their opinion and ask them questions to demonstrate you are actively listening - remember you are not in competition with them on the day or during the exercises.

In fact it will go in your favour if you do work as a true team player and involve others in the discussions. Good leaders have excellent teams – they don’t do all the work themselves, they know how to get the best out of others and they are very good at utilising talent.

Therefore, don't ignore the quieter people in the group, don’t rail road your peers, this is not demonstrating team working skills or leadership. Never interrupt others when they are expressing their opinions - this will be noted!

Related: Top 5 Tips to Prevent Interview Failure

Do take time to prepare

Ideally you’ll have a job description or a brief about the event in good time to prepare against the competencies and at least start to think about examples where you have demonstrated these skills and behaviours.

Be yourself throughout the day – be professional but don’t try to be someone you think the assessors are looking for otherwise you will find it difficult to maintain this act, this can be very stressful and there’ll be inconsistencies in your behaviour and your performance.

Do act confidently

Self belief is a very important factor in how you perform during this event. The way you think about yourself in relationship to the challenges you face will have a definite impact on your ability to succeed.

To quote Henry Ford, “If you think you can or can’t you’re right.” This is referring to the concept of self fulfilling prophecy. So start believing in yourself, your capability and be your biggest supporter.

My last point - don’t forget to smile and enjoy the experience!! It’s a fantastic opportunity and you may learn something valuable about yourself and how others behaviour. It’s a great opportunity to network and meet other like minded professionals in your industry.

Most well designed and facilitated assessment events will factor in giving you feedback on the test results and the other exercises you’ve taken part. So if you don’t get through on this occasion you’ll know what to expect and how to improve for the next event.

Good luck!!

photo by: lccstars

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