You are on page 1of 15

Succeed at Assessment

Centres

Contents

Page

1. What is an assessment centre?

2. Group activities

3. Role play exercises

4. Presentations

5. Case studies

13

6. E-tray exercises

14

What is an assessment centre?


A selection tool which allows the employer to test candidates in a variety of different
situations
Ernst and Young

Assessment centres are an increasingly popular tool in the recruitment process of graduate
employers. They offer recruiters the opportunity to observe the way you operate and interact with
others, and provide more information about your skills and abilities than an interview alone. They also
test specific work-based activities to see how a candidate handles them, i.e. report writing, group
exercises.
Assessment centres are usually the last stage of a recruitment process. If you have reached this
stage, you have already done extremely well. The employer thinks you have great potential so you
are close to being offered a job.
Assessment centres will generally:
Be held over a longer time than a conventional interview - this can be half a day up to two
days, including an overnight stay.
Involve various activities.
Involve multiple assessors - your performance in each activity will be evaluated by a
different assessor.
Have informal elements such as lunch with recent graduates.
Include a number of candidates.

Try to remember that an assessment centre is not a competition between you and other candidates.
Employers are looking to screen candidates into their company rather than out at this stage in the
process. Many employers who use assessment centres will have multiple jobs on offer and in some
cases everyone in attendance may be offered a position if they demonstrate the required qualities and
competencies.

Preparation is key

Research - read the information from the employer carefully as this will tell you what to expect at the
assessment centre and what competencies the employer will be looking for. Note the activities
involved and whether you have to prepare anything in advance, such as a presentation. If you are not
clear, contact the employer for clarification.

Preparation Careers Network offers preparation workshops on the key aspects of assessment
centres. These are good if you have never experienced one before and want to practice and gain
feedback. Mock interviews can also be arranged with us as well as practice psychometric tests.

Review - look over your application form, the job details and company information. Look at the
employer's website, news websites and newspapers for current issues involving the employer and its
business sector. This guide will also provide you with useful hints and tips from students who have
previously taken part in assessment centre. If you had a mock interview prior to the assessment think
about the areas you could have improved on or answered better.

Practical matters - organise your travel and what you are going to wear in good time to avoid last
minute panics. Take directions and contact details with you.

General rules to consider

Be professional - arrive in good time, inform the employer if you can't avoid being late. Be polite to
everyone you meet. Even the receptionist can be asked to provide feedback on how you conducted
yourself. Stay calm, focused and positive throughout the assessment centre.

Talk to the other candidates - if you find small talk difficult ask other candidates about their courses
and where they are studying. Remember that you are not necessarily in competition with the other
candidates so treat them as allies rather than rivals. If you all perform well, you might all be
successful.
Take time to think - follow any instructions carefully and ask questions if there is something you dont
understand. Don't be tempted to launch straight in to exercises, but make sure you understand the
facts placed before you and the requirements of the task.

Don't dwell on perceived failures - you do not have to perform exceptionally in all activities;
concentrate on doing well in the next task. However be aware that for some recruiters there may be a
minimum pass mark for an activity. Some assessment centres such as the Civil Service will get you to
reflect on activities in writing so demonstrate self awareness and identify what you did well and how
you could improve.

Group activities
These will involve all or a group of candidates, including yourself, and will normally be a discussion
with certain defined objectives. You will be observed by the assessors throughout, so make sure to
focus on the activity. The activity may be:

Structured - you will be given a designated role such as IT specialist; you may have information that
nobody else has and vice versa, and may be set personal objectives that will partly conflict with the
rest of the group. Negotiation to produce an acceptable compromise for everyone will be required.

Unstructured - a discussion topic, related to current affairs or the organisation's business, will be
given to the group.

A physical task - for example you may be asked to build a model out of unusual material or move an
object in a creative way.

What are the assessors looking for in these activities?

In most cases group activities are used to assess some of the core competencies that may have been
mentioned within the person specification of the job applied for. This may include but is not restricted
to:
Teamwork, Communication, Organisation, Problem Solving, the ability to work under pressure
and Time Management

Contrary to popular belief these kinds of activities are not always assessing leadership skills. In most
group activities there will be only one leader therefore only one person can be assessed on this
particular quality. However all candidates can be accessed on the qualities above irrespective of
whether they are leader or not. If you are not a confident leader then we recommend that you do not
take this role, instead identify what is your key strength and utilise this, e.g. organisation. It will then
be this skill that you will be assessed on in addition to the others listed above. If no one assumes the
role of leader then consider pushing yourself out of your comfort zone as the assessors will be looking
for candidates who were able to keep the activity on track.

Hints and tips for group activities

Do:

Join in - once you get started any nerves will rapidly disappear. If you remain quiet and uninvolved
during the activity the assessors will not have much to assess you on. But remember its not the
person who talks the most who scores the highest. Make anything you say have a positive impact on
the group and activity. Dont speak for the sake of speaking.

Contribute - there are no points for having good ideas that you don't communicate.

Demonstrate - listen to others and build upon their ideas or ask appropriate questions. Summarising
what others have said shows you have good listening skills, but make sure to build on other peoples
comments and ideas.

Be supportive and friendly. Encourage quieter group members to participate. Provide positive
feedback to others in the group. If someone has a good idea, acknowledge that idea.
Challenge others If you disagree with ideas or comments others in the group have made do not be
afraid to challenge. Make sure to challenge positively and constructively. Identify why you disagree
with the idea and offer any alternatives. Be prepared to be challenged yourself. If you have an idea
you are passionate about champion that idea but be sure to provide good reasons for why the idea
should be taken forward.

Be organised - be aware of the overall progress of the group. Ensure that you get to the end of the
task. If you are asked to present back as a group, DO NOT spend 5 minutes after your allocated time
is up deciding who will present what. This should have been discussed as part of the overall task.
Make sure you monitor time; there is nothing worse than having to ask one of the assessors how
much time you have left. You should be monitoring the time.
Dont:

Dominate - even if you are assigned or elected as the leader, understand that this role is to get the
best from everyone and guide the group to a successful outcome.

Interrupt or talk over others.

Be insensitive or dismissive of the ideas of others.

Role play exercises

Role plays are an increasingly common part of the recruitment process. Whilst face to face interviews
highlight your skills, capabilities and experiences, a role play helps an interviewer see if you can
demonstrate, in reality the skills and experiences you say you have. Unfortunately for some nerves
can hinder their natural ability to perform in this kind of activity; however, the following tips can help if
you are faced with a role play.

Prepare

This may seem difficult to do as in most cases you will not be told in advance of the assessment
centre what the role play will involve. Most companies will tell you on the day and give you a specific
amount of time to prepare. More often than not you will be provided with some written information to
help with this preparation.
In this part of the recruitment process you are being asked to act out a role. But dont worry; the
interviewer is not expecting you to be the next Anne Hathway or Ryan Gosling, they simply want you
to be yourself. The scenario you will be given would typically be the kind you would find yourself in, in
the job you are interviewing for. Therefore prior to the assessment centre read through the job
description you may have been given and think about the type of situation that may come up in that
type of job.

Most likely the role play will put you into a scene where you have to undertake a key duty and expect
you to demonstrate the skills and experiences you would need to cope with that situation. For
example you could have to deal with a difficult customer, convince a client to buy a product from you
or carry out a meeting with an underperforming staff member. Whatever the situation, keep calm and
think what you would do if this were really happening in the workplace.

Read the brief that you have been given

Make sure to read in detail any supporting information you have been given. Supporting information is
given because it tells you what you need to know, but not only that it can also signpost you into the
situation that might arise in the role play itself.

Imagine it like an IKEA piece of furniture that you have to build yourself and you ignore the
instructions. Generally you will mess it up or it will stay upright for five minutes before collapsing into a
heap. Ignore the instructions for the role play and the same thing will likely happen.

Additionally if you do not take on board the information and instructions you are given, what message
does that send out to an employer? Not a positive one.
Dont go off on a tangent!

Although this is a scene, you are not Meryl Streep and this is not the Iron Lady! You are not expected
to act everyone else out of the room and dont lose yourself in the moment and go off on a tangent
that you can never recover from.

Use common sense and try to avoid fabricating too much

information that is not given in the brief.

Act professional

Make sure to act as you would in a real life and professional environment. If you are faced with a
confrontational character, dont be aggressive and confrontational back. If the scenario has elements
of embarrassment to it make sure not to laugh. Show empathy and a serious approach to the
situation. Furthermore always try and build rapport with the other person. In many role plays
candidates fall into the trap of focusing primarily on the technical details and forget about building a
rapport with the person opposite. Often the role play is designed to assess whether you can keep
your cool. Sometimes it is deliberately designed to appear difficult and unreasonable. Be persistent
yet empathetic and forthcoming.

Reflect

As with the group activity you may be asked during the face to face interview how you feel you
performed during the role play. Ensure that you are honest and demonstrate your self-awareness.
Highlight what you think you did well in but also your development points. Doing this will reflect highly
with the interviewer

Role play video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/s5dkec6u33u7hnc/Role%20Play.mp4

Presentations

As part of an assessment centre you may be asked to give a short presentation. Usually you choose
the topic from a list which may include your hobbies, a recent holiday, a current affairs topic or one of
your achievements, or sometimes you may be asked to make a presentation on a particular topic set
by the company. The purpose is not to test your subject knowledge, but to see how well you can
speak in public. Typically you will be asked to talk for five minutes, and will be given 20 or 30 minutes
beforehand to prepare. In some cases you may be given the topic several days in advance. If this is
the case assume that the recruiter will be expecting a well-structured and thought-out presentation.

Presentations will most often be assessed by two or more people.

For some candidates presentations may be a common occurrence as many degree subjects involve
students delivering presentations as part of a module. For others presentations may be relatively new.
Either way there are a number of things that can help you make the best of this experiences.

The basics:

Dress smartly and smile when delivering the presentation. The recruiter will want to see that you
can present yourself in a positive way and smiling will help enhance your enthusiasm and delivery of
the presentation.
Introduce yourself If this is the first time you are meeting the audience greet each one. If possible
shake hands. Dont go straight up to the front of the room without acknowledging the people in the
room. This introduction will instantly allow you to connect and build rapport with the audience.

Speak clearly and confidently as this will make you sound in control of the presentation. Try not to
speak too quickly as this will lose the audience. They need to be able to absorb each point that you
make. Also be aware of the distance of the audience from you. If the room is small then try not to talk
too loudly and alternatively if a large room imagine you are addressing someone at the back of the
room. If unsure if you can be heard dont be afraid to ask.

Silence is golden. Use silences during your presentation. Silences can help you emphasise that an
important point is about to be made. They are also the sign of confidence as nervous presenters will
talk constantly with no gaps.

Time-keeping. If you have been given a specific amount of time to deliver your presentation, stick to
it. Wear a watch if possible as this will help with your timing. Some recruiters will cut you off once the

time slot given has elapsed. You do not want to miss an important point because you miss timed your
presentation. If you are given 5 minutes aim to deliver in 4 minutes 30 seconds. This will allow 30
seconds of flexibility should you become nervous.

Eye contact. This is crucial to holding the attention of the audience. Try to look at everyone in the
audience from time to time. Try not to stare at your notes or your PowerPoint slides as this will
disengage you from the audience. Avoid talking to the screen as this muffles your voice. If you need
a prompt, glance at your slides and then look back at the audience.

Involve your audience. Where possible try and get the audience involved by asking them a question.
This will keep them engaged with the presentation.
Dont read out your talk. There is nothing worse for a recruiter than observing a presentation where
the candidate simply reads their talk from a piece of paper or cards. By doing so, the presentation will
sound boring and stilted. It is ok to have notes but dont have your presentation scripted word for
word. Relying too heavily on notes can also suggest insecurity and as a result prevent you making
eye contact with the audience.
Dont hide behind a PC. If using PowerPoint you may be tempted to stay in close proximity to the
computer. Where possible move away from the computer to show you are confident in your talk and
dont need to hide. Keep your body language positive (no folded arms) and make sure not to walk in
front of the projector screen and block your presentation from view.

Practice makes perfect. Practice your presentation in front of a mirror at home or for friends. You
may also wish to record your presentation and play it back to yourself but try and focus on both the
good and bad points. But dont over rehearse as it wont give you the flexibility to answer questions
when prompted.

Structuring your presentation:


When structuring your presentation for an assessment centre there are a number of things for you to
consider:

Who is your audience?

What points do I want to get across?

How much time do I have?

What visual aids are available?

10

Your presentation should then ideally be split into three sections: the introduction, your key points and
finally the conclusion.

The introduction

Be sure to welcome the audience. Yes, you may have greeted them on entering the room, but it is
also good to welcome them at the beginning of the presentation.

Say what your presentation is about. Provide the audience with your aims and objectives. Remember
if you only have 5 minutes then be sure to limit the number of aims and objectives you have. Dont try
and cram too many objectives into a short time frame as you will not be able to do them justice.
Try to catch the audiences attention with your introduction. Consider including a provocative
statement or a quote from a third party, or even a humorous anecdote.

Your key points (The core part of your presentation)

Remember: less is more. If the presentation is 5 minutes long two or three main points will be enough.
Therefore consider what the most important points you wish to make are, and use these.
Dont try to pack too much content into your presentation or you run the risk of talking nonstop trying
to include all of your content and as a result the audience may switch off or only be able to absorb
small amounts of information and miss the most important parts.

Try not to overload your PowerPoint with text. The focus should be on you. You do not want your
audience to spend more time reading the screen behind you than they do listening to you. Use
PowerPoint minimally for key words, images or information which you can then talk around.

Never lose sight of the presentation topic. Ensure that your presentation addresses the topic or
question you have been asked.

Conclusion

Make sure to summarise your main points and end positively. It is also suggested that you thank the
audience for listening and open the floor to questions.

11

Using visual aids for your presentation.

Whether you are using Prezi, PowerPoint, a overhead projector or a flipchart as part of your
presentation there are a few things you may wish to consider.

If using prezi (www.prezi.com) you will need to make sure the recruiter has internet access. Prezi is
cloud based software and can only be accessed via an internet connection. You dont want to spend
hours creating a prezi presentation only to find it will be inaccessible on the day.

Ensure that you stand to the side of the screen or flipchart so that it is visible to your audience.

Keep the number of slides to a minimum. For a five minute presentation we would recommend 3 or 4
slides maximum.
Dont try to be fancy. Keep the font style simple and easy to read. Size 24 font is ideal and try not to
have words all in uppercase. Avoid bright colours. Some of the best slides contain just one or two
words.

Pictures, tables, graphs or diagrams can be very beneficial in presentations as they come as a
refreshing break from text. If using pictures make sure they are of a high quality, and that graphs and
diagrams are not overly complex.
Dont get carried away with flashy transitions, especially if using prezi software, as this can make your
audience feel dizzy if used frequently.

Less is more

Anticipate technical glitches. Sometimes things do go wrong and equipment will fail. Having minimal
information on slides will stop you becoming reliant on them and allow you to cope more effectively
should you not be able to use your slides. Also practice your presentation for others so you become
confident with it and if technical failure occurs you are able to present to an audience without the need
for any visual aids.

It is also useful to take copies of your slides with you and provide these as a handout to your
audience. The assessors are more likely to remember you if they have a copy of your slides.

12

Case studies

Case studies and case interviews are common selection tools for roles within management
consulting, investment banking and technical roles.

Case studies will assess how you cope with situations that may have relevance to the role or allow
you to demonstrate competencies that the company requires. For example problem solving,
organisation, written communication, logical and critical thinking and working under pressure. For a
case study you may be provided with a selection of material such as reports, accounts and graphs,
and then be given a set period of time to read through all of the information before presenting your
ideas to the recruiter in a face to face meeting.

An example of a case study question could be as follows:

A medium-sized family-run business with 30 shops had profit problems. How would I turn it
around? What services could Accenture sell to the business? Could the business be saved?

In addition to this you may be provided with details of the services Accenture offer, details of the
family business's accounts and other important facts. All of this information is there to help you make
your recommendations. Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer to the case study. The recruiter
is instead looking at how you came to your decision and can you justify your actions.

Be prepared to answer difficult questions from the employer as they test how you handle pressure
and your ability to communicate information. For example you may be asked if you think that the idea
you have given or solution you came to is the correct one. This question does not mean that you have
given the incorrect solution. The employer is instead testing to see if you are easily influenced by
others or do you stick to your guns and argue your case constructively. If you believe that your
decision is correct then stick by it. But be prepared to back up your decision with facts drawn from the
material you were given. More often than not there is no right or wrong answer, the employer simply
wants you to justify confidently what you are saying.

Case Study Video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/d95w78jqqr3hl67/Case%20Study.mp4

13

In-Tray and E-Tray exercises

In-tray and E-tray exercises are business simulation exercises where you play a member of staff who
has to deal with the tasks of a busy day. Some employers say that E-Tray exercises tend to be the
deal breaker between a candidate getting the job or not. You may be given a selection of letters,
emails and reports. These could be in paper or electronic format. They would be the kind of items
someone doing the role you have applied for could expect to find in their in-tray or email inbox.

Similarly to other assessment centre activities you will be given a specific timeframe in which to read
through all of the items and then decide on the action that needs to be taken and the priority that
should be allocated for each task. For some items you may be required to draft an email response or
summarise key points from a report.

Employers use this kind of exercise to assess how well suited you are to a particular role and see how
you cope in a pressurised environment.

Some common factors that you may find in this kind of exercise are:

It will probably start by describing the background scenario. Subject matter is usually
related to the job you are applying for.

There is a lot of work to get through caused by your return from holiday or having to cover
the work of an absent colleague.

Typically you will be given one to two hours to complete the tasks, which will consist of a
large number of items (perhaps 20 or more) to see how well you can handle several complex
tasks in a short period.

Some tasks may just require a yes or no answer. Other items may need a longer
response, such as drafting a reply to a customer complaint, writing a report, delegating tasks
to colleagues or recommending action to superiors. You may need to analyse information for
some items (calculating budgets or sales figures, using information provided). New items
may be added while the exercise is in progress.

As part of the exercise it's possible you might be asked to make a phone call to a
"customer", role played by one of the assessors.

At the end you may be debriefed by a selector and asked to discuss the decisions you
made and the reasons for these, or you might be asked to prepare a memo outlining your
priorities for action, or to make a short presentation.

14

Top tips for success

Read all the information you have been given carefully. It is important to do this first rather
than launching into questions as this way you will know where to find the information for all
the questions.

Follow any written instructions carefully as these will tell you what you are required to do.

You may find it beneficial to make a rough plan of what you will do.

Prioritise the tasks in terms of importance and urgency depending on how many tasks are
available as sometimes they come in just as quickly as you respond.

Identify key issues and what action needs to be taken. Be careful as some tasks may be
linked and your decision for one may impact on another.

Stay calm; you need to show you can cope with the pressure of this activity.

Sometimes there isnt a right or wrong answer but be prepared to justify your decisions.

If you are not given complete information you may have to make assumptions. If this is the
case make the assumptions realistic.

Make sure you monitor the time throughout.

Check dates on each item as this may assist in helping you prioritise.

Do items have deadlines? If needed, can you negotiate extra time with items?

How important is the item? For example a request to go for drinks on Friday night can be put
to the bottom of the pile but a health and safety issue will need more urgent attention.

Can the task or item be delegated to another person in the organisation?

Do other tasks have to be done first before other activities can be completed?

Can some tasks be done simultaneously and/or by the same person?

Are there conflicts between tasks?

To practice an E-Tray or In-tray exercise you can go to the following websites

http://mycareer.deloitte.com/uk/en/university/apply-now/selection-process/etray-exercise-andexamples

http://www.assessmentday.co.uk/in-tray-exercise.htm

N:\Careers\HANDOUTS AND RESOURCES - AEF\Non Occ 1 - 13\7 Recruitment


Process\Assessment Centres July 2014

15