Video on assessment centres

Career Snapshot - Assessment Centres

An assessment centre often forms the final stage of a recruitment process for both internships and graduate roles but they are becoming common in senior and C-suite roles too. These differ a lot depending on the employer but usually contain a range of activities which could include group activities, presentations, interviews and written tests.

Start with the short video Career Snapshot: Assessment Centres which gives an overview of what to expect and how best to prepare.

Assessment Centres are intended to give an employer an insight into how you work, think and would respond to a variety of situations.

Assessment Centres Tabs

What's involved

Any organisation may use assessment centre activities in their recruitment process, but they are more common with larger organisations that operate graduate schemes. An assessment centre (or assessment day) usually involves a series of different activities and tasks including: interviews, presentations, group activities and written tasks. Your assessors will evaluate candidates against a defined set of competencies which could include: teamwork, creativity, communication, organisation, planning, persuasion, analytical skills, time management and problem solving.

Assessment centres can be anywhere from half a day to two full days with participant numbers ranging from five or six up to groups of around fifty. In response to COVID-19 many of these events have moved online as virtual assessment centres (see the tab on this) to comply with social distancing regulations.

An invitation to an assessment centre follows a successful first round (or rounds) of interview and online tests. They vary a great deal in what happens but it is important to recognise that an assessment centre is expensive for an employer to put on, so by this stage of the process they only invite candidates they believe have a reasonable chance of success. It is important to go well-prepared so that you can confirm their positive impression of you.

Each assessment centre will be different but there are common themes in the types of activities you may encounter. Typically, all assessment activities are timed and have specific instructions so pay attention and be aware of time constraints. While you cannot prepare for every eventuality it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different activities you could face.

Virtual assessment centres

Assessment centres have a long tradition of being held in person at the company premises or a nearby location. However, in spring 2020 many organisations moved their recruitment activities online to comply with social distancing regulations in response to COVID-19. Many now use video conferencing software such as Zoom, MS Teams, Skype, WebEx or Google Hangout to conduct virtual assessments.

While a virtual assessment might sound daunting it is essentially the same process as you are being assessed on the same skills and competencies just through a different format. Recruiters have also struggled with some of the changes too. Some organisations disbanded the use of group activities in virtual assessments as they found them challenging to mark while others found innovative ways to ensure a fair assessment process. Where group assessments were dropped, the organisations placed more emphasis on presentations, situational judgments tests and more probing strengths based and motivational interviews. What we know for certain though is that while many candidates are nervous about this alien experience many have admitted to enjoying the process.

Before the event: Make sure you read your invitation to your virtual assessment carefully as it will contain instructions including relevant links to software, details of what to expect and possibly some admin tasks too. You will often be given an agenda and some hints and tips to help you prepare. If something is not clear you should ask for help.

If you consider yourself to have a disability or health condition you can disclose this to the organisation before the event and discuss what reasonable adjustments could be made to help you participate. Similarly, if you are concerned about your internet connection you should approach the organisation to arrange a test call or discuss alternatives.

On the day: Make sure you have good internet connection and if you are on a laptop connect to the electric supply as you do not want to run out of battery midway through. Get yourself a glass of water, a pen and paper and check the camera angle, light levels and your background. Make sure you are in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed and join the invitation link 10 to 15 minutes early and wait in the lobby. When you are admitted to the meeting room make sure you follow the instructions to activate your camera and microphone when requested and remember when your camera is on they can see you!

Group activities

These can take several forms from group discussions, case studies, practical tasks, role plays or presentations. While each is used to assess a slightly different set of competencies, they ultimately explore how you work with others.

  • Group Discussions: You are expected to reach a consensus or formulate a plan on a specific topic which could be generalist e.g. “The voting age should be lowered to 16” or work-related e.g. “Staff productivity has fallen. What actions could be taken to improve performance”.
  • Case Studies: Like the discussion task you will be expected to form a consensus and present a solution to a business problem. See Case Study Activities for further information on the types of task you may encounter. See Case Study Activities for further information on the types of task you may encounter. 
  • Practical Tasks: You may be asked to use random materials to make or build something as a group. Typically, this could be a tower made from plastic cups or a bridge made from paperclips and elastic bands. Your ability to plan, problem solve and work with others is under assessment.
  • Role Play: You are given an individual briefing and instructions on your assigned role and will be expected to discuss a scenario and reach a consensus with the others. This could be a work-related scenario or more a fictional setting where for example your ship is sinking at sea but there is not enough room for everyone on the life raft.
  • Group Presentations: You are expected to follow the instructions and deliver a collective presentation on an assigned topic. Ensure you address the objective, agree a structure, delegate roles and ensure everyone is clear on their contribution to the final product. See Presentations for further information.

Whatever group activity you encounter it is important to remember that it is your participation and ability to work with others that is under scrutiny.

Other activites

Assessment centres can feature a range of activities as recruiters try to find new and meaningful ways to assess candidates and enhance the candidate experience. The following are typical activities that may be encountered:

Information Sessions

  • Representatives of the organisation will usually give a presentation about their role, the company values or recent projects. It is usually a nice ice-breaker but pay close attention as it may indicate the type of people they are looking for. You may also be asked to introduce yourself to their team and the other applicants too.

Psychometric Tests

  • You will likely encounter these aptitude tests before you reach an assessment centre but it is common to encounter them again at an assessment centre to check that your performance is consistent. Tests can involve numerical and verbal reasoning, logic, diagrammatic and situational judgment tests. For more information and practice resources check out our Psychometric tests webpage.

Case Study Activities

  • Case study activities usually present you with a business problem and you are expected to evaluate the information, consider options and propose a solution. They can take the form of either an individual interview or a small group activity with other applicants. For more information check out our Case Study Activities webpage.

Presentations

  • Presentations allow an employer to assess your communication skills and how you convey a story or concept. Topics could be preassigned in advance or given on the day. For more information check out our Presentations webpage.

In-Tray / E-Tray

  • These business simulations test your approach to work and how you organise, prioritise or delegate tasks. Typically, you are given a number of tasks to complete in a limited time period which could include responding to emails, managing diary conflicts, creating reports and solving office admin issues. Think about the urgency and importance of the task to create a ranking.

Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR)

  • These immersive technologies are being introduced by some organisations and are used to identify key inherent skills, ways of working and future potential. You will wear a VR headset and be challenged to solve various tasks or respond to different situations which could include escape room style scenarios, office simulations or diffusing a bomb. Activities can be individual or group based and often test logic, problem solving and communication.

Written Activities

  • Often used to test your ability to logically order and present your ideas in writing. You may be asked to summarise a report or write a response to an email. Make sure you understand the task and consider how best to structure your response. Manage your time appropriately, communicate concisely, consider your intended audience and be mindful of spelling and grammar.

Interviews

  • These are designed to assess your motivation for the role, your competencies or your technical knowledge. They can be one to one or panel interviews and questions may revisit those covered in earlier interviews but it is likely to be a more in-depth assessment at this stage. Questions may also refer to your performance in other areas of the assessment centre or performance in tests so prepared to be challenged. Visit our Interviews webpage for further information.

Social Events

  • The assessment centre may be broken up by refreshment breaks and/or lunch. While this is an opportunity to recharge it is also a chance to have informal conversations with other candidates, selectors, senior managers and recent graduate hires. While this is not a formal assessment you may be observed to see if you participate and engage. Make polite conversation, engage with others and enjoy the opportunity.

Top tips

Before:

  • Review the agenda if it is available as it often tells you what to expect and the activities involved. If something is not clear contact the organisation.
  • If your assessment centre is online and you have concerns about your internet connection, you should reach out to the organisation and raise this with them or ask if you can test your connection in advance.
  • Revisit the job description before the event to identify what skills they are looking for and reread your application and CV.
  • Research the organisation so you know as much as possible about them and monitor their social media for any recent news.
  • Practise basic mental arithmetic so you are confident working at speed.
  • Plan your journey so you arrive in plenty of time at the location or test your connection speed if it is a virtual event.
  • Get a good sleep the night before the event so you can perform well.

During:

  • Listen carefully and get involved in activities.
  • Be friendly, polite, professional but assertive.
  • Do not dwell on any mistakes as you will likely be able to compensate in other activities.
  • Use social activities as an opportunity to ask questions about the organisation and the people but do not become too relaxed or casual and stay clear of potentially controversial topics such as politics or religion.
  • Do not worry about other candidates and their actions but focus on trying to make a good impression.

After:

  • Hopefully you will be celebrating an offer of employment but if you are rejected do not be afraid to ask for feedback on your performance to help you in future.
  • Reflect on how you prepared and what you could do differently and better demonstrate the competencies.
  • If it is not obvious how you could improve you can speak to a member of our team as we can often help identify the problem and find a change of strategy. Remember you were close put practise makes perfect!

Further support

Imperial Careers Service run regular presentations and workshops covering all aspects of assessment centres as part of our central programme of events booked via JobsLive.

Below are some resources we have collated that offer further information to help you prepare for assessment centres. Those listed were found to contain useful material at the time of their inclusion, but we do not control the contents of the sites and all links are provided in good faith. Please note that a link to a website does not constitute a professional endorsement or recommendation of their services and if you have any concerns about the content of any site or, if you have additional resources you feel would benefit other students, please contact us on careers@imperial.ac.uk.

• Assessment Day – hundreds of example tests and assessments covering assessment centre activities.
• Prospects: Assessment Centres – advice and tips on performing well at assessment centres.
• TargetJobs – Assessment Centres Advice – advice and tips on performing well at assessment centres.
• LinkedIn Learning – How to succeed at Assessment Centres – Join CareerCake for this 90 minute course covering hints and tips for various element of an assessment centre.