Career Snapshot - Assessment Centres
Assessment centres often form the final stage of a recruitment process for internships and graduate roles. They usually contain a range of activities intended to give an employer an insight into how you work, think and would respond to a variety of situations.
Start with the short video Career Snapshot: Assessment Centres which gives an overview of what to expect. You can also attend a Careers Lab - mock assessment centre or book an appointment with a careers consultant to discuss activities and enhance your performance.
Use the tabs below to explore information we’ve provided to help you learn more.
Assessment Centres Tabs
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 activities and tasks such as: 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 last anywhere from a couple of hours up to two full days in duration and participant numbers can range from five or six up to around fifty. Many assessment centres moved online as “virtual assessment centres” during Covid-19 and many have remained online as recruiters adapted their approach to assessment.
An invitation to an assessment centre usually follows successful completion of online tests or video interviews. The actual point of invitation varies by organisation, but it is important to recognise that by this stage of the process they only invite candidates that they believe have a reasonable chance of success. This can be a confidence boost but you should ensure you 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
Virtual assessment centres have become quite common since Covid-19 forced a lot of recruitment activity online during 2020 and 2021. These virtual events are run using video conferencing software such as Zoom, MS Teams, Skype, WebEx or Google Hangout. They may involve activities and tasks including group exercises, presentations, situational judgments tests and more probing strengths based and motivational interviews.
Before the event
Make sure you read your invitation to your virtual assessment carefully as it will contain instructions including links to join the assessment centre, 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 find our more on our disability pages about disclosing to the organisation before the event and discussing adjustments 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 connected 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. Check out this blog post Looking better on video calls to help you prepare. 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!
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 in the UK” 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.
- 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 character role. You will be expected to participate in a scenario while remaining in character and reach a consensus with the others. This could be a work-related scenario, for example, a team meeting or client negotiation, or more a fictional setting, for example where you are passengers on an aircraft that is going to crash but there are not enough parachutes for everyone.
- Group Presentations: You are expected to follow 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 our Presentations webpage 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.
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:
- Representatives of the organisation will usually give a presentation about their role, the company values or recent projects. It is usually a nice introduction to the day 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 as part of an icebreaker.
- 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 various 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 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 several tasks to complete in a limited time. This 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
While you cannot rehearse for an assessment centre you can take steps to prepare and perform your best.
- Read the invitation 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. If arranging travel you can check to see if reasonable travel expenses can be reimbursed.
- Get a good sleep the night before the event so you can perform well.
- Listen carefully and get involved in activities.
- Be friendly, polite, professional but assertive.
- Try to draw quieter members of a group into discussions to hear their ideas and opinions.
- 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.
- 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 through an appointment as we can often help identify the problem and find a change of strategy. Remember you were close put practise makes perfect!
Imperial Careers Service run regular presentations and workshops covering all aspects of assessment centres as part of our central programme of events. You can also book an appointment to discuss any questions or concerns you have that relate to assessment centres. All events and appointments are 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
- Bright Network – Bright advice for acing your assessment centre – top tips on to prepare and succeed at assessment centres.
- Inside Careers - 10 sure-fire ways to flunk your assessment centre – exploring the behaviours to avoid at assessment centres.