Assessment Centres – what are they and what should I expect?

by Donna Lund

Organisations often use an assessment centre as part of their selection process. Essentially these form part of an extended selection procedure which takes place after the first interview and prior to any final selections being made.

The purpose of an assessment centre is for the employer to see how candidates perform various tasks over an extended period, rather than in a single relatively short interview. It also helps the selectors to discover what candidates really can do, as opposed to what their CV says they can do, in different situations. Some assessments will be with groups while others will be on an individual basis.

As with any selection process, the key to successful performance at an assessment centre is thorough preparation. Here are 10 points to consider when you’re invited to an assessment centre:

Make a solid first impression

You only have a short amount of time to make a solid first impression. You are likely to be asked to give a brief introduction of yourself to the group, so prepare this in advance and make sure it is short and punchy (no more than a minute in length).

Good communication skills

Good communication skills are advantageous. Sometimes being surrounded by other candidates competing for the same role can be quite daunting and can result in people keeping a low profile at first. But this is your opportunity to get noticed, and mingling with the group will demonstrate your social skills and confidence and you will be seen in a positive light. Before attending the assessment centre think about what questions you could ask the other individuals in the group. Use ‘open questions’ that encourage dialogue rather than just “yes” and “no” answers. You should plan to speak to at least half of those in the group before the end of the day because this will be noted. Demonstrating confidence and friendliness will come across well not only with your assessors but also with the rest of the group. At the end of the session you may be asked to fill in a questionnaire and you may be asked who you would hire from the group, so if you have networked well you should get a mention.

Be assertive, not bossy!

Assertiveness is a great attribute for most jobs, and this trait will be looked by the assessors during exercises you complete. A good way to demonstrate this skill is to volunteer to take the lead on at least one of the exercises. Show how you can take control of the task and encourage participation from all members of the group. Remember that you will be assessed not only on your ability to lead, but how you perform as a team player.

Don’t jump in too quickly

Take your time and read through instructions carefully. When conducting group exercises carefully analyse and discuss the scenario before trying to find solutions. Planning and preparation is the key to a successful outcome. You will find that a lot of the exercises you will be asked to do are designed to create a challenge or to overcome a problem. The reason why many candidates fail is because the take the wrong approach to the task. Rather than expecting you to find the perfect answer, the assessors are actually looking at how you tackle the problem. Show them that you have clearly thought out processes and procedures before arriving at your solution.

Do your research

Expect to be asked to talk about the company you’re applying to, so make a note of information about the company’s history, background, and products or services and think of any questions you may want to ask. You may have the opportunity to speak to panel members who could be influential within the company and showing additional interest will give them a strong impression of you and help differentiate you from the rest of the group.

Analyse the job description

Learn what the assessment panel will be looking for. Identify the main skills and attributes that would be required to be successful in the role and write them down in a list. The exercises you participate in will be designed to test your abilities in these areas. For example you could be asked to do a presentation on why you feel you are right for the position, so this list will provide you with the basis for your presentation. You should then provide evidence of your skills and ability through any past achievements and relevant examples you have.

Be prepared to be challenged!

The assessment centre is designed to thoroughly test you and explore all of the attributes required for the job. Therefore you should expect to feel tired and under pressure, and you might find that you don’t perform as well as you hope to in every single exercise. If this is the case try not to dwell on your performance and what you could have done better. Just forget about it and move on to the next task, ensuring you take on board any mistakes and concentrate on what lies ahead. It takes time to find your rhythm and remember that very few people, if any, will excel in all tasks. You will be assessed on all parts of the day, not just on the areas where you may not have performed to the best of your ability.

Be yourself

Don’t try to be someone you think the employers want. Showcase your skills, experience and personality and you will be more relaxed and confident. If being yourself means that you are not what the employer is looking for, then the role is obviously not meant for you. Don’t be downbeat, take the positives from the experience and use it to assist in your continued search for roles. Perhaps your skills and experience are better suited to a different position.


This forms an important part of the assessment centre process. Even if you don’t get the job the assessment centre provides great experience for you, and feedback from the day can give you invaluable insights for the future. If you don’t receive feedback automatically, then make sure you ask for it. You can also use the day as a networking opportunity, with both the panel and the other delegates. Think long term; come across well and you never know when or where these people may cross your path in the future.

Constructive criticism

Once you have received feedback and have had time to reflect on your performance think about what you did well, and which areas you can improve on for next time and then take appropriate action. Identify the gaps in your knowledge, pinpoint the skills you need to gain or develop, and then rectify these deficiencies, you will greatly improve your attractiveness and value to organisations in your chosen field. Once you can tick all of the relevant boxes, you will enter the next assessment centre with much greater confidence, and much more chance of success.

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