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Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres

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If you're looking for a Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres, This guide is for you.

Welcome to our Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres.

You made it!

The assessment centre.

The last hurdle before a big job.

And then the fear sets in.

“What’s actually going to happen?”

“I failed this so badly last time.”

“I’ve never done one before.”

Since 2013 I’ve sat across the table from 1,000’s of students and professionals just like you including:

5 years of weekly sessions face to face with candidates, assessing over 1,000 assessment centres
Conservatively delivered over 500 one to one sessions based solely around assessment centres
Writing and testing material for 50+ companies like PwC, Deloitte, Accenture, BNP Paribas and more…

In this guide I’ll cover:

  • What Is An Assessment Centre?
  • When Will You Get An Assessment Centre? (…How Many People Get This Far?)
  • What Actually Happens At An Assessment Centre?
  • You Will Get One Or More Of These 7 Exercises At An Assessment Centre
  • 17 Tips To Prepare For Your Assessment Centre
  • The 10 Most Common Questions I Get About Assessment Centres

Delivered from a professional with “skin in the game” of coaching hundreds of people just like you.

What Is An Assessment Centre?

An assessment centre is the final or second to final round before a company decides to give you a job.

Some companies will have a partner interview after the assessment centre, most will integrate it into the day.

Assessment centres can be face to face or virtual.

Check out this video where I talk more about “Virtual Assessment Centres”

These days we tend to see a 50/50 split between the two formats.

Check out this video where I talk more about “What Is An Assessment Centre?”

Got an Assessment Centre coming up and need help preparing?

Check out our Acing Assessment Centre Bundle.

When Will You Get An Assessment Centre? How Many People Get This Far?

For most graduates to get to an assessment centre you need to go through 2-3 rounds.

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

Though there is no publicly available data, we estimate around 5% of candidates make it through to assessment centres (at best, though for most companies it’s probably more like 1-2%)

That’s a rough guess from coaching people all the way from application to assessment centre since 2013.

If you’ve made it to an assessment centre you are “technically” good enough to do the job, so well done.

The rest is about seeing how good you are at “problem solving with strangers” (more on this later)

From the moment you apply you’re probably looking at, at least 6 weeks before you go to an assessment centre.

Why so long?

Because this is probably the first stage of the application process where the company needs to put significant manpower and resources to the application process.

Everything up until this stage will be mostly automated.

But for an assessment centre you need staff and managers to all be synchronised on the same day, to manage the assessment centre and oversee and assess the candidates.

Companies will also tend to batch candidates together, so there may be multiple application rounds happening across a country.

Then when they have enough people, they’ll organise an assessment centre.

What Actually Happens At An Assessment Centre? What a standard day looks like

Assessment centres can last anywhere from 2 hours to the whole day.

I’ve heard of companies doing 1 exercise in a day, to some who try to cram in 4.

This was confirmed in a recent interview between the Institute of Student Employers and Gradcore, a social enterprise looking to increase access for students to job skills:

“With regards to employers’ assessment centres, this is data pulled from our sister company Topscore. It’s from their assessment centres last year, roughly about 3,900 assessment centres and about 58,500 candidates…

…There are a couple of exceptions where the energy and engineering industry on average have about five exercises for their in-person events, charity, and public sector in just that one key session. On the whole, across those three different formats, it’s about three exercises that a candidate could expect to do in an assessment centre…

…Those core exercises are probably as you’d expect: interview, group, and presentation. That tallies up with ISC data, where the most recent research showed 84% of employers are using interviews, 67% group, and 66% presentations.”

Your assessment centre will probably look a little something like this:

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

During the day you’ll get the chance to meet other graduates or people from the company, plus some free food thrown in.

A good rule of thumb is that you’re not always being assessed but you are always being observed.

If you’ve never been to an assessment before they can be incredibly mentally and physically draining.

It’s a lot of energy to look super happy and enthusiastic all day, to everyone.

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

PLUS, something very few people realise, is that for many companies you’ll have lots of different people, for different jobs and levels all squished into one day.

So, for a professional services firm like PwC or Deloitte for example you could have tax apprentices, audit interns and consulting graduates all competing together on the same day.

The good news?

After assessing and writing material for over 10 years, I’ve pretty much figured out ALL assessment centres have only one or more of these 7 types of exercises

You Will Get One Or More Of These 7 Exercises At An Assessment Centre

I first started coaching graduates through their assessment centres back in 2013.

I knew absolutely nothing about them.

I’d never had an assessment centre, or even a job at a “big company.”

So there was a lot of learning to be had.

The first young woman I helped had an assessment centre at Macquarie.

I had never even heard of them.

A quick bit of Googling and I got a rough idea of what the format would be.

Luckily I could write pretty much anything.

So, I wrote up a few pieces, tested her on them and …

She got the job.

Trust me, I was as shocked as her.

Over the next few years I’d have the best and brightest graduates come to me for help at most of the biggest companies around the world hiring lots of graduates…

  • PwC
  • Deloitte
  • EY
  • KPMG
  • Barclays
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Accenture

And many more…

After I had been coaching for a year or two.

I started to see a pattern.

No matter what company… These students would get the same types of exercises.

Over the time I realised for every assessment centre… they would get at least one or more of these 7 different exercises.

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

That’s it.

You’ll probably get two or three of these.

And two of them will probably be a group discussion and a final interview.

The same is still true all these years later.

The only thing that’s really changed is that retesting now doesn’t really happen much anymore.

Here’s how likely you are to get each type of exercise:

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

Let’s go through the most likely exercises you could come up against one by one:

Final Interview

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

Final interviews are really common in assessment centres.

Plus, it’s probably the first time you’re being interviewed by a person and not an algorithm (think Hirevue)

There’s a few big differences between a 1st round interview and a last round interview:

    • This is about culture fit not “Best Answers”: The reason a manager, director or partner is taking time out of their busy schedule to interview you is two fold. a) Are you a mistake waiting to happen? b) How will you fit in with the team? Knowing the company’s core values is fine, but just relax and be yourself. All companies want someone who is hard working, bright, ambitious but most importantly willing to learn and teachable. That’s coming from my POV not just as a coach, but also as a business owner who has hired (and fired) dozens of people over the years.
    • Having a great personal introduction is super important: The person interviewing is probably pretty busy, has done like 7 interviews already, and may or may not have read your CV, a good personal introduction can help to grab their attention and make you memorable
    • Be really clear on why you want to work at the company and do the role: A Lot of people aren’t clear on their reasons “why” , from the company’s perspective, they are about to invest tens of thousands of pounds into your professional development. They want someone who’s really clear on why they want to be here, and not somewhere else
    • Know about the industry and qualification you may study: I’ve seen many candidates be caught out by simple questions like “Tell me about a recent piece of business news that affects our industry?” , for the love of all that’s holy, do a bit of research about the industry and what’s going on, from an industry news website or magazine. Nothing DEEP. Just a basic knowledge will do fine. They’re not asking you to cure world hunger. Just understand some basic problems the industry is facing.
  • Be prepared for a conversation not an interview: If the interview is going well, it’s going to start to be a bit more about the other person getting to know you. What you studied, where you grew up, what you do for hobbies. This makes a lot of people freeze up, but it’s basically like a friend of your parents speaking to you, who hasn’t seen you in a while. Loosen up.

Worried about your final interview?

Why not book a 1-1 coaching session with Mike to practise?

Group Discussion

Group Discussions are the exercise that seems to strike fear into most people.

So if you’re feeling nervous, you’re definitely not alone.

When people book 1-1 coaching sessions this always tends to be the exercise people are most worried about.

For one simple reason.

It’s hard to practise group discussion by yourself.

My solution for this is pretty simple.

To become better at problem solving with strangers you just need to:

a) Become better at solving problems.
b) Get over your fear of strangers.

To become better at solving problems, I suggest doing as many case studies as possible.

You can also use this as a triple threat exercise to train for written exercises and case studies.

But why?

Simple.

The more case studies you do.
The better and faster you are at solving problems.

And meeting strangers?

Use Meetup.

https://www.meetup.com

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

This is a great way to meet people, even if you don’t talk online or offline.

The awkward truth that many people try to avoid, is that the only way to become more confident, is to push yourself beyond what you feel comfortable.

You can start by just taking part in online groups.

Then talk online.

Then go into the real world and observe.

Then go and participate.

I’ve used this little trick so many times to boost people’s confidence and take away the fear.

Which is really just the uncertainty of strangers.

The truth is.

On the day everyone will be just as nervous as you.

Some talk too much, some talk too little, but they’re all nervous.

What exactly happens in a group discussion?

This tests probably the two most important skills:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Dealing with time pressure

You can add in your Meetups to start getting used to speaking to strangers.

In our Acing Assessment Centres course you get a tonne of practise exercises, which will make you so much more prepared than anybody else on the day.

Ultimately there are no shortcuts to doing the reps and getting in the practice.

The BEST Way To Prepare For An Assessment Centre On Your Own

I’ve put together 11+ years experience of training well over 1,000 people for assessment centres at the world’s biggest companies into one course to give you everything you need to prepare for your next assessment centre.

What You’ll Learn

✅ The only 7 exercises you could get in your assessment centre

✅ How to effectively practise and prepare by yourself

✅ Exactly what you need to do to impress assessors on the day and pass

✅ Easy to follow frameworks you can use on the day to easily overcome any exercise

What This Course Contains

📗 81 Lessons

📗 6 Exercises with Answer Sheets and Walk through videos

📗 Live Recording of an actual group discussion

📗 Actual feedback from an online assessment centre training session with Mike

📗 5 Bonus Exercises from real companies Assessment Centres

Written Exercise

Written exercises are probably the one test you’ll come across that will feel most like being at school.

You get given a set piece of material and then during the time (generally around 30 minutes) have to read the material and write out your answer.

These days it will all be online, but there are still companies that ask for exercises to be written by hand.

The key idea behind this exercise is that you are able to problem solve quickly and present your solution in an easy to understand way.

Time is the most crucial factor.

During the 5 years I trained people in an office in London to do assessment centres I experimented and found that the best use of your time is:

  • 33% of your time reading
  • 66% of your time writing

That’s because most people get sucked into the reading part of the exercise.

They try to read the material like a book from back to front and before you know it, you’re struggling to write a 1 to 2 page report in under 10 minutes.

Completion is key for a written exercise.

If you don’t complete the report you will fail.

What should the content include?

You must  make full use of the data from the reading materials. The data and facts are the concrete foundations that your ideas need. Without support your ideas are opinions.

The content will not be exhaustive. You will not be able to cover everything. As an academic you may be drawn to find the right answer or elaborate in detail in your answers. Do not fall into this trap.

Your content must be Clear, Concise and Concrete!

Some Tips for Success

  • Do not try to read everything or write about everything
  • Your report should be brief and complete, not exhaustive
  • Do not paraphrase large portions of text or use complex language
  • Write in response to the questions and nothing more
  • Make sure that your sections are well spaced and that your wording is clear
  • Regardless of quality Completion is your number 1 priority
  • Assess and consider all data before making a judgement
  • Try to be accurate with spelling, punctuation and grammar

 

Aims for Progression

Stage 1: Finish within the time

Stage 2: Finish with more detail

Stage 3: Finish with detail and SPG free writing

Initially your aim should be to finish, even if your answer appears to be quite short. In time you will aim to provide more substance, structure and data to your answer. The second stage of completion should be a well-structured answer, and the last and final stage should be fluent and back with sufficient data and/or references.

What’s the best way to prepare for a written exercise by yourself?

The BEST Way To Prepare For An Assessment Centre On Your Own

I’ve put together 11+ years experience of training well over 1,000 people for assessment centres at the world’s biggest companies into one course to give you everything you need to prepare for your next assessment centre.

What You’ll Learn

✅ The only 7 exercises you could get in your assessment centre

✅ How to effectively practise and prepare by yourself

✅ Exactly what you need to do to impress assessors on the day and pass

✅ Easy to follow frameworks you can use on the day to easily overcome any exercise

What This Course Contains

📗 81 Lessons

📗 6 Exercises with Answer Sheets and Walk through videos

📗 Live Recording of an actual group discussion

📗 Actual feedback from an online assessment centre training session with Mike

📗 5 Bonus Exercises from real companies Assessment Centres

Case Study

For many years I’ve seen case studies just like written exercises, but you’re saying your answer out loud.

They require the same set of skills, just a different medium of communication.

There are two ways to think about this.

 

  1. A case study presentation
  2. A case study interview

With a presentation, this has the same exact methodology behind it as preparing for a written exercise.

Reading through the material and leaving enough time for you to create notes and prepare a presentation to give to your audience.

A big thing that people underestimate in all assessment centres is time.

People will spend too much time reading, preparing and note taking and not enough time on their responses.

Also completeness.

Very often when you’re given material you probably won’t have the time to go through it all.

A good rule of thumb for reading/ skim reading is 1 minute per page.

So if you have 5 minutes and 7 pages.

Something is going to have to get dropped. 

What I tend to notice during face to face training sessions is that many students are used to creating a “complete answer” , where they have been able to take account of all the information at their disposal.

In a case study you just don’t have the time to do that.

So, go for a basic answer that is complete and then build upon that.

For case study interviews, we really enjoy many of the articles that have been written on this by Management Consulted and also this short piece from Accenture.

Presentations 

Nothing quite strikes the fear of God into people, like having to stand in front of someone else and speak out loud.

Presentations can be prepared on the day or beforehand and there are different ways to look at these which we cover in our course.

Keeping your presentation as simple as possible is the key to great delivery, particularly if you only have 10-20 minutes to prepare.

7 Common Mistakes 

  1. No structure/ Lack of planning. Your presentation may have no clear beginning and end. See below for a structure. This is common with beginners as they tend to ramble and just “say what they think.” Without ordering their thoughts
  2. Saying too little/ too much. You either run under the time or way over. When you start it’s worth seeing how long you speak over the 2 minutes to get a benchmark of what you need to work from
  3. Speaking too fast/slow. Rarely do candidates speak slowly, most rush and gulp down air as they try to fit 5 minutes of information into 2 minutes
  4. More opinion than fact. Say what you think but do some research as well. Can you offer sources or data to support your argument?
  5. No introduction. Who are you and what are you talking about? This tends to relate to point 1.
  6. Staring at your notes. Relating to point 8, a presentation given where you simply read out your notes, is not a presentation.
  7. Body Language. Maintaining eye contact, smiling, being confident, motivated, and energetic. All basic hallmarks of good communication. As opposed to little eye contact, speaking quietly, hesitation and pauses and a lack of interest in the presenter’s tone

Something I always encourage is thinking about a “system” to prepare for presentations on the fly.

Here’s a structure I like to use for clients for presentations:

Beginners Guide to Assessment Centres Job Ready English

We cover role plays and retesting in our Acing Assessment Course.

Both are very unlikely to come up as they are either too time consuming (role plays) or no longer used much anymore (retesting incorporates making somebody resit their online tests to essentially make sure that they didn’t cheat)

The BEST Way To Prepare For An Assessment Centre On Your Own

I’ve put together 11+ years experience of training well over 1,000 people for assessment centres at the world’s biggest companies into one course to give you everything you need to prepare for your next assessment centre.

What You’ll Learn

✅ The only 7 exercises you could get in your assessment centre

✅ How to effectively practise and prepare by yourself

✅ Exactly what you need to do to impress assessors on the day and pass

✅ Easy to follow frameworks you can use on the day to easily overcome any exercise

What This Course Contains

📗 81 Lessons

📗 6 Exercises with Answer Sheets and Walk through videos

📗 Live Recording of an actual group discussion

📗 Actual feedback from an online assessment centre training session with Mike

📗 5 Bonus Exercises from real companies Assessment Centres

17 Tips To Prepare For Your Assessment Centre

  1. You are already good enough to do the job
  2. Everyone is as nervous as you
  3. Train hard to compete easy
  4. Everyone can pass or everyone can fail
  5. Talk and listen
  6. Pay attention
  7. Prepare questions beforehand
  8. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast
  9. Do your research on format and exercises
  10. Everything is not assessed but you are always being observed
  11. Chunk down the timings
  12. Be likeable, happy and approachable
  13. Don’t be the timekeeper, be useful to the team
  14. Use data and the material when you speak, don’t just jibber-jabber
  15. Lead, follow or get out of the way
  16. Enjoy it and treat it like a test run
  17. There will always be another chance

#1 You’re already good enough to do the job if you get to an assessment centre. 

Sometimes candidates feel like they’re still being tested to see if they’re good enough. 

You already are. 

You’re basically being put through your paces to test individual skills which generally tend to revolve around teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, working under pressure, and being adaptable and flexible, which is a good reflection of high-value professional service type jobs where you’re going to be interacting with clients who have paid a lot of money, dealing with people who don’t have a lot of time, and you’ll need to be flexible and quick on your feet as well as very often switching a lot of times between teams and the people that you work with.

#2 Everyone is as nervous as you.

I tend to typify the type of people you’re going to meet at assessment centres into three types

The Jibber Jabber

This is the person who can’t stop talking and seems to talk over everybody, loudly, and basically has no concept of social niceties, allowing other people to speak. 

The Silent One 

Who just sits there thinking, “God, I wish I could say something, I wish I could do something. Oh my God, that was what I was going to say.” 

And end up saying nothing at all.

The Furious Note Taker

These tend to manifest in group discussions, writing lots of notes and listening to everything being said, but they don’t tend to say very much. 

The trick is, everybody is just as nervous as you. 

Nobody turns up without a care in the world thinking, “It doesn’t really matter what happens.” 

That’s a good way to think about things. 

Just remember that what you’re seeing is just a way they are displaying their nerves, and you learn to navigate and manage that person’s behaviour.

#3 Train hard to compete easily. 

This is something that we do with clients in one-to-one sessions. 

We always say, when preparing clients every week for assessment centres, make sure you practise some case studies, presentations, and the elements you will be appearing in. Generally, there tends to be one thing that will be more important than others. 

For example, next week, we have clients going to the final assessment centre for a large multinational energy company and a large professional services firm. We tend to zero in on the one exercise which is your obvious weakness, something you really struggle with. For a lot of people, that’s presentations or group discussions. Then we think about the exercises we can do to train those skills. Group discussions tend to be quite difficult because unless you can randomly get a couple of people together to do some form of open-ended discussion, that tends to be hard. 

A good practice for this is if you struggle with confidence and anxiety, go to meetups, meet some people, engage with strangers, engage in random conversations in a safe way. 

This helps to overcome nerves of meeting strangers and being out and about. If you train hard and well, on the day, you’ll find it quite easy because everyone is nervous and a lot of people don’t prepare. You’ll give yourself the ability to relax and really be yourself.

#4 Everyone can pass or everyone can fail. 

We’ve had candidates go to assessment centres where all the people passed, generally in small groups of four to six, or everybody can fail. 

Recognise this when engaging and trying to work as part of a team. 

Don’t feel like you have to work against people; work with them. This is crucial in the group discussion because it’s the only time you really engage with others. T

This changes your mindset and approach, forming relationships with people who could end up being your colleagues for years to come. Compete as a team rather than as an individual, irrespective of what others do.

#5 Remember to talk and listen. 

In group discussions, all candidates will be sitting there. 

What tends to happen is one or two people will speak more than others. 

You’ll have the jibber jabber, the quiet ones, and the furious note taker. If you’re not naturally charismatic or a natural leader, you need to listen carefully. 

As you talk, say things like, “That’s a great idea,” showing positive body language, really paying attention. An opportunity will present itself where you can speak, either because you have unique material to present or because you can agree with the speaker and offer useful insight. 

Don’t just think about talking; think about listening and paying attention to what’s going on.

#6 Pay attention. 

Don’t just read the material and take notes without thinking about how you can contribute. 

Even if you’re not speaking right now, you need to come across as a positive and motivated individual. Candidates who get frustrated show it in their face and body language, and that’s noticed. 

Everyone can’t lead, and everyone can’t follow. 

There’s a natural hierarchy and order. If you’re paying attention, picking up on what people are saying, using names, and referencing data and material, you’ll establish yourself as useful, trustworthy, and relevant.

#7 Prepare questions beforehand. 

Many big companies’ assessment centres now incorporate some element of introducing the company, meeting graduates, and possibly a partner interview. 

Prepare questions that are insightful and help you learn about the experience. 

Avoid questions about pay or when you’ll hear back. Instead, ask about their biggest lesson, how they started, what would prepare you for the job, the biggest mistake they made, or the best piece of advice they received. 

Use the opportunity to learn from those who have been in your position.

#8 Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. 

This is something I learned from martial arts training, originally attributed to Bruce Lee. It applies to assessment centres. 

Whether you’re doing an online test, individual exercise, presentation, group discussion, role play, or coding, go slowly at first. 

Make sure you understand the question, study the material, and make effective notes. 

Ask questions if needed. 

This allows you to make a mini plan for each exercise. Candidates who initially went slower but knew what they were doing always outperformed those who rushed and got lost.

#9 Do your research on the format and exercises. 

Companies will generally send out information on what to prepare for.

 Do your homework on Glassdoor, Student Room, WikiJob, and other forums. 

Look for recent and detailed recollections. Understand the format to inform your training and preparation. 

Most assessment centres will have an individual exercise, a group exercise, and some interaction with another person. The more you understand, the better you can prepare.

#10 Everything is not assessed, but you are always being observed. 

While some elements like presentations or graduate interactions may not be assessed, people are always watching. 

Companies may ask graduates for their impressions. 

Conduct yourself positively, confidently, and be engaging. Avoid being noticed for negative reasons. 

You need to be remembered for the right reasons because you are there to compete and cooperate.

#11 Chunk down your timings. 

For individual exercises like written exercises or case studies, chunk down your time for each section. 

Wear a watch to keep track. 

This makes the task more manageable and helps you perform better under pressure. 

Set small constraints to focus your efforts effectively.

#12 Be likeable, happy, and approachable. 

People like people who are like them. 

Be positive, engage in small talk, and show interest in others. Even if you’re anxious or socially awkward, play the game. 

Show that you’re someone others want to work with. Be that person people want to engage with, not the one they avoid.

#13 Don’t just be the timekeeper, be useful. 

Being the timekeeper alone won’t make you successful. 

Focus on being useful and contributing to the team’s success. 

Offer helpful commentary, solve problems, and support the team’s efforts. Be the person that is useful and contributes meaningfully.

#14 Use the data and material, don’t just jibber jabber. 

Use notes to reference material confidently. 

Deliver information clearly and authoritatively. 

People will lean towards those who know what they’re doing. Use data to appear more credible and trustworthy.

#15 Lead, follow, or get out of the way. 

Take responsibility if you lead. If following, take orders. 

Don’t jostle for leadership unnecessarily. 

Find your role within the group and contribute effectively.

#16 Enjoy it and treat it like a test run. 

Don’t let anxiety hinder your performance. 

Enjoy the experience and remember you’re good enough. 

Approach it with a spirit of fun and potential.

#17 There will always be another chance. 

Many clients pass assessment centres on subsequent attempts. 

Learn from each experience and improve. 

If you fail, reflect on what you learned, what you did well, and what you can do better next time. 

There’s always a next application.

The BEST Way To Prepare For An Assessment Centre On Your Own

I’ve put together 11+ years experience of training well over 1,000 people for assessment centres at the world’s biggest companies into one course to give you everything you need to prepare for your next assessment centre.

What You’ll Learn

✅ The only 7 exercises you could get in your assessment centre

✅ How to effectively practise and prepare by yourself

✅ Exactly what you need to do to impress assessors on the day and pass

✅ Easy to follow frameworks you can use on the day to easily overcome any exercise

What This Course Contains

📗 81 Lessons

📗 6 Exercises with Answer Sheets and Walk through videos

📗 Live Recording of an actual group discussion

📗 Actual feedback from an online assessment centre training session with Mike

📗 5 Bonus Exercises from real companies Assessment Centres

The 10 Most Common Questions About Assessment Centres

Check out this video where I answer the questions I get asked all the time about assessment centres:

  1. What actually happens at an assessment centre, I’ve never been?
  2. What exercises am I going to get?
  3. What’s the best way to prepare?
  4. What’s going to happen in the group discussion?
  5. What should I wear at an assessment centre?
  6. What’s the difference between a face to face and a virtual assessment centre?
  7. What’s the difference between a 1st round interview and a final interview?
  8. Is the whole day assessed or just parts of it?
  9. What should I do the day before?
  10. I haven’t got an assessment centre, how can I start preparing now?

#1 What actually happens in an assessment centre? 

An assessment centre is generally a group of people coming together to be assessed. 

You’re going to do some group exercises, some individual exercises, and a little bit of schmoozing as well. 

You tend to have a presentation at the start of the day by the company. 

These tend to be targeted at graduates; professionals don’t tend to have to go through assessment centres. 

You might have a meet-and-greet portion of the day where you get to meet other graduates, managers, or directors. 

In between that, you’ll have two or three different exercises which are assessed, hence the assessment centre.

#2 What exercises could I get in an assessment centre?

I’ve prepared candidates for hundreds of different assessment centres at different companies. 

What I’ve noticed is this all basically boils down to seven different exercises. It doesn’t matter what the company is, what you’re going to do, it all comes down to these seven exercises: an online test, a group discussion, a written exercise, a case study, a role play, a final interview, or a presentation. 

You might be saying, “Oh, but I’m applying to be a software engineer and I have to do pair coding.”

 I just kind of count that as a case study, like an individualised exercise that you have to solve by yourself. 

A presentation is where you’re speaking out loud. 

A group discussion is where you’re speaking with other people. 

A role play is where you’re simulating a situation with somebody else, generally in the sales or business development background. 

Online testing is just retesting. 

A final interview is just another interview. 

Pretty much every assessment centre I’ve come across comes down to those seven exercises.

#3 What’s the best way to prepare by yourself? 

This is a really important question, particularly the “by yourself” part. 

If you get an assessment centre, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have loads of people to practise with. 

Maybe you do; maybe you’re watching this and you’re at university. I highly recommend, if you can, to go to your career service and ask if they can put on a mock assessment centre or mock group discussion. 

The only thing you can’t really prepare for by yourself, but I will show you how, is a group discussion because you need other people. You’ve just gotta make do with what you have. 

What I tend to suggest when people work with me one-to-one is to do case studies, written exercises, presentations, make sure online tests are on point, but most importantly, do your homework. Know what to expect and then prepare for what is going to come. 

Don’t spend all your time preparing for everything that could happen because you’ll end up being shallow in your prep, trying to prepare for seven different things. 

Chances are you’re only going to get two or three of those types of exercises.

#4 What happens in a group discussion? 

Most people are scared of group discussions. If you’re reading this and you’ve got an assessment centre coming up, you’re probably thinking, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen in the group discussion?” 

There’s really nothing to worry about. 

You’re going to have four to six people, all with the same material and potentially individualised material. 

Group discussions kind of go like this: Company A has Problem B. Here are solutions one to six. Each person gets a different solution. Maybe in some exercises, everybody gets all the solutions and you then discuss that material. That’s pretty much what happens. 

What are people scared of? First of all, they don’t really know what to do. The most popular thing that people tend to pick up on from YouTube videos is that they should be a timekeeper. 

Instead, you should contribute to the discussion using the material provided. If you don’t speak, you won’t pass. If you’re introverted and shy, you’ll need to socialise more, even if it’s online. If you want to be a chef but don’t like touching raw food, it’s not going to work. 

If someone speaks too much, interrupt them. If people don’t speak enough, bring them into the conversation. There’s loads more to say about group discussions in our Acing the Assessment Center bundle, but group discussions are nothing to be afraid of. The more case studies you do, the more problems you solve, and the more presentations you give, the better you’ll become at group discussions.

#5 What should I wear at an assessment centre? 

Always business dress. 

This is slightly controversial. If it’s face-to-face, be comfortable. 

Guys, wear a suit and nice-fitting shoes. Assessment centres are long and can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining, especially if you’ve never been to one before. Make sure you pick stuff that is comfortable for you but also smart.

 For women, wear flats, minimal makeup, and clothes that you can move around in all day. Minimal jewellery as well. If you have tattoos, wear long sleeves if you can. 

People shouldn’t discriminate against you for tattoos, but they might, so don’t give them an opportunity to do that. For virtual assessment centres, business on top, party below. Just be careful your camera is off if you stand up in pyjamas or boxers.

#6 What’s the difference between a face-to-face assessment centre and a virtual assessment centre? 

Not a lot, to be honest. Both have their pros and cons.

Face-to-face offers better human interactions, observing body language, and group settings. Companies spend a lot of time and money on face-to-face experiences with breaks, lunch, presentations, meeting graduates, and managers. 

Virtual assessments allow you to be at home in your place of comfort, but it can lead to laziness or a false sense of confidence. In virtual group discussions, only one person can speak at a time, which can be annoying. 

You can wave your hand in front of the camera to break someone’s concentration. The exercises and soft high-touch events like meeting people don’t really change.

#7 What’s the difference between a first round and a final interview? 

At a high level, a first-round interview is just a screener, often an HR screener with motivational and competency questions, probably done via video and analysed with an algorithm. 

A person probably doesn’t watch your first-round interview these days, especially for big companies. 

A final interview looks for different things. If you get to an assessment centre, you’re already good enough to do the job. Only about five percent of people reach assessment centres. 

In a final interview, it’s about fit, technical understanding of the role, commercial awareness, and business acumen. 

You’ll be speaking to a real person, possibly via video, having a real conversation. It’s more unstructured. Check out the acing assessment centre bundle for more about final interviews.

#8 Is the whole day assessed? 

No, you’re not being assessed all day because people don’t care that much about you, but you are always being observed. 

Be the person who is nice, kind, interested, and interesting. 

Speak to as many people as possible. Being nice to everyone, including the receptionist and cleaner, can make a difference. If it comes down to a choice between you and another candidate, those small interactions can tip the balance in your favour.

#9 What should I do the day before an assessment centre? 

The best thing you can do is to get a good night’s sleep. Optimise to relax. Don’t stay up late practising or go out drinking. Relax, take a hot bath, have a nice meal, and get six to eight hours of sleep. 

On the day, minimise decision fatigue. Have your clothes set out, know what you’re going to eat for breakfast, and make the day easy for yourself. Spend a little extra money if needed to ensure you’re fresh and mentally agile.

#10 I haven’t got an assessment centre, when should I start preparing? 

Start doing case studies and practising presentations as soon as possible. If you’ve got an assessment centre and haven’t prepared, it’s not too late but it’s still late. Treat it like preparing for a marathon; you wouldn’t start training a week before. 

Starting early has the psychological benefit of programming your mind for the assessment centre. Approach job applications with the mindset of preparing for the last round and the assessment centre. Finding a good job is very much a mental game. 

The rest are processes you need to go through.

The BEST Way To Prepare For An Assessment Centre On Your Own

I’ve put together 11+ years experience of training well over 1,000 people for assessment centres at the world’s biggest companies into one course to give you everything you need to prepare for your next assessment centre.

What You’ll Learn

✅ The only 7 exercises you could get in your assessment centre

✅ How to effectively practise and prepare by yourself

✅ Exactly what you need to do to impress assessors on the day and pass

✅ Easy to follow frameworks you can use on the day to easily overcome any exercise

What This Course Contains

📗 81 Lessons

📗 6 Exercises with Answer Sheets and Walk through videos

📗 Live Recording of an actual group discussion

📗 Actual feedback from an online assessment centre training session with Mike

📗 5 Bonus Exercises from real companies Assessment Centres

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