Assessment Centres

An Assessment Centre is a place where employers assemble potential candidates who have applied for the same job position. Here, candidates are put through a series of tests/assessments to determine their suitability for the role. The assessments can involve one or two days where candidates are required to complete a series of exercises, so that the employer can comprehensively assess their abilities. The process may include social/informal events, second-round interviews, report-writing, group discussions, presentations or in-tray and case exercises.

Watch careerplayer's video on How to Ace an Assessment Centre for tips and advice on what to expect and how to stand out:

UCD Career Development Centre has a range of publications on topics such as CV development, preparing for aptitude tests, etc. Drop in to use our resource library from 9-5pm Monday to Friday.

Social/informal events

Here you could meet a variety of people, including other candidates and recent graduates; for example over lunch or dinner, a trip around the office or factory with young graduate employees. This is presented as an opportunity for you to find out about the organisation and to ask questions in a more casual setting.

While these may appear informal, you should behave in a way that reflects well on you.

Stay alert, show interest in the organisation, and ask pertinent questions. Ensure that you talk to senior management staff present, and if the function is a buffet try to circulate rather than talking only to your fellow candidates.

Second round interviews

These are likely to be more in-depth than any you experienced at first selection stage:

  • Interviewers are likely to focus even more closely on your ability for the post, including competencies.
  • If the post is of a technical nature you are likely to face more technical questions than at first interview. Prepare well.
  • You may be interviewed by more senior staff members; senior personnel and/or line managers.
  • Interviewers will have copies of notes made at first interview stage including any apparent weaknesses such as lack of knowledge/motivation. Reflect on any aspects of this interview you feel you could have handled better – as these are likely to be probed further.

The general interview advice still applies; have a look at our advice on interview techniques to refresh your knowledge.

Report writing

You may be presented with a set of documents relating to an issue and asked to make recommendations in a brief report. Your ability to analyse material, think logically, and express yourself on paper will be tested.

Group discussions

Here the selectors are looking for your ability to interact with other people. Keep in mind that good team working may be about listening to, and using the ideas of others, as much as getting your own ideas brought forward.

Tips:
  • Get a good grasp of any information you are given and concentrate on the main issues rather than minute details
  • In the light of the information given, decide objectives and priorities
  • Be persuasive, yet diplomatic
  • Remember that the quality of what you have to say is more important than the quantity
  • Actively listen to what everyone has to say, through nodding, smiling and eye contact – try to get the best contribution from everyone. Be inclusive
  • Find a balance between advancing your own ideas and helping the group to complete the task set
  • Keep your cool and use your sense of humour, where appropriate
  • Make sure the group keeps to time

Presentations

Some employers will ask you to prepare a short talk or presentation to other candidates and/or the selectors. You may be be asked to bring a prepared presentation to the assessment centre but usually it must be produced on the day. You could be given a topic for discussion or have completely free choice.

Tips:
  • Read the brief carefully, if given one
  • Limit yourself to your key messages
  • Pitch the level of your talk at an appropriate level for your audience
  • Use professional language; avoid jargon
  • Support ideas/themes with anecdotes, examples and facts
  • Make eye contact at some point with all members of the group and talk to them, not at them
  • Speak clearly; remember that how you say it can be as important at what you say

In-tray and case exercises

These simulate business exercises. You may, for example, be given an email inbox with company memos, telephone email messages, reports and correspondence and be expected to prioritise your workload; draft replies; delegate tasks; recommend action to superiors and so on.

These exercises allow you to demonstrate your organisational, analytical and planning skills. Some employers also want to know why you have made certain decisions and may ask you to comment on items in the tray or discuss your decisions later.

Have a look at gradireland's advice on preparing for assessment centres, and Prospect's information on interview tests and exercises.

You might also like to practise some psychometric and aptitude tests in preparation.