The Graduate Royal Rumble: 5 Assessment Centre Challenges


The Graduate Royal Rumble: 5 Assessment Centre Challenges

We are currently in the midst of Graduate Scheme Season, so over the last few weeks we've covered some important hurdles you will need to overcome to get close to landing one of the scheme places. We've covered application forms, telephone interviews and this week we're looking at Assessment Centres.

These are becoming more common in the graduate recruitment process and more creative with the ways they will test you while you're there. No longer do Assessment Centre days just revolve around a few competency tests and group interviews, many employers have begun to take advantage of the opportunities provided by technology.

But there is nothing to panic about when you're going into assessment centres. One of our Bloggers here at has described the experience of Assessment Centres as being the real life Hunger Games, which is probably a fair assessment but nobody dies. Graduates should be aware that they are in the same boat as everyone else and with danger of sounding patronising, just be yourself and do your best.

Here are the things you can expect to come up against:

5. Group Interview

What they are looking for: Teamwork, communication skills,
Be careful of: Looking like a megalomaniac, despot, a shrinking violet or a free rider.

Group interviews are a tried, tested and traditional method of reviewing large groups of candidates at once. This could be through group exercises or team projects and the point is to see whether graduates can work as a team, are capable of listening and interacting with others. There are very few graduate positions that don't require applicants to have at least the basic elements of team work nailed.

One of the key issues here is making sure you don't waltz in like Charlie Big Potatoes thinking you're better than everyone else and it is your way or no way. Employers will pick you off straight away. They are not too concerned about you getting the right answer, although it is a plus, but how you work with other members of the group to reach a conclusion.

The main goal of the group interviews and exercises and the key to being successful is an elementary lesson in diplomacy. Remember they are not just looking to see if you would be a good employee but if they'd want to work with you. This is something that can be underrated is that you might be perfect the role but if you come off badly or rub people up the wrong way, employers will be less likely to take you on.

4. Psychometric Testing

What they are looking for: verbal and numerical competencies,
Be careful of: A lack in preparation and traditional exam problems like getting hung up one question and panicking.

Psychometric testing is not as scary as you might think. They are a serious of tests and problems designed to test your capabilities with numerical and verbal problems. They have long been used by employers to test graduates in these Scheme selection processes and the main thing you need to know is giving these a go on the day is a terrible idea.

Graduates who try to wing it on the day will be in for a shock. It is advisable to prepare thoroughly for these tests. They should be approached like any other kind of exam or test, with lots and lots of practice. The layout and format of psychometric testing varies very little, but it is advisable that you familiarise yourself with it beforehand. There are plenty of sites on the internet that offer these kinds of practice tests for free. So to avoid any nasty surprises, ensure you've attempted many of these tasks before the Assessment Centre day.

What will become apparent when you're working through these tests is that the type of question and the format in which they are presented to you is not that different from what you've experienced during your GCSEs but the standard is a lot higher. While many employers are not expecting you to ace the entire thing, be sure to attempt all the questions and do as best you can. They're not easy and they're not supposed to be.

3. In-Tray Exercises

What they are looking for: Organisation, ability to prioritise and how you would operate in a workplace environment
Be careful of: Becoming snowed under, panicking and making rash decisions

In-Tray exercises are one of the more modern methods used by employers to check how potential employees will deal with their work load. (You can see some of the modern application techniques that employers use in this great blog.) The basic format of an In-Tray exercise is a scenario where you are in the job and have to manage tasks that appear in your 'in-tray'.

The most common modern format is where you are set up with an email inbox and tasks are delivered to you that you have to deal with them, with some requiring closer attention and others being more time-sensitive. The format of what comes through varies and can include messages form clients, in house communications and department memos.

The key to cracking this part of Assessment Centres is to remain calm and focused. The In-tray exercise can last anything up to a few hours so you need to be on the ball. Do not panic when things fly in and you're in the middle of something, but stay relaxed and take an objective approach to maintaining your work load and seeing to things that require closer attention.

2. Presentations

What they are looking for: Confidence, knowledge and
Be careful of: Poor presentation skills (Mumbling, naff visuals, etc.), lack of knowledge and blagging

Presentations have seen a resurgence in Graduate Scheme application formats and they are often the most dreaded part of the day. The terrible feeling of knowing that the presentation is lurking over you throughout the day, where the focus will be on you against the group and in front of the employers, is enough to make the most confident of us quake in our smart interview shoes.

The key part to acing the presentation is, like many parts of Assessment Centre days is preparation. If you are expected to give a presentation you will be informed of the matter before the day and given time to prepare. At this point to need to find out everything you can about what is expected, including but not limited to: the length of the presentation, who you are presenting to, what you will have at your disposal to present with and most importantly what the hell you are supposed to present.

Knowing all these things is important for starting out, but with presentations it is not the case of doing lots of things right to make it a good presentation, but rather not doing one of many things wrong that can drop you in it. Fatal traps that you can fall into are mainly concerned with the contents of your presentation, you need to be crystal clear about what you are presenting and don't try and bullshit your audience because it will not work.

Other fatal traps are related to your presentation technique. They are usually very simple things such as annunciating, not being flashy with swooping and swishing slides (it doesn't look good now, it has never looked good) and not reading off notes; by all means have prompts and key points you want to cover, but you will never become a great orator by robotically reading off the page and will more than likely trip yourself up.

1. Solo Interview

What they are looking for: find out more about you as an individual and learn more about aspects of you that has impressed them
Be careful of: traditional interview mistakes, not giving answers and throwing away a day's hard work and preparation

Traditionally, Assessment Centre days are topped off with a solo interview. You're dragged out of the herd and put in front of the panel and grilled in a very similar way to how you would be in any other interview. So obviously the usually techniques apply. Confidence and clarity are the two prongs for getting through one-on-one interviews. Confidence in your ability and achievements and clarity in your execution of your answers and the truth surrounding what you are saying.

If you think your presentation is out of the way, don't get ahead of yourself. Employers will almost certainly want to talk about what you presented to the group. This could be quite tricky if you've not prepared thoroughly for the presentation and there are some easily picked holes appearing in the presentation.

There are many other issues that come up during a day at an Assessment Centre, one of the most worrying things being handling the other interviewees. Remember: you are all in the same boat, there is not point being snide or applying some Machiavellian techniques to edge ahead of the competition. They won't work and worst of all everyone will think you're a nob, including the employers.

For more on our series on Getting onto a Graduate Scheme, check out these: