How to prepare for assessment centres

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Assessments centres are shrouded in mystery-but there are ways to prepare for the unexpected.

Graduate schemes are closing and if you are successful with your applications, you may find yourself invited to attend an assessment centre.

Most assessment centres take the form of day-long interviews made up of tasks designed to test your suitability for the role and make you think on your feet. Employers probably won't tell you much about what to expect on the day-so how can you make sure you're ready?

By now, you should have researched the company and the industry and you should be familiar with the specific role. With the basics covered, here are a handful of other things you can prepare.

Prepare... your "Fun Fact"

Assessment centres put you and other applicants through a range of tasks, but before the trials begin, there is usually an awkward icebreaker. You will have to stand up and introduce yourself-and will likely be asked to share a fun fact about you.

"Hi, I'm Marie, I studied Economics at Leeds Uni and I ... errr ..." is not a good start. Try and come up with something memorable-this is your first chance to make an impression and stick out from the crowd. Don't be afraid to be quirky. Assessment centres are as much about being personable as they are being suitable for the position. Employers want to see someone they want to work with, not just someone that can do the job.

Prepare... your imagination

Employers usually try and lighten the mood at key points throughout the day, often by taking a "fun" approach to group exercises. You may be cast away to a desert island, stranded in the jungle after a plane crash or just expanding into a new market-all of these group exercises benefit from a bit of imagination.

Use your creativity to spark the discussion and the group's decisions, and be prepared to think differently about the problem or challenge at hand. Remember to give space for other ideas-employers don't want groups to be dominated by one individual-but don't be afraid to make yourself heard, either.

Prepare... for the psychometric tests

Practice tests are the one feature of assessment centres you can count on. Employers love challenging graduates with numerical and verbal reasoning tests. These tests are often not as hard as they first seem and shouldn't stretch you too much.

Numerical - Numerical Reasoning tests evaluate your ability to work with numbers, data and statistics. For instance, you might be given a table of complex data related to product sales and then asked to work out which product sold best at what time. The expected ability will vary by field and position, but if you haven't touched Maths since GCSE you may want to practice.

Verbal - Verbal reasoning tests are more complex versions of the traditional comprehension exercises we all remember from primary school. You will be given an extract and asked to answer questions. For example, you may be asked if a certain statement is true or if the extract recommends one specific course of action. You will usually have to detangle the text in order to find the correct answer.

There are various resources available online and at your Careers Service to help you familiarise yourself with psychometric testing.

Prepare... anything you've been asked

Employers may set you a task to bring to the assessment centre, often a presentation. It might seem blindingly obvious-but do it, and do it to the best of your ability. There is no point turning up otherwise.

Make sure you ask for specific details about what is expected, as well as technical requirements, such as if you'll need to use a computer and projector.

You might also be advised to read up on specific news stories or industry developments. If the employer mentions this, no matter how off-hand, you can bet your beer money it will come up.

It can be difficult to prepare for the unexpected but your best chance is to keep focused and flexible. If you come ready to throw yourself in and give it your all, you may just show the employer you're the candidate for them.