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Graduate Assessment Centres

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Assessment Centres are the last stage of the recruitment process, and if you make it this far then you have a very good shot at landing the job. Assessments can include any of the following elements over one or more days:

  • Interviews
  • Ability / Personality tests
  • Group exercises
  • Problem solving
  • Presentations
  • In-tray exercises
  • Social events
  • Site visits or office tours

Many of these events are held in order to get a true picture of who you are. Employers are looking for the skills and requirements outlined in the initial job description, so make sure you look it over. If you have never been given an outline of the position and what it requires, then you may want to call the employer to request one.

Employers are looking for the skills and requirements outlined in the job description.
  • Interviews
    These should be viewed the same as any second stage interview. See our section on interview techniques for tips on how to prepare.
  • Ability / Personality Tests
    These tests are designed to explore your verbal and numerical reasoning skills. Common features include:
    • One or two sample questions with no "right" or "wrong" answers.
    • A set time period in which to complete the test. Some tests are designed with the idea that you will not be able to answer all the questions in the time period.
    • Repetitive questions designed to ensure that you are answering honestly and consistently.
    • Easy questions which get harder as the test progresses.

    Your answers are used to compile a personality profile which will help the employer gauge if you are right for the position. Your careers service should have tests available for you to practise on.

  • Presentations
    You may be given time to prepare, or you may be asked to pitch something off the top of your head. Remember that the basic essay structure you spent so much time perfecting at university applies to formal presentations, as well:
    • Tell them what you are going to say.
    • Say it.
    • Tell them what you've said.

    Make sure you follow instructions, stick to the time limit, and come prepared to answer questions. And as with every presentation, speak clearly and confidently, project your voice, and make eye contact.

    As always, further information on how to compile a good presentation is available from your careers service.

  • In-tray exercises

    In-tray tests are designed to see how well you cope with large volumes of information in a real-life situation. Assessors hope to see how you prioritise the information and how make decisions. The documents you are given could include letters, memos, phone messages, and information on the company (e.g., contact lists, personnel files, budgets etc.).

    You should view your in-tray as a two part exercise. First is dealing with the actual problem, and second is the follow-up discussion your decisions. You should also be prepared for your in-tray exercise to be interrupted by a sudden "emergency" such as a staff dispute or accident, so not only are you being asked to deal with something like a high profile project that has delivery deadlines, but also an additional emergency. How you handle the situation will reflect on your ability to prioritise and manage.

  • Group Exercises

    Group exercises may consist of the following group discussions, both leaderless and chaired, problem-solving and case studies, and team games. Leaderless discussions are designed to assess your ability to negotiate and influence your peers. An example of a leaderless discussion would be the balloon game, where your task is to present a convincing argument as to why you should be saved in an emergency situation.

    Chaired discussions are often debates led by members of the group in turn. This gives candidates a chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities as well as their ability to listen and consider what others have to say. When it is your turn to lead, you should demonstrate a sensitivity to the group dynamic, an ability to include everyone in the debate, and an awareness of time limitations.

    Problem-solving and case studies usually come in the form of real-life situations where you are asked to work through the problem as a team. Your assessors may not appoint a leader, so this could offer a great opportunity to step up to the task. If you are the leader you will be expected to plan, motivate, organise and manage the group to get the task done.

    Team games are usually designed to assess teamwork abilities, and could be used to see if you work well with other candidates. This is especially true if the company is looking to fill several positions within the same department.

  • Social Events

    Social events give employers the chance to see how you engage with your peers and potential coworkers, and they can also give you a bit of a break from the assessment process. While it is a good chance to relax, don't let your guard down too much. This is still a professional situation, so be courteous to bar and wait staff, and take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the current employees and see if you would really fit in.

    If there is alcohol available, stick to the two drink maximum. You won't regret it.

  • Site visits or office tours

    This is your chance to get familiarised with what could be your new work environment, so pay attention and ask questions.

  • Post-Assessment

    If you are not given any indication on the actual assessment day, then you can usually expect to hear whether you have been successful within one week of the event. It's always a good idea to send a brief email a day or two after the event to thank the employer for giving you chance to demonstrate your skills and re-confirm your interest in the position.

GCHQ