Students that are applying for graduate positions are often put through an Assessment Centre (AC) as the final stage of their interview process. If you make it to this stage, it probably means you've caught the eye of a recruiter and have skills and qualities that match what they are looking for!
Assessment centres can go for a few hours to a few days and are used to evaluate the performance of candidates. You will usually be split into small groups to perform tasks, assessment exercises, and interviews. Companies will differ in the way they run an AC but the types of exercises and the structure remains relatively similar. In most assessment centres, the exercises will be designed to simulate different aspects of the work environment.
What Can You Expect To Be Doing At A Graduate AC?
Case Studies + Verbal Presentations
Companies will often use case studies as a way to evaluate how you solve a real-world business problem in a group environment. It is a great way to test how you work in a team, structure your problem solving, and communicate to stakeholders (the recruiter in this case).
The type of case study you get will depend on the company you are interviewing for and the type of team you will be working in. A case study question could ask you how a company should react to a certain economic event, or to figure out a go-to-market strategy for a product.
The main challenges associated with the case study is being able to put together a cohesive solution with a group of people you haven't met before in a short time allocation. This is usually followed up with some kind of presentation and a Q&A session. Everything from the content of the presentation to its delivery will be observed by recruiters.
Assessment centres may have a role-play exercise where you need to act out a work-related situation. You'll be assessed on how you use your problem-solving skills and communication to analyse a situation and produce a solution.
A company that hosts an AC in their offices will often give you the chance to socialise with other candidates and other company representatives at a lunch or morning tea. While this is a social event, it is a great opportunity to network and interact with them to set you up for success in the one-on-one interview component or for your overall application process. There's a good chance you are being assessed or observed during the social periods as well so remember to maintain a professional attitude.
Individual and Panel Interviews
The entire day isn't all in groups, don't stress! The individual component will often be 1-on-1 with a senior manager or a panel of company representatives. Either way, it's your opportunity to not only communicate your passions and talk about your experiences, but it also gives you the chance to show your preparation without the other variables present in a group environment.
How do you prepare for an AC?
Preparing for a group exercise isn't easy since it's hard to get a group of people you don't know together to practise a case study! However, the group environment you'll find yourself in at an AC is similar to group projects you would have done at university or in extra-curricular activities. Draw from your experiences working on these projects and general problem solving in any context.
Be assertive but not dominant, focus on giving great input, don't speak over others, support others, be genuine, and have original ideas so that you present yourself in the best possible light. The best way to perform well in a group setting is to be your genuine self and contribute like you would in a normal setting. Make sure you actively participate and show enthusiasm for the exercise.
Sometimes an AC will either get you to present your work from a group exercise or pre-work that is allocated prior to the day. The presentation will most likely require you to provide a solution to a problem or situation. Ensure you have a great structure, strong voice projection, good tone of voice, hand gestures and eye contact, so that you engage your audience effectively.
Prepare for AC interviews like you would for any other interview. Anticipate the types of questions you might get asked and prepare examples or frameworks for your answer. These questions can range from generic questions about yourself to company or role-specific questions.
When preparing for answers be sure to describe the situation you were confronted in, the action you took that demonstrates your skills and also what you achieved from the situation. Although you can never fully anticipate the questions asked in an interview, make sure that your answers are what you want the employer to know. We have a handy list of some of the most common questions asked in interviews here.