The best ways to prepare for an assessment centre
First of all – congratulations! If you’ve made it to the assessment centre stage of an application, it usually means you’re in the last (or, occasionally, second from last) stage of getting the job. This can seem the scariest part, but you should keep in mind that you’ve got this far because you’ve worked hard and you deserve the role. There will have been lots of people who’ve been rejected at the previous stages, so try not to panic and focus on preparation instead.
Research the company
At the last assessment centre day I attended, I was asked a lot about the company, why I wanted to work for them, and what they had done previously. Make sure you know the names of the top dogs, and, if you can find it, the name of the person interviewing you. If you can show that you recognise someone who works there already, you’re highlighting how interested you are in the whole company, not just your role. If possible, too, throw out some facts about the company – if they support local charities, point this out, or if the CEO went to the same university as you, tell them.
Prepare for all the different elements
Assessment centres can vary from sector to sector, so it’s best to come very prepared. You’ll probably be asked to do a variety of tasks, spanning from interviews, to group work, to analysis and presentations. Google will be your best friend here: have a search for mock versions of each part (depending on what you think is most likely to come up) and get friends and family to test you. Print out interview questions and ask people to randomly throw a question at you – it’ll help you focus immediately and also prepare you, should a question you’re not sure about come up.
Check to see what information is out there already
Unless it’s a brand new company or a completely different role, there’s a high chance that this assessment centre is a repeat in a series. For my one, there had been at least five similar experiences conducted around the UK in the last two months alone. Obviously it’s frowned upon to spill the secrets of what goes on behind those doors, but from asking around and checking forums and websites, you might be able to find some clues as to what to expect.
Practise doing tasks under pressure
A common element of an assessment centre is throwing loads of facts and figures at you, and expecting a full-length answer in a short period of time. For those of us who are horrendous with numbers (I’m talking about myself here) we can really struggle to keep calm and focus on the figures in front, and not to panic. You can easily go through this at home with day-to-day activities: set yourself short time limits to complete a lot of minute tasks, and see how you get on. You can gradually improve your speed by giving yourself less time each practice, and there’s a lot of information on the internet to help you with this too.
Improve and refine your people skills
Another common activity is group work. Love it or hate it, but it’s an easy way to figure out the sort of person they’re looking for. This doesn’t mean show off and take control – but it can and will help if you have a confident, enthusiastic demeanor. It can be difficult to relax and chat away to people that, not only have you just met, but who are also going for the same job as you, but it’ll work to your credit if you can do so successfully. Remember that everyone else is probably feeling as nervous as you are, and throwing out confident body language and the occasional joke will show your potential employers that you’re easy to get along with.
Follow up afterwards
Once the day has finished, and you’re home, cup of tea in hand and trying to recapture the sense of peace that you’ve gradually lost over the last seven hours, it won’t hurt to drop the company a quick email. It doesn’t have to be anything long-winded, but sending an email as a reply to whoever contacted you initially will go a long way to show that, not only are you polite and hardworking, but that you are on the ball and awaiting some feedback. It will put you a cut above the others (unless they’ve read this article too!) and it’ll make you memorable.
Generally speaking, if you’ve been invited to an assessment centre, it means you’ve got the skills and personality to fit the job. The point of an assessment centre day is to refine those who are good, to those who are great. The best way to do this is to act confident, do your research, and wow the company with your skills and personality.
Worst comes to worst and you don’t get the role, email them again anyway and ask for some feedback. It’ll give you something to work with for the next role you apply for, and it’ll highlight your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Best of luck!
How did you prepare for an assessment centre? Tell us in the comments below!
Photo: Stefan Baudy / Flickr