How To Stand Out at An Assessment Day
Increasingly, recruiters are using Assessment Days rather than one-on-one interviews to scope out future employees.
At first this may seem designed to trick you. After all, you only just learned how to deal with panel interviews and now they have moved the goal posts again!
In actual fact, Assessment Centres can be beneficial for you as much as for the employer. It gives an assessor a longer period of time to get to know you and the outcome hinges on more than a few subjective questions asked in an airless room.
You just need to understand how to swot up and stand out.
Assessment Centres come in all shapes and sizes. Once you know what to expect, you know what to prepare.
On type of Assessment Day could be an informal social, where you meet and introduce yourself to other candidates, staff and management. Although these seem relaxed, they are just as serious as any one-on-one interview and you need to remain positive, focused and professional throughout.
Sometimes these Assessment Centres will be primarily an information session, designed to provide more detail to candidates about a job role or company. This is a great chance to ask lots of questions so make sure you come intending to take notes. You can learn all sorts of invaluable information for job interviews later down the line.
The most common sort of Assessment Centre involves tests or exercises, which can take on many different forms. Some even include a conventional interview as well. Don’t think of it as more ways to stress you out, think of it as more chance to prove yourself.
Tasks at Assessment Centres vary as they are aimed to test your aptitude for the particular role.
However, they often follow a set pattern. Group exercises are very common but can take on many different forms. It could be a hands-on task, even something as silly as building a tower out of straws and paper. The actual aim of the task is always secondary to the assessors’ aim to watch how you communicate and work in a team to complete a goal.
You might experience a written in-tray exercise designed to test your prioritising. For example, it may contain a list of daily tasks that you need to order and explain why you came to that decision. A written exercise could also involve drafting an email to show you can communicate professionally, or even a small spreadsheet task to prove you can use something like Excel.
Sometimes there will be a presentation or roleplay exercise. Usually you will be given some information to absorb, often about a product, which you then pitch back to the assessors. This may seem a little alien if you have never done anything like this before, but preparation is key.
If you know an Assessment Centre may contain a task element that you are not comfortable with then you can practise and practise until you are comfortable with it.
The normal interview etiquette applies to Assessment Centres as well. Make sure you arrive on time and dress the part. If you have been asked to prepare or bring something then make sure you have done.
However, an Assessment Day is a lot longer than the average interview. It can be an exhausting experience but you need to stay sharp throughout. Eating a good lunch and drinking plenty of water is recommended. Just because you are being professional does not mean you have to be a robot.
An Assessment Day is designed to assess whether you and a job are a good fit. You have spent the application stage telling the employer how good you work in a team and how you thrive on a challenge, so this is your chance to prove that.
However, you will not be expected to excel at every task. It is a chance to showcase your strengths but the tasks are not usually about winning or losing. It is more important to show you are willing to get involved and commit to the task.
Assessors are looking for you to show your problem-solving skills and adaptability more than they expect you to show specific knowledge of the role. If you make a mistake and move on in a positive and helpful manner, then that is likely to leave an impression. A lot of a job role can be learnt in post but a good attitude cannot be taught.
Speak and listen equally
The goal of an Assessment Centre is to get noticed so it is important to put yourself forward. It can be intimidating feeling in competition with the other people in the room but this is not any different to a panel interview. You can just see your competition at an Assessment Day.
An often-forgotten aspect of teamwork is listening. While it is great if you take the lead on a task, it is as important to not be overpowering. When giving your opinion, adding phrases like “But tell me what you think?” and acknowledgements like “I see your point” to show you actively listen and care about the opinion of other people.
You are always being assessed
Most Assessment Centres are a full day or even two days. They will likely include a lunch or some time spent socialising informally with the other applicants. Make sure you remember that even at times like this you could be being assessed. Your assessors may share the lunch with you or you may not realise that the young person you are speaking to is the current intern at the company.
The maxim to treat everyone politely and fairly applies doubly to Assessment Centres. If you noticeably behave differently in front of the assessors and other recruiters then that is bad form.
This is why it is so important to be yourself. Assessment Days are a far more reliable way to get a well-rounded picture of you as a candidate than a one-hour interview. Prepare for them and then ace them!
Cat Dennis is a history graduate living and writing in Canterbury. For more, visit Cat’s blog.