Assessment Centres: What Are They & How Can They Be Less Stressful?

Congratulations! You’ve just made it past the preliminary rounds of psychometric tests and phone interviews and have been invited to an assessment centre at your dream firm.

The email they’ve sent outlines what will happen and the tasks you have will undertake on the day – but it doesn’t cover how to handle the day. With stress, anxiety, embarrassment being big factors, this piece will aim to give you a few tips.


  1. Understand what type of assessment centre it is

Assessment centres are not only used by big firms, but also by medium to small companies, where the work environment may be drastically different.

Identify what type of firm it is and aim to understand its work culture; is it more relaxed or formal? Answering this first question will make sure that you don’t show up on the day underdressed or overdressed. (If in doubt, being overdressed does not matter as much.)

The reason this is important is because you want to show that you are a perfect fit for them, and there is no better way to demonstrate this than by clearly understanding the work and office culture.

Sometimes, the more formal assessment centres may be easier to understand, as they expect you to complete the listed tasks (e.g. group work, presentation, interview) and show up dressed in a suit. Conversely, assessment centres that are on the more casual side can be trickier, as drawing the line between ‘relaxed’ and ‘too casual’ can be difficult at times.


  1. You make it competitive as you want to

Assessment centres are ultimately a competition; you want to show the interviewers that you are not just better than the other candidates but far and away the best. How you shape your behaviour around that will strongly impact your chances.

Keep in mind that firms are not necessarily looking for the best interviewee, but for the best fit for their firm. You will not be doing yourself any favours by speaking over others during the group task or by being unreceptive to other people’s ideas. Instead, you will just come off as patronising, overbearing and potentially unable to work in a team. In other words, do keep the competitive edge but do so while working in a team.

Beyond teamwork, being too competitive and viewing other candidates as enemies will not help. Don’t fixate on what others have done wrong or right, but focus entirely on yourself and what you can do to attract the firm’s attention. If you think you are not doing too well, take a step back and reassess your behavior. Sometimes, this will mean stepping out of your comfort zone if you are shy and engaging with people directly. Remember, assessment centers are places where initiative is the key to show your skills.


  1. Be friendly

Don’t be too competitive. Even though it’s important to make the most of this day, going into it with the wrong mindset will not help you relax.

Again, viewing other graduates as enemies will not help. Everyone is at the assessment centre for the same reason, and it is likely that most candidates are going through the same type of thoughts and emotions as you.

If you find yourself stressed out, chatting with other graduates may help you calm down and be more articulate. Having a friendly chat will calm your nerves and ease you into the formal environment of the assessment center. It’s also a good way to get stress out of your system by getting rid of the initial ‘jitters’.


  1. Take it as an experience

Even if you are not given a job offer, take it as a key learning experience. You are clearly good enough of a candidate to get to the last stage which means that learning from your performance at the assessment center will give you that something extra needed to get a job.

Make sure to ask for feedback if none has been sent – this will be key to help you improve your performance next time. Sometimes, the feedback can sound too simple or vague and leave you frustrated. Don’t be! They have done you done a favor by highlighting your key weaknesses, digging deeper and fixing the problem is up to you.


  1. Don’t beat yourself up over it after the assessment centre is over

Move on.

It won’t help you to replay every scene at the assessment centre and tell yourself that you could have gotten the job if you had done this or that. It’ll be easier to accept that it’s past you and look forward instead of remaining stuck on it.

The fact is you cannot change how you performed at a previous assessment centre, but what you can do is use that performance as a base to build on. Accept the outcome and move on to look for new opportunities.


Ultimately, assessment centres -and graduate schemes as a whole- are not the be all and end all of jobhunting opportunities for graduates. Make sure to take everything as a learning experience that you can grow from.


William Tong is a contributor for Inspiring Interns. 

Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobsLondon, visit their website.