This week I attended an assessment day for a role I’d applied for and it was intense. It was for a role in the public sector so they have a strict and standardised process to ensure it’s as fair as it can be. We weren’t given much information before the day (just a very short outline/overview of what the day would entail) and on the morning we received a quick brief and then had to get started. There were three candidates on the day and they have another session before making a decision.
We were housed in a room down the corridor from the main interview room and were called upon individually at various times to undertake different aspects of the assessment process.
- We had half an hour to prepare for a 90 second pitch on why we’d be the best candidate for the role – condensing everything you want to say about yourself into 90 seconds is not as easy as it may sound.
- Then we were called for a 30-minute formal interview with a panel of three managers from the organisation.
- During the time we weren’t in the interview room, we had to prepare for a 10-minute presentation and complete a written paper (no more than three A4 pages) based on a brief we were given.
- We also had lunch and were joined by about eight more team members who also asked us questions and chatted to us – worst thing ever when you’re trying to eat and then get asked a question mid-mouthful!
- After lunch it was straight into the presentations then the written work had to be handed in and we were finished.
All that in five hours, but it was certainly more interesting than a standard interview. I’ve done assessment days before (I did one for Arcadia Group’s retail management scheme, which was very full-on and packed full of group tasks, presentations and interviews and overseen by senior managers from all the different Arcadia brands), but this one differed in that we just didn’t know what to expect by way of subjects and themes for the day and therefore planning was more difficult than for a regular interview (which tend to be based around similar questions regardless of the role or the company).
With so many candidates applying for every advertised role, assessment centres seem to more commonplace these days and especially for graduate roles. These are my tips on how to handle them:
- Research and plan – even though I didn’t have much information about this week’s assessment day, I still did my research as thoroughly as I would for any other interview. You can still read about the organisation (their values, projects, history etc) and use the job specification to think about the role itself and what questions you might be asked.
- Note down questions you’d like to ask – even during an assessment day you’ll still get a chance to ask questions of your own, whether during a formal interview or over lunch. Think of one or two questions you’d like to know about the role or organisation.
- Stick to the brief – when you’re limited for time and you have been given a specific brief then you really don’t have time to go off topic. I bullet point all my notes and time myself using my phone during my planning periods.
- Make sure your phone has battery – as there’s a lot you wont be able to plan for before the day itself, having access to the internet on your phone is invaluable for on-the-day research. I also have Dropbox on my phone which gave me access to all my uni work and research which was also hugely helpful.
- Be yourself – trust in yourself and your skills and abilities. On the day you might chat to other candidates and start to talk yourself out of the job based on what you think of them and what they say about their skills (you did what at uni?! And you’ve got that many years experience in this same industry?!). You’ve been asked to the assessment day based on the same criteria though so believe in yourself and be yourself on the day.
Above all else, be relaxed and enjoy the experience. A tough assessment day makes all other interviews and assessments feel like a breeze so whether you get this particular role or not, you will gain a lot from the day.