The tech grad’s guide to assessment centres

Are you a tech grad who's gotten through to the assessment centre stage? Here are GradAustralia's tips on what to expect and how to prepare.
Team GradAustralia
Save 

A driving test allows an instructor to observe and assess how you navigate real roads and real traffic before you are given your license. Assessment centres can be thought of in the same way: they simulate a typical workplace environment along with group and individual tasks aligned with specific job roles to allow employers to assess the capabilities and aptitude of multiple candidates at once. Assessment centres have become a favoured part of the recruitment process of many mid-large firms, particularly in relation to graduate or internship placement programs.

Assessment centres usually fall somewhere in the middle of a company’s recruitment strategy. Applicants invited to participate should already have successfully gone through an application, initial assessment and maybe even a phone or video interview. Take heart that you’ve come this far: it means the employer thinks you have potential and would now like to give you the opportunity to prove it.

Who will be assessing me and how will they do it?

Assessment centres could be conducted by specialist recruiters or by the employer’s HR staff and the process could take from half a day to as many as three days. Generally, though, a half-to-full day is the average. During the course of an assessment centre, assessors rate participants on a range of competencies as they carry out several different tasks.

After the assessment centre is completed, assessors will consolidate their results and come to a consensus on each applicant’s suitability for the role in question. As a participant, you may be able to see the assessors while you go through your assigned tasks and exercises or you may be told that you are being filmed so that assessors can play back your performance and review it at a later time.

The pros and cons of assessment centres

There are many advantages for both you and your potential employer:

  • It gives an employer better insight into how a candidate will perform in a professional context as well as practical examples of their skills, both technical and soft.
  • Assessment centres may be too expensive for smaller companies but will be cost and time effective for larger firms with many applicants to assess.
  • As a candidate you will be given more time and opportunities to prove yourself during a full day of tasks rather than during a one-hour interview.
  • You will also have a much clearer idea of what your role will require day-to-day and what skills you’ll need to do it well.

The only clear disadvantage is that it will be an intensive and at times stressful process during which you will have to remain switched on, alert and engaged.

What to expect from an assessment centre

The tasks set out for you will change depending on who your potential employer is and what role you’re applying for, but they generally tend to fall into the following buckets:

Self-awareness and/or competency based interviews

These could be peppered throughout the day. Self-awareness interviews generally ask you to assess yourself on your performance either during the course of the day or during a particular task. You may also be asked why you chose to apply for that specific role and company. Competency interviews tend to consist of scenario-based questions where you will be required to speak of situations where you used your technical skills to solve a problem.

What’s being assessed

Your skills and technical knowledge, your ability to provide situational examples from your own experience, your personality and demeanour, your professional motivations.

Tips

Research and prepare as much as possible for this. It’s impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked but think of some concrete examples where you solved a problem or made an improvement – think of the situation, the approach you took and the tasks you carried out. Research the company and role thoroughly so you can speak to what appeals to you about both and come up with examples that are relevant. Finally, have a clear understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses and ensure you are able to express them with a balance of confidence and healthy self-awareness.

Group exercises

These could consist of a role-playing exercise or a situation where groups are given a problem or case study to discuss, address and present together.

What’s being assessed:

Your communication skills, how well you work within a team, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, your ability to listen and support your fellow team members.

Tips:

Make sure you participate actively in the task but be careful not to hijack the conversation. On the other hand, also avoid taking too much of a backseat as this will not work in your favour. Never think of your fellow participants as competition. Treat them as you would your team at work and ensure you listen to their opinions and support any ideas you feel are good. If you disagree with them, do so professionally and courteously without being dismissive or aggressive.

Presentations

Some assessment centres will require you to give a short presentation, usually to a mix of your fellow candidates and assessors. Your topic will depend on the employer and your role, or you may even be asked to pick one yourself.

What’s being assessed

Your ability to communicate clearly and expressively to a group of people, your confidence and public speaking skills, your ability to construct a timed, structured and well-executed presentation on short notice.

Tips

Ensure you structure your presentation so that there is a clear start, middle and conclusion. Ensure your voice and body language portray that you are relaxed and at ease. Don’t over-saturate your presentation with information: stick to a few clear, well-articulated messages rather than a haphazard jumble of ideas. Use notes to guide yourself through the presentation, but never read off a script.

Aptitude tests

How adept are you at picking up new skills or learning on the job? Aptitude tests assess just that and usually take the form of numerical or verbal reasoning tests which require candidates to logically process complex information.

What’s being assessed

This gives an employer insight into how candidates would perform in a flexible and highly dynamic work environment. It isn’t difficult to see the relevance for jobs in tech!

Tips

Research the kinds of questions usually asked in aptitude tests and see if you can do a few practice tests online as you prepare for your assessment centre.

Psychometric tests

A psychometric test is just a fancier name for a personality test where you would typically respond to questions about how you would handle certain scenarios. The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer here.

What’s being assessed

Your personality, the way you would react to different situations, the way you communicate your thought-process and perspectives.

Tips

Don’t get hung up on what you think the assessor wants to hear. Just be honest and communicate clearly.

Case study exercise

This exercise will present you with a situation you could potentially find yourself in within the job you’ve applied for. This could be anything from leading a client meeting or helping a derailed project get back on track. Each situation will be aligned with the job you are applying for and the specific functions of that role.

What’s being assessed

Your ability to carry out the requirements of your role should you be hired, problem-solving skills, ability to think on your feet, ability to handle difficult or challenging situations.

Tips

Stay calm and focused. Think logically through any problems you may be presented with and try to pretend you are really in a work environment which will help you better envision how you will react to the situation at hand.

Thanks! Any more tips?

Always! Here are some general guidelines which will help you prepare for your next assessment centre.

Before the day

  • You can’t possibly prepare for everything you’ll encounter during an assessment centre, but you can still do plenty of research on the company as well as the job role and requirements. This will help you think through how you’d address any scenarios put forward to you from that context. You can also look up practice tests online so that you get a better idea of different types of assessments you might face, how you might respond and the language you would use.
  • Ensure you get a good night’s sleep the night before the assessment centre so that you are well rested and energised for the day to come.

On the day

  • Ignore the butterflies and eat a full breakfast before heading to your assessment centre. You’ll need the sustenance!
  • Arrive early so that you are not feeling rushed and stressed before the day can begin.
  • When choosing what to wear, try to envision what you would wear to work and dress accordingly. Smart and professional is the way to go.
  • Remain alert, professional and considerate even when a task may not be focused on you. Keep your phone on silent and out of the way.
  • Try to remain ‘switched on’ even during the breaks as your assessors will be observing how you interact in social situations. Get to know your fellow applicants, be chatty and friendly to the people you meet.
  • Look after yourself: ensure you eat throughout the day and drink plenty of water.
  • Often assessment instructions will be given to you verbally. Listen hard, take notes where you need to and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you require clarity at any point.
  • If you feel you haven’t performed on a certain task, don’t lose heart and give up. You will have the opportunity to redeem yourself in a later task.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity where you can ask questions about the company and role.
  • Try to enjoy and really engage with the whole experience of the assessment centre, from the tasks to the people around you.

After the day

  • Ask for feedback where possible to get a sense of how you performed and what you could do better next time.
  • Even if you do not make it to the next stage of the recruitment process, consider the assessment centre a valuable learning experience.

Here are more tips on how to ace assessement centre day.