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Top tips: How to prepare for your assessment centre

Top tips: How to prepare for your assessment centre
If you’ve never done one before, being asked to attend an assessment centre can be a frightening thought. To get this far, you’ve already been selected over possibly hundreds of other candidates, so your prospective employer must think you could be a good match. Your invitation to the assessment centre is your chance to prove it.

What is an assessment centre?
Assessment centres (or ACs) are a way for employers to get a holistic view of candidates. By applying multiple exercises and activities, assessors can evaluate the skills, traits and competencies important for a role in a number of ways, giving participants ample opportunity to demonstrate their strengths. To avoid any bias, participants are usually assessed by more than one person, with their scores moderated by a panel at the end of the day.

There are a wide variety of exercises that can be used, and these could be generic or tailored to reflect the reality of working in the role. Your AC may include:

• Ability tests
• Group exercises
• Interviews
• Personality questionnaires
• Presentations
• Role plays
• Work simulation exercises
• Written business cases.

This may all sound daunting, but with the right preparation, you can arrive at your assessment centre confident and ready to succeed. Here are ten top tips to help you prepare.

1. Make sure you know what to expect
Most employers will send you all the details about what will happen at your AC, but if they don’t, make sure you ask in advance. Then you can research the types of exercises you’ll be participating in and search for resources to practise them. There are various candidate practice test websites, or you could even get a friend to help you.

2. Know your stuff – do the research
The one sure way to make a bad impression is turning up with no knowledge of the organisation and what they do. You don’t need to know everything about them, but you should spend some time going through their website to learn about their goals and values. It is also beneficial to demonstrate some knowledge of the sector they work in, for instance by reading up on the latest news in their industry.

3. Understand what they are assessing
Assessors will most likely be evaluating you against a list of competencies defined as important for the role. Depending on the organisation, these may be shared with you prior to your AC. If not, you could always ask the employer or your recruitment consultant to provide them. These will help your preparation, as you can hone in on the areas you know they will be scrutinising.

4. Be ready to talk about your CV
You might be asked questions based on your CV. You may have sent this in a while ago, so make sure you’re familiar with what you wrote and you’re ready to answer confidently.

5. Prepare solid examples
Saying you’re good at something is easy, but if you want to make an impact you need to demonstrate your experience with concrete examples. A good interviewer will ask questions along the lines of ‘Tell me about a time when…’ and you’ll need to offer real life examples in response. If you’ve got stats (ROI or % improvements for instance) to prove it, that’s even better.

6. Prioritise and be structured
On the day you’ll have limited time for each exercise, so make sure you take a structured approach and don’t run out of time. It might seem obvious, but don’t forget to read the instructions carefully before you begin. Often you’ll also need to read background materials at the start. Make sure you set yourself a limit for this part so you’ve got plenty of time left to put together a great response. Most importantly, if at any time you don’t understand something, always ask your assessors.

7. Remain positive 
There will be multiple exercises to evaluate different areas more than once. If you feel like you didn’t do very well on a particular activity, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself as the chances are you’ll have a chance to make up for it later.

8. Keep it simple
When taking part in exercises it is unlikely that you’ll need to wow your assessors with a lot of technical knowledge. Often they will be looking to evaluate your behaviours, rather than what you know about a particular subject. For this reason, keep the content straightforward and focus on demonstrating how you can handle the situation.

9. Be yourself
Don’t try and behave how you think the employer wants you to behave, this isn’t sustainable and will probably just make you more stressed. You’ll be able to concentrate better on the tasks if you relax and be yourself. You’ll come across in a more genuine way, plus you won’t risk being hired for a job that doesn’t suit you. This is particularly important when it comes to answering personality questionnaires.

10. Afterwards: Learning from your experience
Most assessors will provide you with some feedback. If they don’t, it is perfectly reasonable for you to ask for it. This insight will be really valuable to you; if you’re unsuccessful it will help you perform better next time and if you’re successful you’ll be able to get started preparing for your new role.

Another way to reflect on the AC is by writing some notes about what you did, what went well and where you might want to prepare more in future. This will help you draw on your experience to better prepare yourself next time.

If you take the time to prepare thoroughly, you should have every chance of performing well at your assessment centre. Finally, and most importantly, make sure you arrive feeling well-rested on the day so you can really give it your best.

Article author: Laura Parrack - Cubiks UK