Assessment centres are selection days used by employers to assess your suitability for specific types of employment, and the skills and competencies you are able to offer.
They are designed to be objective and fair (with all candidates being put through exactly the same process) and involve extended periods of assessment tasks, exercises and interviews, which are often modelled on real work-based scenarios and carried out over 1-2 days.
However no two assessments centres are the same and can differ from one organisation to another. The following information can help you to understand different types of assessment tasks and activities and gain an understanding of what you might encounter, how you may be assessed, and how you can perform effectively.
In-tray and E-tray exercises
Psychometric and aptitude tests
Role play and simulation exercises
Further information and advice
Under the Equality Act, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the selection process if applicants have declared disabilities. For example, if you are asked to undertake Psychometric Tests it is standard practice to allow applicants with dyslexia 25% extra time. If you believe you have one, or more conditions which may impact on the selection process, it is important that you inform the employer in advance, to enable them to make any necessary adjustments.
For further information on disclosing a disability, please view the Careers and Employability Service's Disability, Equality and Diversity Guide (pdf).
You are likely to be assessed as soon as you arrive at the Assessment Centre - so don’t arrive late! You will be observed throughout the day so ensure you are nice and professional to everyone but remember to be yourself. Try to talk to your fellow attendees. By getting to know them you are likely to get a feel for their interests and abilities which might help you in the tasks that will follow. Remember that whilst the process is competitive, you are not necessarily in competition with each other, so being a personable, collaborative team player is just as important as any other skills that are being sought.
Group exercises are designed to measure your ability to work in a team. Assessors often look for candidates who can contribute to discussion, articulate their own ideas, listen to other people’s ideas, delegate tasks, approach problems effectively, demonstrate a can-do attitude, and display positive leadership qualities. Try to clearly show your contribution to group tasks, but do not dominate the group. Activities are likely to have a time constraint so be aware of the time; possibly making sure that one team member has this responsibility. Throughout the activities, assessors will make notes on each of the group members to identify and record their contribution.
Types of group exercises include:
Ice-breaker - Commonly used at the start of assessment centres, ice-breakers are often intended as a warm up exercise to help groups of people relax and get to know one another. However, assessors may use this as an initial opportunity to evaluate your interpersonal qualities and ability to join. Therefore it is important to engage and display enthusiasm from the moment your assessment day begins.
For further information on the ice-breaker exercise, please view the link below:
Case study/scenario - This type of exercise involves a group of candidates working together to respond to a work-related scenario (known as a case study). The group is often given a set time period to complete the task and candidates will be assessed on their analytical skills as well as ability to engage in group discussion, make group decisions and recommend a course of action. Occasionally each candidate is given a different role to play within the group and/or given a different briefing document. The purpose of this is to bring different challenges to the task (reflecting what you may encounter on the job); allowing assessors to evaluate the group’s ability to reach a decision and conclusion, despite possible conflicting views and team dynamics.
For more information on group case study exercises, please access the following links:
Group presentation - This could be an extension of the case study activity or you may be asked to deliver a presentation on any topic. It often requires more than one speaker and involves all members of the group cooperating to plan, prepare and deliver the work presented. Collaboration and team work is key here but assessors will also be looking for qualities such as verbal communication, time management, confidence, and knowing your audience.
For further information on preparing for and delivering presentations at assessment centres, please access the following link:
Group discussion - This task often involves a group of candidates being given a topic to discuss. The topic presented could be a work-related matter or an issue of particular importance/interest which has been presented in the news recently. You may not be given time to prepare for this activity so a tip would be to keep up to date with current affairs, news and trends in areas that relate to the work and industry you have applied for. Throughout this activity, assessors will be monitoring how you are able to contribute to discussion, put your ideas forward, and interact with other group members. You may also be invited to explain the comments, views and/or conclusions of another group member or your group as a whole, so it is important to demonstrate good listening skills for this task as well as the ability to communicate verbally.
For more tips and information on group discussion activities at an assessment centre, please view the link below:
Group practical task - This could be anything, even something unrelated to the job! For example, you may be asked to work as a team to build a tower or bridge out of newspapers. While assessors will be looking for skills such as initiative, creativity, ingenuity and leadership, it is important to not get so focused on achieving the practical task that you forget about demonstrating other abilities (such as teamwork and interacting with your group members). Therefore, during a task of this nature, be mindful about performing in a manner which displays a number of positive qualities. Sometimes, the most effective groups are the ones that do not complete the practical task but perform well together as a team.
For more information on group practical tasks, please view the following links:
- TARGETjobs - group exercises: what to expect
- Job Test Prep - prepare for group exercises at the assessment centre
Leaderless task - In this task, no one is designated as leader. Its aim is to allow assessors to evaluate your natural command presence, team working and decision making skills to identify if you possess natural leadership ability. You will often be put into a group that has no designated leader and be presented with a problem or mentally or physically challenging task. As a group, you will be required to find a compromise solution or reach a decision which is acceptable by all or the majority of the group.
For further information on (and examples of) leaderless tasks, please view the following links:
Leadership task - With leadership tasks, you will often be set an activity and be nominated to be in charge. Your aim during these activities is to lead others to success in a positive and influential manner. Assessors will be looking for qualities such as the ability to delegate, divide work up between team members, identify and use the strengths of team members effectively, gather and communicate thoughts, and be reactive to any problems. Examples of leadership tasks include leading a group task, chairing a meeting or debate competition, or defusing a heated discussion.
To further explore effective leadership qualities, please view the following links:
- TARGETjobs - team management: prove you’re a bit more than an entry-level hire
- Forbes - top 10 qualities that make a great leader
In-tray and E-tray exercises
In-tray (paper based) and E-tray (digital) exercises are common assessment centre exercises. They are designed to test a candidate’s ability to perform particular functions of the job that they have applied for; often assessing skills such as time management, organisation, decision making, attention to detail, and the ability to prioritise work. For example, you could be presented with a business-related scenario (such as a report, complaint, series of letters or emails) and asked to decide how to respond. However, no matter what or how many tasks you are faced with, it is key to be methodical in your approach to handling them as you may be asked by an assessor to explain your decisions.
For more information on (and examples of) In-tray and E-tray exercises, please view the links below:
- TARGETjobs - what are in-tray exercises?
- TARGETjobs - written exercises at assessment centres: showcase your professionalism
- Assessment Centre Training - In-tray and E-tray exercise
Psychometric and aptitude tests
Many companies use psychometric or aptitude tests as part of their recruitment process. Although many employers will conduct tests during the earlier stages of recruitment, some will use shortened or further tests at assessment centres to enable them to validate tests previously taken by candidates. The aim of such tests is to assess the personal attributes/characteristics, general abilities and intelligence of candidates applying for jobs; with the term ‘psychometric’ often referring to tests that measure your understanding of particular formulae, theories and concepts and the term ‘aptitude’ referring to tests that measure your personal characteristics, intellect and potential for understanding new theories and concepts. Tests are usually presented in the form of online or electronic tests and are either sent to candidates by email or undertaken at assessment centre stage.
- If you are a current student at the University of Portsmouth or have studied at this institution within the last five years, please visit or contact the Careers and Employability Service to receive access to practise psychometric/aptitude tests, in-tray exercises and books.
- Please access the following links for further information on Psychometric and Aptitude Tests or Engineering Psychometric Tests.
Assessment centres will usually include at least one interview. They will often take the form of a one-to-one or panel interview whereby you will have a formal discussion with one or more representatives of the company. The purpose of this is to offer the employer an opportunity to discern if your credentials, personality, abilities and career goals match that of the job and company. Occasionally, however, you may encounter a ‘joint’ or ‘group’ interview scenario whereby you and other candidates attend the same interview. While employers will still evaluate you on an individual basis (thus it is important to remember that you are not in competition with the other candidate/s), they may put you in this situation to assess your interpersonal qualities and ability to function in a group. For further information on interviews, please access the links below:
- The Careers and Employability Service - Interview Skills
- TARGETjobs - different types of interviews
- TARGETjobs - interview techniques and tips
- TARGETjobs - approaching tricky interview questions
You may be asked to work on an individual case study, this task will simulate a problem you may encounter in the job. You will most likely be presented with some fictional documents and, under a timed situation, will be asked to make a business or strategic-related decision based upon the information provided. Typical competencies that will be assessed during this exercise are judgement, analytical thinking, decisiveness, assimilation of information, organisation and commercial awareness. After analysing the information provided and deciding on a way forward, you will most likely be asked to present your findings - often in the form of a presentation or brief business proposal. It is important to remember that, with the majority of case study exercises, there is no one ‘correct’ answer. It is often a test of your approach to dealing with a problem and also how you arrived at a logical solution. Therefore, as long as you can justify your reasons and recommendations for deciding upon a particular course of action, you are likely to be scored positively by the assessor.
For more information on case study exercises, please access the following links:
Role play and simulation exercises
Role play exercises are a common part of assessment centres (particularly for managerial or sales-related roles) and offer a way to assess how you deal with and perform in difficult situations. Role play scenarios you could encounter include:
- Selling an item to different client groups
- Dealing with an angry or dissatisfied customer
- An unhappy or underperforming colleague
- A failing supplier
Typical competencies evaluated in role play or simulation exercises include:
- The ability to work under pressure
- Customer service and/or customer focus
- Achieving goals (such as making an effective sale)
- Rapport building
While assessors will understand that you are not an actor/actress (thus, it is important to remember that this is not an acting exercise!), you should aim to project a positive and professional attitude throughout this task in an attempt to reach an amicable yet constructive outcome.
For more information on role play and simulation exercises including example scenarios, please view the links below:
- Job Test Prep - role play exercise
- Assessment Day - role play exercises and how they work
- Assessment Day - the role play exercise
Whether delivering a presentation on your own or in a group, this task often generates much anxiety for candidates. Most employers will provide you with information on the presentation exercise before the assessment centre (giving you time to prepare), however some may reveal very little! The reasoning behind these two approaches is to not only assess your presentation skills but to also test how well you perform in a scenario which mirrors the job you have applied for. Effective research, planning, preparation and practice is key to improving your performance. If given an arbitrary topic to discuss - such as ‘what are your interests’ - consider any underlying purpose to the question; ensuring what you say is relevant and tailored towards the job and/or company.
The following links provide further useful information on delivering an effective presentation:
- TARGETjobs - deliver a presentation that’s worthy of a graduate job
- All About Careers - assessment centre presentation
- Assessment Day - assessment centre presentation exercises
An elevator pitch is, in a sense, a quick ‘commercial’ about you, a product, service, organisation or process. While it should be brief (typically about 30 seconds - the time it often takes people to ride in an elevator), the message you convey should be clear and express meaning to the audience. For example if you are asked to give an elevator pitch about yourself at an assessment centre or job interview, you should ideally explain who you are, what you are looking for in a job and how you can benefit a company or organisation.
What an elevator pitch is not is a ‘sales pitch’. Don’t get caught up in telling the employer how great you are or the product/service/organisation/process is, rather talk about how you, the product, service, organisation or process can develop or contribute towards the business.
The following web links provide some useful information on elevator pitches:
- TARGETjobs - how to perfect your personal pitch
- Forbes - how to create an elevator pitch
- Forbes - the perfect elevator pitch to land a job
- Business Know How - how to write an elevator pitch
- Business News Daily - how to make sure your elevator pitch isn’t a downer
At an assessment centre, informal activities often refer to times throughout the day whereby you will have the opportunity to meet and network with employees and other candidates; for example during refreshment breaks, lunch, or presentations/tours by the company. It is important to remember that everyone you meet during the assessment centre may be asked to provide feedback on you, so even seemingly relaxed parts of the day should be treated as important in terms of the impression you are creating.
For further information on informal activities at assessment centres, please view the following links:
- TARGETjobs - graduate assessment centre etiquette: handling the social side
- The Guardian - a guide to assessment centres
Further information and advice
If you need more information on assessment centres, why not check out some of the resources below to help develop your knowledge and understanding in more detail:
- TARGET Jobs - overview of assessment centres
- TARGET Jobs - the graduate’s guide to assessment centres
- TARGET Jobs - how to be your best self at graduate assessment centres
- Prospects - assessment centres
- Assessment Centre HQ - assessment centre exercises hub, including broader assessment centre guides and employer specific guides.
Assessment centre insights
Detailed below is access to a number of assessment centre insights for different areas of work (by TARGETjobs), which may prove useful in preparing for sector/employer specific assessment centres:
- Accountancy and financial management assessment centres
- Construction and building services assessment centres
- Consulting assessment centres
- Consumer products graduate assessment centres
- Civil and structural engineering assessment centres
- Engineering assessment centres
- EY assessment centres
- IT assessment centres
- Investment banking assessment centres
- Law assessment centres
- Logistics, transport and supply chain assessment centres
- Marketing, advertising and PR assessment centres
- Marks & Spencer graduate assessment day role play
- Police constable assessment centre
- Property assessment centres
- Quantity surveying and building surveying assessment centres
- RBS assessment centre
- Real estate assessment centres
- Retail banking, insurance and actuary assessment centres
- Retail, buying and merchandising assessment centres
- Teaching and education interviews and assessment centres