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Durham University

Careers & Enterprise Centre

Assessment Centres

Many employers use assessment centres as a key part of their selection process. Assessment centres vary between employers and can comprise of individual and group tasks, presentations, psychometric tests, panel interviews, structured group discussions and case studies. By using a variety of different selection methods, employers are able to gain a good insight into the overall strengths of candidates. Remain positive and remember that a weakness in one area may well be overcome by strength in another; an employer is looking to see how you perform overall.

Virtual Assessment Centres

Due to the social distancing measures in place at the moment, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, some employers are holding their assessment centres online, rather than inviting students to attend these in person.

You will need to prepare for your assessment centre in all the usual ways, but also think about the implications of being assessed on your performance online.

Target Jobs has a really useful section covering virtual assessment centres and related strategies/behaviours, and our advice follows below.

Position yourself in a tidy, quiet, well-lit space

Check out what your background looks like on screen prior to the interview, and make sure that it looks uncluttered, clean, and has good lighting. A neutral background which won’t distract your assessors from what you’re saying is ideal.

Test your equipment

Do a test run of your technology before the interview to ensure that your wifi connection, camera and audio and video conferencing platforms are all working well.

Dress Appropriately

First impressions count - you’ll be expected to look the part in appropriate business dress. Wear something that you feel good in and gives a professional image. Make sure that it’s comfortable too as you’ll be wearing it for a few hours.

Let Your Personality Come Across

Get some feedback from a trusted friend about how you come across on-screen, or from a Careers Adviser through one of our remote appointments.

Common pitfalls during online communication include not looking at the camera, talking too quickly or talking too quietly.

Develop a rapport with your interviewer(s), as well as showing your knowledge of the role and the company. Show enthusiasm and smile! If your virtual assessment centre involves interacting with other candidates as well as the assessors, make the effort to establish a rapport with them too and show your good interpersonal skills.

Preparation

  • Re-read the job advert, description and person specification, along with your application form to refresh yourself of the role and qualities that are needed for it. This is particularly necessary if you have been applying for a large number of opportunities.
  • Read broadly and consider the challenges and issues affecting a particular organisation. This is very important in demonstrating your commercial awareness and understanding of the industry that you wish to work in.
  • Remember that even those occasions described as informal, such as an evening meal, or networking lunch with current graduates, still help an organisation to assess your ability to interact with people in an unfamiliar or informal environment.
  • Remember that interviews and assessment centres are two way processes, take the time to ask questions on areas that are important and use informal networking as an opportunity to find out more about the culture of the company – particularly useful if you need to decide between job offers.

Individual tasks

Individual tasks can include activities such as summarising a report, drafting a letter, conducting a role play, analysing data or completing an e-tray exercise (prioritising various emails and indicating how you would deal with them). The nature of the task will determine the skills and qualities that the employer is seeking to assess. It is not always possible to prepare for such assessment activities but it is useful to think about the key qualities and skills that an employer is looking for.

Presentations

It is likely that you will be asked to give an individual or group presentation within the Assessment Centre. In some instances the topic, and relevant information, will be given in advance, in others, it will be given on the day. It is possible to improve on your presentation skills and we host various workshops throughout the year focused on developing your presentation skills. At its most basic, you should always make sure that you stick to the allotted time (do not go over, or too far under either!) and make sure that your presentation involves a formal introduction and conclusion by ensuring that you:

- Tell them what you are going to tell them (e.g. Today I will be talking about the skills that I have which make me suitable for this role, I will touch upon the circumstances in which they were gained and strengthened and make an analysis of how I see they will benefit your team)

- Tell them (e.g. Having accepted the role of a prefect at School, I always possessed the interest in the welfare and development of others, this was strengthened during my time at Nightline in which I...... This interest will be a great asset in the role of a Social worker because it will...)

- Tell them what you have told them (e.g. I have outlined my core skills of an interest in others, communication and problem solving and I hope that you can clearly see how those skills make me suitable for the role of a Social worker within Durham Council, Adult Services, please let me know if you have any questions).

Group tasks

Group tasks can be incredibly varied including team building exercises, group presentations and commercial case studies. Typically they are designed to assess your ability to work effectively with other people but, depending on the nature of the activity, they will also be concerned with other skills such as presenting an argument, effective listening, persuasion and problem solving. The way that you interact in a group to achieve a result is usually more important than the result itself (Honestly!). Organisations are not always looking to recruit the most dominant member of the group. Employers are looking to see how you work in a team and are interested in the contribution that individuals make to the collective objective. Try to meet the goals of the task collectively, speak, give ideas, but allow others to speak and invite them in when/if they have no opportunity to speak, stay flexible to other people’s arguments (dogmatically advocating your own ideas is not necessarily a key strength), ensure that you keep track of time and present back in the manner that has been requested.

Psychometric tests

Psychometric assessment is usually a feature of the application phase but can also be an element of assessment centres. Many organisations often ask students to carry out repeat psychometric tests within the assessment centre format to ensure their performance is similar to that demonstrated in previous assessments at home. More information on Psychometric tests can be found here.

Gamification / Games-based assessment

In recent years the number of employers adopting gamification as part of their recruitment processes has increased and it's now being used in a range of sectors including IT, banking, consumer goods, law, retail, transport and logistics among others. It involves using games-based tools to assess candidates for different competencies and personality traits. Don't feel that you're at a disadvantage if you're not a keen gamer; the games have been developed to be easy to play and are designed to measure your personality not skill or dexterity. It's important to remember that you have been asked to complete the assessment as part of the recruitment process so you should give it the same focus and attention as any other assessment task. Never be temped to get someone else to undertake this test for you as it's aimed at ensuring that the employer you're applying to is a good fit for you and that you have the right skills for the job; anomalies would definitely show up further in the recruitment process if another person did it for you! Read these useful hints and tips from Target Jobs about how to succeed at gamification assessments and give these free gamification tools a try to get a feel for how they work


How the Careers Centre can help you

  • Throughout the year, the Careers Centre invites graduate employers to deliver mock assessment centre workshops, advertised on the Events pages.
  • In addition to numerous resources on psychometric tests in the Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre, we subscribe to a package of Assessment Day practice resources specifically for Durham students and other practice resources that are particularly helpful.
  • Speak to employers and graduate recruitment team at our various employer events, gain an insight into the recruitment process and organisations culture, this will give you vital information which can help you prepare for, and feel more comfortable in, the assessment centre.
  • Careers Advisers are very happy to discuss with you any assessment centre related queries that you might have. To make an appointment see here

Resources

Useful websites

  • Critical Thinking University ‘Think-O-Meter’ Free App:candidates can practice their critical thinking skills via the iPhone Think-O-Meter App. They can think through scenarios and test their ability to separate reliable facts from assumptions, focus on the relevant information, and think critically to get the right answer.