Books to help prepare

How to Succeed at Assessment Centres (Palgrave Career Skills)

Succeeding at Assessment Centres For Dummies

You’re Hired! Assessment Centres: Essential Advice for Peak Performance


What happens at an assessment centre?

Assessment centres have always had a place in recruitment; traditionally they were used for bulk recruitment campaigns at graduate or junior level. More recently, there has been a trend towards applying the same techniques to more senior positions. So what can you expect when you visit an assessment centre?

Role play

  • Typically based around a scenario related to the role being recruited, for example, a fact find and negotiation exercise for sales professionals
  • You will typically be given a strategy paper thirty minutes prior to the role play exercise, assessing your ability to prioritise and manage your time effectively
  • Role play often involves you and two assessors
  • It may take the form of two meetings, giving the candidate thirty minutes between the role plays to interpret and apply information gleaned from the first meeting
  • This exercise tests your ability to perform in the role for which you have applied

Group exercise

  • Candidates are asked to work together as a group towards a stated end goal as the assessors watch and listen
  • Each individual may be given a different objective or piece of information to ensure that the exercise does not become too collegiate
  • The assessors will be looking for candidates to take control of the situation, draw opinions from the other delegates, keep the group to time, stand their ground (without becoming argumentative) and successfully take the group to its stated goal

Behavioural event interview

  • You will be asked to discuss 2-3 specific events in your career to date, that is, either key successes or events that didn’t have the desired outcome


  • The assessors will then ask questions to probe around these events evaluating your approach to planning, risk analysis, decision making, developing solutions, seeking information, developing others, customer focus, building relationships and so on
  • You are typically assessed against a list of pre-agreed competencies

Biographical interview

  • You are interviewed against your CV.
  • Questioning is targeted around understanding your experience/ responsibilities to date, motivations, why you have made certain moves during your career, what you are looking for from your next role, key successes, qualifications, personal circumstances, current salary and expectations etc.
  • This is the more ‘typical’ interview that you have probably already experienced.

Verbal and numerical testing

  • Used to give an indication of your ability to process both verbal and numerical information while working to a time limit.
  • These tests are conducted either prior to or on the assessment day, on or offline.
  • You are often given your mark as a percentile rather than a percentage. A percentile allows your result to be compared against an appropriate control group where 1 is the lowest and 99 is the highest.

Psychometric testing

  • These are used to help assess your culture fit and psychological make-up
  • There are no right and wrong answers on these tests.
  • You should answer questions honestly as opposed to trying to second guess what the client wants to hear.

Presentation exercise

  • You are typically asked to pre-prepare a presentation, often based around a proposed business plan for/approach to your first 6 months in the role that you are applying for.
  • While the quality of the slides and content is important, of more importance is the delivery of the presentation and your ability to think on your feet when fielding questions.
  • You should run through your presentation as many times as possible using your recruitment consultant to either cast a critical eye over the slides or by coming into the office to present to him/her.

Other tips include

  • Ask whether the client is willing to fund transport/ hotels. Often travelling down the night before and staying in a local hotel will mean you are fresher and therefore perform better on the day.
  • Arrive within plenty of time on the day. There’s nothing worse than running in late when the day has already begun- these assessment days run strictly to time.
  • Use all coffee and lunch breaks to speak to assessors and create an impact. Ask intelligent questions and show an interest in them and their business.
  • Remember that you are assessed across a number of exercises. It is rare that any candidate performs well in all of the exercises so accept that some parts of the day will go better than others. Do not crumble if one exercise goes badly.


Books to help prepare

How to Succeed at Assessment Centres (Palgrave Career Skills)

Succeeding at Assessment Centres For Dummies

You’re Hired! Assessment Centres: Essential Advice for Peak Performance

10 Top Tips for Success

There are some things you can prepare for in advance.

Ask the organisation if they can let you have a set of the competencies they will be using. Many are happy to do this. If they will not release the competencies think through for yourself what they may be. A typical set of competencies for a management job might include; Drive for Results, Team Working, Decision Making, Courage and Conviction, Problem Solving, Communication, Inter-Personal Skills, Impact and Influencing, Leadership Skills, Commitment to the Customer and Creativity.

In preparation for the interview make sure you have examples of where you have shown the competencies that are being looked for. Write them out describing the situation, the action you took and the result. Practice these answers in a mirror and then get a friend to ask you for the examples and rehearse them again. Each answer should be no more than 3 minutes.

Again for the interview ensure you practice running through your CV highlighting your key achievements. This should take no more than 3 or 4 minutes. Remember the interview may only last 40 minutes so you do not want to spend half of it giving your life history!
If the centre is going to contain verbal and numeracy tests practice them. There are various online sites that have examples. Alternatively employers will often send out practice tests if requested. If there is a personality test on the day don’t worry, there is no need to practice. Answer it honestly, after all you are who you are and personality tests are designed to show if someone is manipulating to the answers.
Make sure that in all group exercises you make a contribution. The Assessors are looking for evidence of things you say and do so that they can rate you against the competencies. If you say little or nothing they will either give you a poor rating or no rating as there was no evidence of the competency
In the group exercises try not to be the person that volunteers to keep notes or write things on the flipchart. This tends to mean you will become ‘sidelined’ and unable to get in to the group discussion
Try to be assured and confident in the group discussions and demonstrate good interpersonal and team skills. If you disagree with something say so and explain why. Give an alternative suggestion or build on the first idea where that is possible. The exercises tend not to have a right answer. They are designed to enable participants to demonstrate their skills and reach a decision.
Avoid being aggressive, shouting or talking over others in the group exercises this will not help you get a good rating. The best advice is to be your normal work self. Try to imagine the people in the group are just the people you work with every day.
If there is a presentation make sure you have practiced it several times, ideally in front of friends or family. The key thing is to ensure that you stay within the time limit allowed. Remember this is likely to be looking at your communication and influencing skills. So make sure you have done your research and present your points in a concise and ‘punchy’ manner
A couple of points related to the time outside the actual event. Make sure you get there with a bit of time to spare. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the surroundings and may be have an informal chat with assessors and other candidates.

Finally remember you are always on show. So if you are having lunch with the assessors and other candidates treat this as part of the event.

Books to help prepare

How to Succeed at Assessment Centres (Palgrave Career Skills)

Succeeding at Assessment Centres For Dummies

You’re Hired! Assessment Centres: Essential Advice for Peak Performance



For specific coaching based on your very personal context contact me :

Peter Cobbe coaching


View Peter Cobbe's profile on LinkedIn

  • NOW ACCEPTING NEW CLIENTS : Coaching via Skype / Facetime / 1 to 1 meetingsMy career experience includes HR Director and senior executive roles in Barclays plc and Tesco plc leading major transformation and complex change programmes reporting at Board level .I have an MBA, BA and I am a member of the  Association for Coaching. I am an accredited coach with over 12 years of private client coaching experience and as an associate consultant with Penna (UK) dealing with career, life,executive and business coaching and counselling. I work in mentoring and coaching partnerships with executives to help achieve gains of importance to them.I help people of all ages, different cultures and job levels to understand more about themselves, their impact on others and how to develop across major dimensions in life.
    I respect the integrity and confidentiality of my clients building on their existing great skills and abilities and evolving enhanced self guidance : ” No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities.”Specialties: Holistic / systemic approach to coaching
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Just a thought :

Five frogs are sitting on a log.
Four decide to jump off. How many are left? 

Answer: five. Why? Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing.

Mark Feldman