‌‌‌Assessment centres

Assessment centres are used by employers to observe candidates’ performance in a range of activities to assess skills, competencies and characteristics you would use in the workplace. The same core assessment criteria are applied to all activities. This is seen as more reliable and fair than an interview alone as it gives you the chance to demonstrate your potential in a variety of settings, and you should also be able to find out more about the organisation's culture and job roles.

An invitation to an assessment centre shows you have been successful in the early stages of the recruitment process. Read on to find out more about the situations you are likely to face, how you can prepare for them and where you can find opportunities to practise.

If you need reasonable adjustments for any of the assessment centre activities, make sure you contact the employer to request this in advance. See our page for students with disabilities for more about disclosing a disability or health condition in the recruitment process.

Group exercises

Assessors observe a small group of candidates and may "score" candidates against a list of skills or attributes they are looking for.

Group discussions

Discussions could be on a topic relevant to the employer, a general current affairs issue or recent news item. They could take the form of a case study (see below). Sometimes one of the group members will be assigned as leader - more usually the group is leaderless.

Group task

The task could be a practical activity (eg building a tower out of straws) or problem solving task based on a workplace scenario; it could involve role play where you are briefed to assume a specific role.

Skills assessed by group exercises:

  • team work
  • interaction with others
  • collaboration - working with the group, contributing without trying to dominate
  • ability to understand and absorb information
  • ability to identify key points
  • clarity of thought
  • communication skills - listening, expressing ideas clearly, persuasion
  • problem solving / lateral thinking
  • open-mindedness
  • originality of ideas
  • setting goals and priorities

Tips for approaching group exercises

  • keep contributions short and to the point
  • avoid interrupting (and don't let others interrupt you)
  • listen to others' ideas
  • keep the group focused
  • consider assigning roles
  • support other members of the group
  • clarify what has been achieved / decided so far
  • keep a note of the time and make sure you keep to time limits
  • remember you are not competing against the others in the group - the employer may choose to appoint some, all or none of you following the exercise, so make sure you work cooperatively with the group.

See Assessment Day's advice on group exercises.

In-tray or e-tray exercises

These exercises are designed to simulate the administrative aspects of the job. You are given a range of material which could include emails, letters, notes and phone messages. Your task is to decide on your priorities for responding to these and deal appropriately with each item. You may need to draft replies and will need to justify your reasoning. Sometimes additional emails and new information may arrive as you are working, and you will need to take these into consideration as you prioritise and respond. You are more likely to do an e-tray exercise

Skills assessed

  • Reading and assimilating information
  • Prioritising
  • Organising
  • Analysing
  • Time management
  • Working under pressure
  • Written communication

Tips for approaching in-tray exercises

  • Scan the material quickly to get an overview of the issues
  • Decide quickly what is the most important
  • Who is the message from? When was it sent?
  • What is the timescale?
  • Do you need to consult? With whom?
  • What style of language is appropriate for your responses - formal or informal?
  • What are the implications for the company?
  • Can anything be delegated or deferred?
  • Be prepared to explain the rationale behind your approach.

Practice an in-tray exercise on Assessment Day.  (You can access more Assessment Day exercises with your York log-in.)

Find out more about in-tray exercises on TargetJobs.

Case studies

The case study exercise is based on a fictional situation, simulating the kind of business problem you are likely to come across in the role you have applied for. You are given a set of documents, such as official reports, figures, letters, newspaper reports, research findings etc and a problem to solve. You will have to give a recommendation for action in the form of a written report and/or a presentation, and can expect questions on your recommendations. Case studies may be an individual exercise or a group activity, and there is unlikely to be one "correct" answer - the assessor will be looking at your approach and how you justify your recommendations.

Skills assessed by case studies

  • reading and assimilating information
  • analytical thinking
  • identifying key issues
  • commercial awareness
  • logical thinking / reasoning
  • creativity
  • expressing ideas clearly (written/verbal communication)
  • putting forward a persuasive case.

Tips for approaching a case study

  • prepare in advance by keeping up with business news and being familiar with the organisation's website
  • skim read/listen for an overall picture
  • select important information
  • break the problem down
  • make sure you understand the issues (ask for clarification if needed)
  • prioritise
  • keep an eye on the time
  • present your findings clearly, showing that you understood the task, the process you went through and the issues you considered
  • remain calm and assertive (as far as possible!) in responding to questions from the assessors; explain your reasoning and motivation behind your recommendations.

Situational Judgement Tests

Situational judgement tests are based on based on reading or watching video scenarios, and then answering questions about how you would respond, often ranking responses from most likely to least likely, or most effective to least effective in the given situation. They aim to assess your suitability for the role and how well you will fit with the company culture.

Skills assessed by SJTs

  • behavioural and cognitive abilities
  • personality traits
  • company/sector-related skills and knowledge

Tips for approaching SJTs

  • make sure you are familiar with the employer, their core values and desired competencies
  • choose the most appropriate response from those listed
  • think about what you should do to perform at your best in the given situation
  • use only the information provided in the scenario and do not make assumptions.

Find out more and practice on Practice aptitude tests and Assessment Day.

Personality and aptitude tests

These are often given to candidates to do as an online exercise before they are asked for an interview or to an assessment day. You may also do these tests at an assessment centre, sometimes to check for consistency with the results that you obtained in the online test. They are designed to assess a wide spread of abilities and aptitudes. Find out more on the Psychometric tests page.

Other activities

Presentations

You may be asked to prepare a short talk and present it in front of other applicants and/or the recruiters.  You may be given a topic before the assessment day or when you arrive. It may relate to the case study or other activity you have done, and may also be a team activity. The length of the presentation required will vary. You may be able to use a variety of visual aids, but you need to confirm this with the recruiters.

Skills assessed in presentations

  • communication
  • time management
  • ability to think and deliver under pressure
  • body language
  • ability to respond to questions

Virtual reality

Some graduate recruiters use VR as part of their assessment process, with evidence suggesting responses in VR accurately reflect those in real life. You could be asked to perform tasks in various VR scenarios to assess your strengths and responses in a workplace situation; VR can also help give you an introduction to the company with a tour of the building, and business scenarios. As VR assessment is an immersive experience, you should aim to be yourself, engage with the tasks and respond naturally. Organisations using VR include Lloyds Banking Group, the Met Police, Jaguar, Microsoft and more are likely to include this in their recruitment process in future.

Interviews

Interviews may form part of your day at the assessment centre, or may be a separate stage in the recruitment process. You may have individual interviews or a panel interview where several interviewers will ask questions in turn. For more on how to prepare, see our Interviews page.

Social activities

Do remember that you may be assessed throughout the time you are with the employer – on a company tour or even at lunch or in the bar in the evening! It is also quite common for assessors to ask about candidates’ attitude and behaviour towards staff who are not involved in the assessment centre, such as reception staff.

Read more about the social side of an assessment centre on TargetJobs.

Events and resources

Events

  • Assessment Centre event - autumn and spring terms - meet employers, find out what activities they use in assessment centres and why, with the chance to experience some of the activities
  • Employer visits and skills sessions - a great chance to find out about organisations' culture and recruitment processes

Check our events programme to see what's coming up this term.

Practice resources

  • Careers and Placements subscribe to Profiling for Success and Assessment Day for a range of personality and practice aptitute tests; access these via www.york.ac.uk/careers/tests (log-in required)

Further reading

For general advice on assessment centres: