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What you should know before attending an assessment centre

Written by: Anca Coman
Published on: 24 Jan 2019

What you should know before attending an assessment centre

The traditional interview method for employing new people seems to compete with the so-called ‘assessment centre’ – a group of practical exercises that test candidates skills and suitability both for the company and the position they applied for. According to Assessment Centre HQ, 68% of UK and 72% of the US employers use some form of assessment centre as part of their recruitment process. 

Assessment centres involve competing against other people for the same job, but working with them at the same time in diverse group tasks. They imply finding the right balance between competition and teamwork. If you have never attended an assessment centre and you would like to know more about it, here is what you should know in order to be better prepared in an assessment centre and stand out from the crowd. 

Why do companies use assessment centres? 


Assessment centres are a good opportunity for employers to identify the most suitable candidates for their companies. Moreover, assessment centres help employers put their companies in the spotlight, by offering the candidates an insight into their business. In this way, they spread the word about their companies. 

Toby Levy, Head of Business Development and Partnerships at BrighterBox, says: ‘Assessment days are an effective interviewing technique for multiple reasons – none more so than giving the candidates an insight into the business and their culture over a longer period of time. Rather than an hour-long interview, candidates can expect to spend half a day, or even a whole day, learning about the business, meeting employees and seeing if and how they could potentially fit in’.  

What type of exercises does an assessment centre contain? 


A standard assessment centre starts with employers delivering an overview presentation about their business, followed by a series of group and individual tasks for candidates. They could range from group presentations about specific case studies to aptitude, numerical or verbal tests. The next and final stage, which is not necessarily part of every assessment centre, is a classic interview in which employers test their skills and motivation to work for the company. 

Toby says that these types of exercises are meant to test ‘core skills, such as problem-solving, communication, teamwork and thinking outside the box, and candidates are often judged on whether they would also be a good cultural fit for the business’.  

What happens during each exercise?

Before starting, candidates receive clear instructions for the exercise they are about to do. In most cases, each exercise comes with a predetermined criteria which employers will use to rate their performances. However, candidates will not be aware of what criteria the employees set, so make sure you’re doing your best! 

After each exercise, the employers compare each candidate’s performance in order to see who performed the best. The approach that companies take after the end of every exercise might vary. Toby says: ‘Some will start eliminating candidates after each stage, whilst others will give candidates the opportunity to redeem themselves throughout the day’. 

How to stand out from the crowd in an assessment centre?

Preparation is key! You should never go to an assessment centre without doing research about the company and the position you are applying for. From looking to the companies’ website to their social media channels, you’ll get a sense of who they’re looking for and what tone and style they opt for. Toby says that a helpful tool for getting to know the business is Crunchbase – a platform for finding information about public and private businesses such as funding, founding members, or news. Of course, it’s also crucial to know the job specification inside out to better understand what’s expected from you in the role and what skills are required. 

Toby advises candidates that besides doing the standard preparation and research, they must keep in mind that they should come with an open-minded and relaxed attitude. He adds that it’s better to go in without any set expectations about the company and their stereotypical perfect candidate and be the best version of yourself. Come prepared, but also be yourself! 

He also believes that group tasks are the exercise that make candidates stand out from the crowd the most because they provide a valuable insight into how the potential employee will perform as part of a team. ‘Do people bring others into the conversation or do they think the sound of their own voice is what will get them noticed? Are the other interviewees competitors or is it better to work with them on the tasks? These are important questions that one should weigh up in deciding how best to approach an assessment day’, says Toby. 

Toby Levy is the Head of Business Development and Partnerships at BrighterBox - a graduate recruitment company that specialises in connecting emerging talent with entry-level roles at startups, creative and tech companies in London.