What to expect from an assessment centre

A full guide on what to expect from an assessment centre as well as how to prove yourself as the ideal candidate.

If you’re applying for graduate jobs, you’ll probably come across the assessment centre at some point. Usually held after the first round of interviews, they’re often held over the course of a couple of days, and involve coming together with the other candidates and taking part in a range of activities.

They’re arguably even more stressful than an interview, so preparation is absolutely essential!

To help you perform at your best, we’ve put together this guide, covering everything from what you can expect to be doing, to how to really impress your potential employer.

What to expect at an assessment day

Every assessment centre will vary slightly, but they’ll typically involve a mixture of the following.

The Basics

  • assessmentcentreThe main time frame for assessment centres is 1-2 days.
  • The assessment centres usually involve 6-10 people and are there to give the employer an opportunity to assess all of your skills both together and individually.
  • The main skills you should be looking to show are: leadership, analysis, teamwork & working under pressure.
  • These assessment centres are usually hosted at the companies HQ or a hotel and if it spans over 2 day accommodation is usually arranged.
  • Finally, make sure that you wear what you would wear to an interview unless advised otherwise.

Social introductions

If it’s spread over a few days, the social introductions will usually happen on the evening before the first day.

You might be invited along to a meal with the other candidates and some existing employees, and you’ll have the opportunity to mingle and get to know everyone a little bit better.

Be friendly and don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions about what it’s like to work for the business in question. Always be mindful that while this might not be a formal part of the assessment process, you’ll still be being watched closely! Plus first impressions are important.

Information sessions

This normally happens right at the very beginning, and you’ll typically be given a presentation about the company and the roles that are available.

Pay careful attention, as you’re likely to pick up a few useful hints for the rest of the day and any tests that you might have to do.

Group exercises

Group WorkOne of the main benefits of holding an assessment centre from the employer’s point of view is that they get to see how you interact with others.

Your usual group exercises include being given a problem to solve together within a specific time frame  or being asked to prepare a group presentation.

Alternatively, you may be given a topic as a group which you will have to discuss. The best thing to do is just to act yourself and be respectful of the other members in your group.


As mentioned most assessment centres will have sessions where you’re on your own. Interviews may be included in this and will most likely be similar to your first interview (assuming you have already had one).

The main differences may be that these interviews may be with managers in higher positions or go more into depth about details from your first interview.

Role Play

role playWe aren’t talking the kinky kind that you might get up to in the bedroom (for those with dirty minds) but more work situation based!

You may have to perform a tricky customer or management situation with one other person in front of the whole group.


If you are asked to do a presentation it’s most likely that you will be given a topic to talk about and then the appropriate time to prepare. However, in some cases candidates are asked to present on the spot.

Make sure that you remember all of the tips that you were taught at university about presentations.

How should I prepare?

  • be preparedResearch the company and find out what their current challenges are. You need to look you’ve done your homework and have a genuine interest in working there.
  • Think of any questions you might want to ask. The assessment process works both ways, and you probably want to work out whether this is really the right company for you.
  • Double check all your details. Plan your route and make sure that you arrive on time and in the right place. You might be asked to prepare something in advance, such as a presentation, so carefully read through everything that you’re sent.
  • A top trick is to seek out the other candidates and try to get in touch with them. If you are able to get a better idea of what they are like and talk with them freely then this will help on the day.

Top tips for succeeding

Consider other people in the group

The assessment centre is largely focused around seeing how you interact with other people, so be considerate.

If you’re naturally an extrovert, be careful not to dominate the conversation. Get your views across, but be mindful that other people are there too. Draw quieter ones into the discussion wherever you can.

If you’re an introvert, make sure that you get heard. Now isn’t the time to blend into the background!

Always remember that it’s not a competition!

Stay motivated throughout the day

stay motivatedEven if you think you’ve fluffed one session, go into the next one with an open mind and an eagerness to do well.

Not everyone is brilliant at everything, and the beauty of assessment centres is that you’re tested on many things, so you’ll get your time to shine.

Keep smiling and think positive.

Remember that you’re being measured as an individual

Try not to compare yourself to the other candidates. You’re measured against competencies, not other people.

You don’t know how others are performing in their individual exercises, so forget about them and focus on just doing your own personal best.

Don’t overdo the booze!

drunkIf there’s a social element to the assessment centre, the drinks might be flowing. It’s fine to have one or two, but watch how much you’re drinking and don’t go overboard.

You need to be as fresh as a daisy the next day, and there’s no way you’ll impress if you’ve had one too many and start to tell the boss that you think you’ll be best friends!

What are employers looking for?

We touched on it slightly above but it’s worth remembering again what competencies you will be assessed against. They are likely to include:

  • Team working
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Integrity
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Initiative
  • Influencing

You might be given a list of the competencies before the day, so take your time to familiarise yourself with how you’ll be assessed.

Try and remember the tips and skills that you have learnt for interviews, presentations, teamwork, networking etc for each separate part of the assessment centre.

Have you experienced an assessment centre? What tips would you share with other graduates who are in the same position?