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How To Survive Assessment Centres When Applying For Graduate Jobs

Introduction To Assessment Centres For Graduate Jobs
There comes a time in your life at university when the inevitable happens and you have to start thinking about your future and the real world, post-university.

After all, that's what many of you will have been to university for in the first place; to further your knowledge in a subject and give yourself the best chance of making the most of graduate opportunities that could arise as a result of your studies.

Beginning the application process for your graduate job search can be a daunting process. But also an exciting time, too. Initially, it might just be a case of attending milkround get-togethers or careers fairs in graduate recruitment.

If you really have your eye on specific graduate jobs, you might even pick up an application form and further information so that you can browse in your own time to see if the particular company's graduate scheme would suit you.

The commitment required from you comes when you make the decision to apply for certain graduate jobs. You want to be sure you are going into the best possible graduate schemes for your own personal development. And, of course, the company you are applying for graduate jobs with needs to know that, in turn, you are the right person for them.

So, how do companies involved in graduate recruitment choose who they hope is the right person - perhaps you - for their vacant graduate jobs?

You might have brushed up on your interview techniques for getting graduate trainee jobs - and that is certainly not going to do you any harm during your graduate job search - but these days, there are also other techniques that companies are using as they search for the ideal candidates.

So, what are these other techniques that companies are starting to use in their graduate recruitment techniques?

Well, if you have already started browsing around for graduate jobs or attended any fairs, then the chances are you might already be familiar with assessment centres.

The strategy of using assessment centres in recruiting young people into graduate jobs is increasingly being used by companies looking to pull in the best young talent.

So, what are assessment centres? And how do you make sure you put yourself out there as a viable candidate for graduate jobs via this process?

What Are Assessment Centres?
Just the very term, ‘assessment centre’ can sound daunting.

What on earth are you going to be assessed on? Isn't it enough that you have completed your application form, updated your CV and developed your interview skills?

Well, depending on the type of graduate careers you are hoping for, there are going to be different experiences for each of you.

But, having said that, if you do apply for a place on a graduate programme in whatever type of sector, there are general patterns that each company will follow. We can take a look at those patterns in this article to give you an idea of what to expect when you arrive at their particular assessment centres.

An assessment centre is a process used whereby both parties - yourself and the company recruiting people onto their graduate schemes - can decide if there is a potential benefit for each party.

This is done through a series of assessment centre exercises; such as group interview activities, tests, presentations and case studies. And it is thought that this is a much more effective way than the traditional route of graduate job interviews.

Many jobs are highly competitive when it comes to graduate recruitment and some companies receive thousands of applications for just a few places on a given graduate scheme.

When you reach the stage of being invited to graduate assessment centres, recruiters can really get a fuller picture of those candidates who will shine.

It really depends on the company and the graduate programme you apply for but you could be one of a handful of young people at assessment centres or you could be part of a larger group of around 30 people.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Assessment Centres?
Well, although they can seem a daunting prospect, when it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of assessment centres, there are actually many advantages.

Let's take a look at some of these advantages:

Assessment centres replace more traditional graduate job interviews.
Yes, there will be job interviews involved as part of your time at the assessment centre exercises and activities - and it is a good idea to make sure your job interview techniques are up to scratch - but not all of us can really sell ourselves in interviews.

In the past, your graduate job interviews were the be-all and end-all of trying to land a place on a graduate programme. If you messed up, or if you were so nervous you couldn’t answer questions effectively, that was it; time to move on to the next graduate application.

Assessment centres allow you to reveal more of the real you.
Whereas traditional job interviews will see you possibly giving a set of pre-prepared answers, potential employers will be able to more of your real personality at assessment centres.

Not just via the assessment centre exercises but also during breaks such as lunch breaks where you can chat to fellow candidates and company employees in a more informal setting.

Graduate assessment centres allow you to demonstrate your practical skills.
The various assessment centre exercises are designed to provide a fuller picture of you for employees offering graduate jobs. Rather than just talking about what you are able to do in job interviews, you will be given the opportunity to actually demonstrate your abilities, too.

Graduate assessment centres allow you to demonstrate your communication skills.
When applying for jobs for graduates, assessment centre exercises will probably involve both group tasks and individual tasks.

Whilst you are carrying out these tasks for particular graduate jobs, you will be able to demonstrate how effectively you can work as part of a team, communicating with others to complete tasks in the best way possible.

Through this, you might also demonstrate leadership skills that could impress those assessing you for their particular graduate schemes.

Assessment Centres - What To Expect
When applying for graduate careers, you could be invited to attend assessment centres as part of the application process.

Well, first of all, congratulations if you have reached this stage. When you begin your graduate job search and apply for graduate schemes, the assessment centre is usually the final stage of the application process.

This means your potential new employers have liked what they have seen so far and now they want to see more. This section of the article will give you a basic idea of what to expect on the day you go so that you can prepare yourself beforehand.

At the assessment centre, as well as psychometric assessment and the exercises mentioned in the advantages section above, there will also usually be opportunities for you to meet and chat with current employees of the company about the graduate programme and other aspects of work life.

Of course, you could also get the chance to chat with your potential future employers, too. This will give you an idea of the work culture at the company you are applying to. And it can also be a chance to impress outside of the official activities.

As well as assessment centre exercises which will be designed to observe such things as...
  • communication skills
  • decision making abilities
  • willingness to work as part of a team
  • taking individual control
...there will usually also be presentations at the beginning of the day.

This is usually the time where you get to meet other candidates - who, don't forget, are in exactly the same boat as you are - and also listen to the presentations given by company representatives.

The presentation could be an outline of the company history and the projections for the future. There will probably also be some practical information - such as a timetable for the day’s group interview activities, psychometric testing and other assessment centre activities.

Presentations like this are your chance to take some key notes so that you can ask or answer any questions at the end of the presentation. Even if it is a question to clarify something you might not have understood, this shows you have been listening and not just daydreaming while the talk is taking place.

So, the good news is, you've made it this far and received confirmation that you have been invited to an assessment centre.

You know roughly what to expect when you get there - meetings with fellow candidates hoping to land graduate jobs, company presentations, assessment centre activities, group interviews and individual interviews.

Great! But now you need to know what your potential employers are looking for when they are deciding whether or not they want to hire you for their graduate programme...

What Do Potential Employers Look For When You Are Invited To An Assessment Centre For Graduate Schemes?
The main thing to remember about being invited to graduate assessment centres is that, once you are in there and doing the assessment centre exercises - or even just chatting with fellow graduates - you are not there to pitch yourself directly against your 'competition.'

The assessors will not be looking for you to push your way forward at the expense of others or shout the loudest when answering questions or carrying out tasks. The assessors are assessing you and how you perform during the tasks.

Think of your fellow attendees at the assessment centre as colleagues since, during group interviews and assessment centre exercises, the assessors will be looking at how you react in certain scenarios.

How you communicate with others and work as part of a team to get tasks completed, how you work under your own initiative and lead others without taking over and bossing them around.

If you are nervous, that's fine. The assessors will expect that. And it shows you are keen on bagging yourself a place on their graduate scheme.

What the assessors will be looking for is how you work through these nerves and use them to your advantage to complete tasks and interviews successfully.

And this leads us nicely onto the next section.

Now you have an idea of what to expect from assessment centres as part of the application process for graduate jobs, how do you prepare yourself for the day?

Let's take a look.

How Do I Prepare For Graduate Assessment Centres?
The whole point of your attendance at assessment centres is that you are hoping to be awarded the graduate jobs you have applied for.

As assessment centres are usually the final stage of the application process and you have made it this far, it would be a shame if you haven't put yourself in the best possible position to seize this fantastic opportunity to impress the assessors - and your potential future employers - when you are there, on the day.

And how do you give yourself the best possible chance of impressing the assessors at assessment centres? It's about doing your homework and preparing yourself before the day comes around.

Interview skills
Are your interview skills up to scratch? Or do you crumble at the very thought of sitting in front of another person or panel, answering questions about yourself and the job you are hoping to get?

As we have already said in one of the sections above, one of the advantages of assessment centres is that they don't rely purely on the interview.

However, that is not to say an interview is not part of the process. If you have had interviews in the past and you were given feedback afterwards, take this on board so that you can improve your interview skills for your day at the assessment centre.

Ask lecturers and fellow students or graduates who have been through the assessment centre process, the types of questions involved and also what the group interview activities involve.

Even if they have applied for completely different graduate jobs to yourself, it will still give you a rough idea of what to expect.

Research the company and the graduate programme you are applying for
Doing your background research on the company and the role you are applying for will not only help you in any interviews at the assessment centre, it will also help you in the assessment centre activities.

You should get a better picture of what the assessors might be looking for.

For example, if the company is a young, vibrant firm who are looking to employ graduates with a fun personality, you can make sure this shows through when you are taking part in tasks.

Before attending assessment centres, the company will usually send you some literature. Make sure you read this and take it all in - it has been sent to you for a reason. Extra background research is not going to do you any harm either.

The literature sent to you will also include an outline of the day, addresses and times for tasks and breaks.

Make sure you know exactly where and when you need to be at each place. If you are late or you get lost, this is not going to give a good impression to your assessors.

Do a trial run to the centre if needs be so that you know journey time (allowing for rush hour traffic) and directions.

Assessment centre psychometric assessment examples and assessment centre group exercise examples
If you are not sure what to expect from the activities you will be assessed on for your graduate scheme, it is possible to do some practice psychometric tests and other sessions so that you feel more prepared for the day.

Your local careers centre may run practice sessions that can assist you. And there are also various online resources you can make use of.

We will look at psychometric assessment in more detail in another article.

Is there anything you need to do before you attend the assessment centre?
This goes back to reading the literature you are sent beforehand and making sure you read it carefully.

Don't leave the literature to the last minute because, for some assessment centre activities, you might be required to have some things pre-prepared.

This could be items for a presentation or a piece of writing, for example. Make sure you have done everything asked of you before you go to the assessment centre. Otherwise, if you are not prepared, you are going to blow your chances of getting a place on the best graduate schemes.

Do all of your preparations in good time, rather than at the last minute and this should help calm those nerves, too.

If you are fully prepared, you have already put yourself in a good position towards success at the assessment centre. But how else can you make yourself stand out over and above the rest of the students or graduates who will also be in attendance?

How Do I Make Myself Stand Out At Assessment Centres?
Full preparation is key...but there are also some other tips you can follow for trying to land graduate jobs as a result of your time at an assessment centre.

Let's take a look at some of those tips:

Be yourself!
Remember, the assessors and other employees you meet from the company are looking to get to know you and your personality traits.

They want to know not only whether you are capable of doing the job but also if you are going to fit in with the culture of the company. You will feel much more comfortable and confident if you are being yourself rather than trying to keep up a persona throughout the whole day.

Be individual
As part of your assessment centre activities, depending on the types of graduate jobs you are applying for, you might be asked to give a presentation on a particular subject.

Is there anything quirky you could add to this that fits the culture of the company you are applying to and that could also make you stand out from others so that the assessors remember you?

Obviously, this needs to be done in a professional way. You don't want to be standing out for all the wrong reasons.

Wear comfortable but appropriate clothing
You will be at the assessment centre for a few hours so you need to be comfortable in what you are wearing and yet, also look the part, too.

These days, there are lots of companies out there that have an informal dress code.

For other graduate programmes you are applying for, the job might be a practical, hands on job and the exercises at the assessment centre might reflect that.

Again, read the literature that has been sent to you so that you can gauge the most suitable clothing for the day.

How NOT To Succeed At Graduate Assessment Centres
Yes, now you have lots to think about so that you can survive assessment centres and, hopefully, land that place on the graduate programme of your dreams.

So here are a few points to remember so that it all goes well on the day.

  • Don't be late. If you are hoping to land graduate jobs, your assessors and potential future employers need to know you mean business and you will take your future graduate career seriously by arriving on time. It might seem really simple and obvious but punctuality is going to be one of the criteria you will be assessed on.
  • Don't be over-confident. Those who shout loudest don't necessarily get the best graduate jobs! Assessors want to see you being yourself and, if you are being too pushy, this can come across as arrogance. Potential employers do not necessarily want arrogant people working for their company on graduate schemes.
  • Don't compete with your fellow candidates. You will probably even make new friends with fellow candidates at assessment centres. Yes, you are hoping to land the same places on the graduate programmes - but, remember, the assessors are looking at how you react to certain situations and in some exercises, your fellow candidates will also be your team members. The more effectively you can work together, the more likely you are to impress.
  • Don't let your guard down. Be yourself but be professional, too. There will be times - such as when you arrive and meet with other candidates for the graduate schemes, when you get the opportunity to speak with existing employees, at breaks and lunch times - when the setting is a bit more relaxed and informal. This is not the time to forget about why you are at the assessment centre. Yes, relax a little but keep in mind that the assessors will still be forming an opinion of you during these periods.
So, assessment centres can be a daunting prospect if you are not sure what to expect. But, if you do your research, do your homework and prepare well in advance, you could find success by landing your dream place on a graduate scheme.

Good luck!

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