group staring at plans on screen during assessment centre exercise

Assessment centres

A key recruitment tool used to assess applicants' suitability

An assessment centre tests your abilities in a group setting so assessors can predict your performance in the workplace. Be authentic, remain professional, and work cohesively with your group.

What is an assessment centre?

The term ‘assessment centre’ does not refer to a physical place, but rather a series of recruitment activities.

You’re invited to a location for a half or full day with groups of candidates to participate in a series of exercises, some of which will simulate those encountered in the real workplace. Assessment centres are used primarily by medium and large organisations –  including those with internship and graduate programs – and the location can be the organisation’s offices, a recruitment agency or a hotel conference facility.

Trained assessors mark your behaviour and performance against a set of pre-established criteria. Based on your individual performance, an organisation predicts how well you would perform in the workplace and fit with the organisational culture.

What does an assessment centre involve?

Many of the tasks are timed, with typical tasks including:

  • Group exercises like problem-solving, strategising, or debating tasks. Read or listen to the instructions carefully and agree on team goals. Sometimes the subject area is controversial to encourage the expression of different opinions, and you will be assessed on your ability to communicate, work in a team, listen to different opinions and come to a consensus.
  • Verbal presentations to test your ability to structure a presentation and clearly communicate information to others. You may or may not be given your presentation topic prior to attending the assessment centre. You’ll be assessed on the content of your presentation, your ability to keep to the point and be convincing, and your verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Smile, try to maintain eye contact with the audience, and avoid reading from notes or audio-visual aids.
  • Role plays where you need to act out a work-related situation. You’ll be assessed on your problem-solving skills and your ability to analyse and communicate effectively.
  • In-tray exercises where you are given a full ‘in-tray’ of memos, emails, and phone messages typical of the role or level you’re seeking, and are asked to prioritise each task and act on items within a time limit. You’ll be required to read and understand the information quickly, reach a consensus on the priority of each item, and draft replies to correspondence and reports within the timeframe.
  • Psychometric testing including timed aptitude and personality testing, generally in an individual setting.
  • Events such as breakfasts, lunches or cocktail parties. Remember that you’re being assessed in a social setting, so be cautious if alcohol is served and maintain a professional attitude.
  • Individual case study interviews.
  • Panel interviews, usually undertaken by only one candidate at a time.

How will I be assessed?

The assessors will be watching to see if you have evidence of behavioural traits required for the job. These can include:

  • teamwork and leadership
  • communication skills, both written and verbal
  • customer service skills
  • decision-making ability
  • social skills and emotional intelligence
  • organisational and time-management skills
  • problem-solving abilities and strategic thinking
  • ability to deal with conflict and ambiguity
  • motivation and stress management
  • goal setting and achievement
  • lateral thinking and flexibility
  • technical skills.

How to prepare for an assessment centre

Assessment centre days can be very long, so get a good night’s sleep and have breakfast. Dress professionally and organise your travel arrangements to be on time. Bring any documentation, glasses or medication you may need. Take practice aptitude tests and research the job and organisation beforehand, and do any assigned pre-reading or activities well before the assessment centre date.

Assessment centre tips

  • Prepare by using our interactive Assessment Centre tool.
  • Be at your professional best. Remember people’s names, be genuine, and ensure you remain courteous and professional when working in teams.
  • Stay for the entire program of activities, eat during breaks, and drink plenty of water over the day.
  • Leadership qualities can be demonstrated by taking initiative, proposing solutions to problems and including other team members in discussions. Avoid dominant or dismissive behaviour.
  • Contribute to discussions and group activities. The assessor will not be able to assess your communication or teamwork skills if you do not actively participate.
  • Keep track of the time and stick to your allocated time limit for any activities.
  • When you leave the assessment centre, reflect on what you did well and how you could improve. Take feedback that is offered, and consider whether you would like to work for the organisation.