CAREERS BLOG: Assessment Centre Activity Day

If you missed the Assessment Centre Activity Day in week 4, you’re in luck! Here is a write up of the key questions answered by representatives from PwC, Coca Cola Enterprises , Asda and BT, advising students about the ins and outs of assessments centres.

Host: Kate Dodd, Academic Registrar

Panellist 1: Cassandra Barker, PwC

Panellist 2: Jamie Freehling, Cocoa-Cola Enterprises

Panellist 3: Patrick Dyer, Asda

Panellist 4: Matt Davidson, BT

Q1. In an assessment centre, what it is important to avoid doing? Is there anything that would put you off a candidate?

Cassandra advised that it is important to avoid writing essays during any written tasks you may be given – these tasks are often more focused around report writing and therefore should be concise and clear. It is also important to focus on the time you are given and to keep your answers short and to the point. She also advised that there were two big No’s for assessment centre activity tasks: being too shy and quiet, and acting like you are on ‘The Apprentice’. Group tasks are about looking for how you interact with other; it is important to remember that you are not in direct competition with the people on your assessment centre so do not act like you are.  The other employers agreed with this advice.

Q2. When completing group tasks are there set answers, and are employers looking for a correct answer from these exercises?

Jamie noted that it is about interaction within the group – the tasks were not set with ‘correct’ answers in mind. These tasks are about seeing how you work in groups and whether you are able to use these skills to influence others. She highlighted a common mistake groups make was to end the group discussion in a vote for what the outcome should be; this is not a good strategy as it does not show your ability to lead or influence a discussion.

Q3. How far outside your typical behaviour should you go at an assessment centre, e.g. if I am very quiet and shy, but I know that they are looking for assertive people, should I act bold to impress?

Matt summarised this was  not a good strategy to follow as if you don’t not act like yourself you will not appear to be genuine and this will not come across well to employers. Jamie furthered this by noting how assessment days, for employers, are about finding out about ‘you’, so not being yourself is a lose-lose strategy and consequently you may end up being placed in a placement ill-suited to you. Patrick highlighted that is often hard enough to act like yourself – let alone somebody else – at an assessment centre and agreed with Jamie that the day is about finding out if the company fits you as much as you fitting the company, so being yourself is essential.

Q4. As an employer are you looking for quality or quantity when candidates are completing Online Testing?

Cassandra highlighted how it is important to focus on both, however, when applying to PwC you were not expected to finish all of the questions. Jamie noted that the answer to this depended on the types of test, but at Coca-Cola Enterprises you were expected to answer all questions set and that the time you were allocated should be suitable to do so. Matt pointed to the fact that very few people passed the test with full marks; at BT this was not expected but it is important to take your time, especially with the numerical tests. Kate summarised that companies and sectors consider this differently so it is hard to focus on a generic answer.

Q5. What are you major differences between graduate schemes and entry level jobs?

Jamie explained how the graduate scheme placements do three 1 year rotational placements which contrast with entry level positions that are focused on one position alone. Patrick noted that although the two offered completely different experiences, both provided a ‘foot in the door’. Matt agreed the experiences were very different, as the graduate scheme at Asda is an intense development programme and entry level positions could often not gain access to the same opportunities as those on the graduate scheme.

Q6. Why do companies provide a graduate scheme?

The consensus was that companies were searching for future leaders who they could recruit. Patrick highlighted that this gave the company an opportunity to appeal to high calibre students but that it is also extremely important recruit personally, so there are opportunities for everyone.

Q7. At an assessment centre how specific will the case studies be?

Jamie noted that at Coca-Cola Enterprises the case studies would be extremely specific and focused on the sector you were interested in working in. However, Cassandra explained that at PwC, the same case studies were used across the recruitment process and were therefore more generic. Matt agreed with Cassandra that at BT they were very generic with no jargon or technical questions within them. Therefore, the specifics of case studies will depend on the employer and their particular recruitment process.

Q8. What would be your strategies for dealing with a domineering member of a group?

Cassandra advised that it was important to contribute to group discussion despite this and to aim to include and encourage others to join the discussion.  Jamie agreed with this and included how important it was to not be confrontational with the domineering member of the group. Patrick argued that this situation could be an advantage if you can show your ability to link in other members, which is an essential leadership skill.

Q9. How are candidates scored across the assessment centre?

Patrick described that candidates were scored throughout the day, so you shouldn’t be discouraged if you feel certain task have not gone well. Jamie agreed, noting how throughout the day different skills were being assessed and therefore you were not expected to succeed in all of these activities. Cassandra highlighted that PwC differed slightly here, as candidates must pass all activities on the day as each activity matches a major competency that the company look for. Discussions with employers here also highlighted that different employers reacted differently to observations during lunch and breaks – Coca-Cola Enterprises take them into considerations however PwC did not. Matt summarised by noting that it was unlikely one bad activity would ruin your chances, so focus on the day as a whole.

Q10. What is the best way to prepare for assessment centres?

Interview practice and researching the company were agreed to be the key ways to prepare for an assessment centre. Matt highlighted how interview practice assisted in learning how to articulate clearly and concisely, but be aware that it is impossible to prepare for all tasks. Jamie noted how research aided candidates in understanding the company and their aims. Patrick also highlighted the importance of giving yourself plenty of time on the day to arrive to give a good first impression.

Q11. Will you accept students with visas and which visa do you prefer?

Both Coca-Cola Enterprises and ASDA only accept home students. However Cassandra explained that PwC accepted applications from any and all types of students and that they would sponsor Tier 2 students. She furthered this by detailing how the process of application remained the same but advised students requiring a visa to be clear about this during the application process. Matt noted that BT accepted applications from all students in every sector bar Security. He also advised that international applicants should not worry about their level of English – so long as you can communicate effectively, an important skill for all candidates.

Q12. Do you recruit for any international positions?

Jamie noted that with Coca-Cola a year is spent in each of the territories the employer is based. Cassandra noted how there were plenty of international opportunities and mobility within the Graduate Programme, however if you wanted to be based internationally you had to apply where you wished to be based. Patrick noted how there were more and more international opportunities becoming available yet there is nothing concrete for graduates to go abroad during their scheme. Matt noted that BT recruited on a worldwide basis.

Q13. When in a relaxed chat with an employer what are you looking for?

Jamie advised they were looking for people to show an interest in the company, how it works and to approach the topics with a high level of confidence. Patrick agreed with this whilst highlighting that this was unassessed but could make you stand out.

Q14. Is there anything I can do to improve my skills if I have not been successful?

Matt highlighted the importance of feedback to find out what did not work and in which areas you need to improve on; to work on this and spend the year researching companies and the sector further. Patrick agreed that taking on as much feedback as possible was essential. Kate summarised that it was important to not give up and take on all the experience you can.

Q15. How are you assessed on your computer skills and how can you stand out?

Matt explained that in technical roles many candidates will have a computer science or numerical background; however, this is not always the case. The skills required are those of strong problem solving and being a well-rounded candidate.

Q16. Please provide us with one top tip for assessment centres:

Cassandra: Be prepared do as much research and practice as you can.

Jamie: Research the people you are meeting so you can understand them.

Patrick: Be yourself- You are looking for the right fit and remember that it is not a competition.

Matt: Practice and apply for many graduate schemes to gain experience – also think of a good question to highlight interest in the longevity of the company.

Q17. How important is the university you attended?

The employers agreed that the university you attended was not of importance and rarely was it important what degree field you had studied. However, as Cassandra highlighted, achieving a 2:1 is often essential.

Q18. Would you recommend completing a graduate scheme to someone who is unsure about becoming a ‘future leader’?

Jamie replied that yes, a graduate scheme was still worthwhile as it gave you the experience to try three areas within the business that may interest you – so it will still provide you with a good understanding of the direction you would like your career to go in.

Other useful information:  The Careers website has information and advice on how to impress at an interview, write application forms and gain skills needed to succeed at an assessment centre. The Employability Tutorial is also a great place to start if you’re trying to think about your skills, using them in your CV and how you can talk about them in interviews.