CAREERS BLOG: Assessment Centre Activity Day – employer panel Q&A

UoY Careers Imagine the possibilities LARGE dark green Write-up of Assessment Centre Activity Day employer panel Q&A discussion by Nicola Haydon, Graduate Intern, Careers 

Assessment Centre Day – 27 January 2016


  • Kelly McDonald: Careers Consultant (Chair)
  • Dan Tate – PwC
  • Melissa Brennand – HSBC
  • Anna Carlisle – Think Ahead
  • Caroline Cuthbertson – Enterprise Rent a Car

Event Summary: 

Get Assessment Centre ready to make sure you get that placement, internship or graduate role.

92% of top employers now use assessment centres in their recruitment so make sure you come along on Wednesday 27 January from 1:30-4:30pm in the Ron Cooke Hub to hear their top tips.

This is a fantastic way to make connections with top employers, as well as getting the chance to develop key assessment centre skills in workshops led by Enterprise Rent A Car, Think Ahead, PwC and HSBC.

Not interested in applying for a corporate role? This event is still applicable to you! Understand yourself, and find out how you adapt in a professional situation. Learn the skills that will help you with any recruitment process.

This event was organised to give a better understanding of the types of activities that are run at an assessment centre, how to best prepare and what you can do to stand out in an assessment centre.

Panel Q & A: 

  1. What is the best way that candidates can prepare for an assessment centre? 

Melissa (HSBC) advised that candidates should look at the company and make sure that they have done their research. You need to make sure that the company is the right fit for you. She said that you should be yourself, and if the day is a positive experience then it suggests the company is the right fit for you.

Anna (Think Ahead) encouraged candidates to relax and bring some personality to the day. Be memorable.

Caroline (Enterprise) advised that candidates remember that it is not a competition. You are assessed throughout the whole recruitment process, and the assessment centre is really so you can test out the actual job role. Network with the other candidates rather than seeing them as competitors. People will notice, and they could be useful people to network with. You also need to be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone.

Dan (PwC) also stressed that you need to be yourself. At PwC assessment centres are mixed so you won’t be in direct competition with anyone as the other candidates will have applied for other roles. Try and work with others rather than demonstrating a competitive streak.

  1. What strategies do you suggest for coping with group tasks?

Caroline (Enterprise) advised that if you have a quiet group, to try and be a leader and bring various people into the discussion, recognising their strengths. Don’t be put off by a domineering person, but instead of trying to over dominate them, expand on their ideas. Be a mediator for the group.

Dan (PwC) recommended use of active listening skills, such as nodding, to show that even if you are not speaking you are engaged in the discussion. Expand on what someone says and draw someone else in, giving everyone the opportunity to speak. Assessors are looking for relationship skills and if you are interacting well.

Melissa (HSBC) suggested going round the room so that everyone has a chance to speak.

  1. Do you use presentations and how?

Melissa (HSBC) said the only type of presenting they use is in a team exercise where you would be expected to present findings. Be confident in your material.

Anna (Think Ahead) said that they use role play exercises instead of presenting.

  1. Can you expect a correct answer from a role play exercise?

Anna (Think Ahead) described that in their exercise you pretend to be a social worker. Are given brief notes on someone who you then go to ‘meet’. Remember to introduce yourself! The actor will respond to the candidate so you just need to go with what happens on the day. You can think of questions in advance, but you can’t plan too much as you need to be responsive and demonstrate listening skills.

Caroline (Enterprise) explained that Enterprise use role plays a lot, however there is no correct answer. You need to demonstrate using your initiative, and showcase what makes you different by being creative. You will be assessed against certain competencies but there is no set way of doing it.

  1. As Anna previously worked for Teach First, one audience member asked: How do you best prepare for the mock lesson in the Teach First assessment centre?

Anna (Think Ahead) responded by describing that you need to go with what you get. You are given a lesson topic in advance so you can prepare. Assessors are looking for potential, so show that you are well planned and organised. Make sure you respond to the assessors.

  1. What advice would you give to “B type personalities”, those who are more introverted, for group tasks?

Dan (PwC) suggested taking advantage of time to speak when first going round the group. Ensure that you contribute to discussion even if it is not your idea. You could raise your hand to show that you want to add something. You need to have an element of extra courage as if you don’t say anything then you can’t have your skills assessed.

Caroline (Enterprise) advised not overthinking everything that you are doing. Focus on yourself rather than on other people. Also remember that you are not just being assessed on one group discussion.

Anna (Think Ahead) stated that a small number of intelligent solutions are much better than just talking for the sake of it.

Melissa (HSBC) advised being the person to write on the board. That way some focus will be on you and you might feel more confident standing up.

Kelly (Careers Consultant) reinforced the idea of treating each activity as something new. You need to be resilient and have the confidence to pick yourself back up again.

  1. When you feel overwhelmed, or as though you have messed up a certain task, what would your advice be?

Anna (Think Ahead) said that at their assessment centres all competencies are tested twice, so you do get a blank slate if you mess something up. Always try and focus on the task in hand.

  1. How many people are there in a group and how many assessors?

Dan (PwC) said that group exercises with PwC will be in a group of six. There will always be two assessors in the room so that multiple people can give an opinion. There will usually be twelve candidates for the rest of the day.

Melissa (HSBC) explained that for group exercises there would be six to eight candidates, with four to five assessors. There is also a one to one role play exercise.

  1. In a group task if everyone has a big personality and you can’t talk, what can you do?

Each of the panel agreed that the assessors will appreciate what the situation is like and how difficult it is for candidates in that situation. Anna (Think Ahead) reminded us that even if you talk over someone else, you can apologise. You need to propose ideas in a deliberate and assertive manner. Melissa (HSBC) recommended managing the situation from the beginning by suggesting a structure to the discussion.

  1. What sort of individual task might you expect?

Dan (Pwc): A written exercise and psychometric tests.

Melissa (HSBC) said you would be given a pack of information and expected to write a report.

Caroline (Enterprise) again highlighted the significance of role plays. You would take on a situation within the business.

Anna (Think Ahead) described a role play, written task and an interview with a service user. There is also a situational judgement test.

  1. How should you approach a situational judgement test or work preferences questionnaire?

Dan (PwC) couldn’t iterate enough to be honest. The point of the exercise is to discover if you would be a good fit for the company. If you are not honest, then you will only find that out later on.

  1. Do you get told what will happen at the assessment centre in advance?

Anna (Think Ahead) explained that they only give out vague details.

Caroline (Enterprise) said they try to be open but are also quite vague. They direct people to the website and blog posts to read, however they make it clear there is no group task!

Dan (PwC) described that they are quite open. When you are invited to the day you are talked through the process, which gives you a chance to think about the exercises in advance.

  1. How do interviews work and how can you best prepare for them?

Melissa (HSBC) explained that there is no interview as part of their assessment centre, but they will assess competencies and values in a telephone interview. They encourage using the STAR technique.

Caroline (Enterprise) described that they have three interviews throughout the process and all are competency based. She suggested writing down examples for each competency so that you are prepared.

Anna (Think Ahead) explained that they have two interviews, one which is competency based and one with a service user. She recommended practising saying examples out loud, and to remember to emphasise positive outcomes.

Dan (PwC) described two interviews which are competency based. Useful information can be found online. He also recommended using the STAR technique, and demonstrating an understanding of the role and the company.

Following the panel Q&A, students were invited to take part in the following workshops:

  • Psychometric Testing – PwC
  • Telephone skills and roleplay – HSBC
  • Group Exercise – Think Ahead
  • Charity Investment Exercise – Enterprise Rent a Car.

For more information about assessment centres and how to prepare for them, see the web page, Assessment centres.