Assessment Centres – what they are and how to prepare

By Zoë Mitton
Zoë is the Regional University Partnerships Manager for FDM, she and her team work with around 33 universities in the North of the UK finding talented, tech-curious students.  Over 1,000 students and recent graduates are recruited onto the FDM Graduate Programme each year into multiple streams including: robotics; development; test; and cyber security. 
More information and apply here:

Assessment Centres – horrible things right?  Why would anyone put you through a full day of mixed activities, is it some form of torture?  Actually, as intimidating as they are, assessment centres do fulfil a really valuable function for graduate recruiters.  They are usually the point at which staff within the organisation you’re applying to, actually get to meet you in person, find out what you are like and have the opportunity to see how you perform.

Very likely there will have been several stages in the recruitment process before you actually get to an assessment centre.  If you have done this properly, then the pipeline should have gone something like this:

  • You hear about an exciting graduate scheme
  • You research the employer, maybe meet up with them on campus to find out more about their opportunities, the skills and experiences that they are looking for
  • You do some reflection – does this look to be an opportunity that you are suitable for, what could you bring?
  • Apply online, uploading your CV and other details
  • Depending on the recruiter, there may also be a telephone or video interview

If you are offered a place at an assessment centre then the recruiter already knows most of what they need to know about you, the AC is a chance for them to assess cultural and personality fit as much as anything else and this is what determines the types of exercises that you might come across.  These are some of the activities that you might face:

  • Group activities, e.g. problem solving exercises, or role play, to see how you perform in a team and what your natural role is
  • Presentations, usually you are given the topic on the day and time to prepare
  • Psychometric tests, e.g. numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, set notation theory, personality – designed to test company fit, skills, aptitude
  • Interviews with people working across the company

Top Tips to impress at assessment centres:

  • Prepare thoroughly and on at least 3 levels:
    • The company – what are their values, what is their mission statement, their CSR?  What really drives and motivates them (you can find pretty much all of this from their website but if you can also make sure you meet any representatives on campus and take any opportunities to visit their offices)
    • The role – what does a typical day look like?  Read through the job description and imagine yourself doing what is described.  What skills and experiences are they looking for, is this you?
    • Yourself – how do you fit into the role and the company, what key attributes can you bring? (All companies know the benefits of their offer to you so focus instead on the positives that you can bring to them).
  • Understand what the day will look like – you will be sent some information, make sure you read it!  Also, take the opportunity to speak to your recruiter, their job is to prepare you for the assessment centre so make sure you ask them as many questions as you need to for you to feel confident in approaching the day.
  • Use the Careers and Placements team – they can help you practice how you will respond to the questions that you might get asked, and plan how you will behave in the activities you will be facing.
  • Reflect – if there are group activities involved, think about how you will approach these, no company would hire someone who is loud, aggressive and dominates the conversation.  Instead think about how to listen to the opinions of others and consider their views (even if you don’t agree!)
  • Finally, relax – it may sound strange but, once you have prepared all you can, the best way to approach an assessment centre is to relax and enjoy it!  This will help your personality come through and give any potential employer the opportunity to see you at your best.

Join FDM, NHS and Nestlé this Tuesday for our Assessment Centre Experience event. This event is a chance to explore typical assessment centre activities, find out what to expect and what employers are looking for from you