In the mayhem that is looking for your first job, you might find an invitation to an Assessment Day fall into your inbox.
Typically, you experience a short burst of utter joy followed by an agonizing realisation: you have no idea what an Assessment Day is, let alone how to prepare for one. The crucial first step on the career ladder depends on your performance, but what can you do to improve your chances?
Many graduate employers use Assessment Days as part of their recruitment process. For students who have never even gone to an interview before the thought of going to one of these can be daunting to say the least.
We wouldn't consider ourselves Super Recruiters if we didn't swoop in at this moment to help, so here is everything you need to know:
What is a Graduate Assessment Day?
Graduate Assessment Days (also known as Graduate Assessment Centres) vary in structure from one employer to another, but their core purpose is to create an environment in which you, along with other candidates, demonstrate key workplace skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, task management, adaptability and leadership. They are typically assessed through activities like group work, presentations, case studies and e-tray exercises.
Why Do Employers Have Assessment Days?
Assessment Days are increasingly becoming a regular feature of the recruitment process for graduate schemes. Employers bring together a group of candidates who complete a series of exercises, tests and interviews that are designed to evaluate their suitability for graduate jobs within the organisation.
Employers aren’t expecting to make their hiring decision based on your industry experience – they know almost all candidates will have hardly any! – they will be looking for ‘soft skills’ and evidence that you will be able to learn and progress within the organisation.
The Graduate Assessment Day format makes it much easier for you to demonstrate a broader range of skills and competences than you might not be able to show in an interview. For this reason they are usually a more fair and effective way to select graduates than your traditional interview.
Typical Graduate Assessment Day Activities
Graduate employers design their own assessment centres to test for skills and aptitudes that are right for the specific role, organisation and industry, but they typically contain similar elements and exercises. As well as interviews you could expect to do a combination of individualy and group work exercises, presentations, aptitude and psychometric tests, in-tray/e-tray exercises, or case studies linked to the job function.
Employers will also give you the opportunity to find out more about them and to meet with current employees. After all, the objective of the day is for them to impress you as much as the other way around!
What Recruiters and Assessors Look For
Recruiters assess candidates for a range of things including how you demonstrate core skills and competences such as communication, teamwork and problem solving. The group setting also makes it much easier for them to assess how well you work with others, how you influence and persuade, and how others respond to you. The assessors will want to see how you react to different situations, much as you would have to in the job itself.
Assessment centres aren't about survival of the fittest. Always remember that you are being assessed against the employer’s criteria and not against the other candidates. You need to find a way to work together with your ‘colleagues’ to achieve the goals and tasks set.
How To Succeed at Graduate Assessment Centres
Use your careers service. If you’re still at uni, it might be worth visiting your career advisor to see what services are available to help you prepare. If not, there are plenty of sites with free practice psychometric tests and examples of group exercises.
Read all the literature the employer sends you. As well as practical information about the date, location and start time they should also give some indication of how the day will be structured. Check to see whether they have provided any tips for Assessment Day candidates. If you’re unsure what’s expected of you, contact the recruiter as soon as possible.
Check whether or not you will have to complete any tasks before the day. You may need to work on parts of a case study or put together a presentation. Plan time for this and don’t leave it until the last minute.
Revise your employer research. Revisit the research you did for your application. This means: reading through the employer’s website; Googling the latest news updates on the organisation; following them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels; reading the LinkedIn profiles of those attending; researching their competitors… the more you do, the more you’ll be able to say about the company.
Brush up on your interview technique. Interviews will be included in the format so be ready to shine for the bits where you go solo. To prevent being caught on the spot, write a list of questions you’re likely to receive (with the help of your recruiter, friends and family) and think of answers to all of them. You should also do whatever you can to feel confident, fresh and calm.
Get a good night’s sleep. You should treat this in the same way as an athlete would prepare for an important competition. These days are usually long and exhausting - and recruiters will be looking for quick and creative thinkers - so you need all the energy you can get! Forgo the night out with your friends they’ve organised a day or two days before and go to bed a little earlier than normal.
Don’t be late on the day. Punctuality is the first part of the test, so don’t mess up on the first hurdle! Wake up a little earlier than you need to and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
Introduce yourself with confidence. When starting a conversation with a recruiter or assessor, introduce yourself with your name and a little relevant background information, such as your degree subject, where you are studying and what year you are in. This is often enough to provide a starting point for a conversation. It's also useful to think in advance about questions you could ask.
Be self aware. To succeed at assessments you need to be aware, flexible and responsive. You want to showcase the best parts of your personality and be mindful of what you don’t want to highlight. Ultra-competitive and pushy behaviour can easily come across as arrogance, but shyness might prevent the assessors from seeing your qualities. Your objective should be to get the other candidates and the assessors to want you to be on their team. You don’t have to be the leader, but you do need to find a way to make yourself appear invaluable.
Ask (good) questions during social breaks. You should try to chat to all of the other candidates, the event organisers and graduate employees of the company. Broadly speaking, your questions should focus on the industry, the employer or the recruiter.
Remember, recruiters will want to put you at ease, and would much rather have a friendly (though polite and professional) conversation over lunch than none at all.
Don’t know what would be good questions to ask? Here’s a bit of help:
Questions to ask recruiters: The story behind their career and background with the company; what it’s like working for the company; how long they’re worked there; how much interaction they have with graduate hires; what characteristics they are impressed by in the graduates they are currently working with.
Questions about the employer: Around the nature of the work; key challenges they’re facing as a business; growth plans; structure of the team; opportunities for career progression. Dropping into conversation your knowledge about the employer should earn you serious brownie points, so make the most of the research you’ve done in the lead up to the Assessment Day.
Questions about the industry: These can showcase commercial awareness but don’t try to pretend you know more than you do. You want to show enthusiasm to learn, not an inclination to fake expertise. For example, “I've been reading quite a lot about X recently. What’s your opinion?” will be far more impressive to a recruiter than a vague and woolly lecture on the industry.
If you meet any of the company's current graduate intake or more junior employees, you should try to phrase your questions in a positive way. Asking “Why did you chose to work here? “What do you like best about working here?” will serve you much better than redundant and potentially negative-sounding questions like “Do you like it here?”.
These pointers should help you prepare for your Assessment Day and wow your interviewers, but don’t forget that arguably the most important goal of the Assessment Days is for you to know whether they are the right employer for you. Did you click with the people you met? Did the extra information you heard about the role and company make you feel more or less sure that this would be a good step forward for you?
By the end of the day, you and your potential employer will hopefully feel the same way about the fit and eventually you will find your perfect match.
Written by Izzy Griffin-Smith
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