An assessment centre (AC) is not a place, but a complex selection procedure used by employers to find the right candidate. The applicants’ skills and personalities are assessed through different activities and exercises varying dramatically in style and length. However, one thing is always vital: good preparation!
Icebreaker: Typically you will need to give a short presentation of yourself, including the points “I am” (name), “I can” (experience) and “I want” (goals). Other icebreaker exercises include the partner presentation. Within 5-10 minutes you will talk to the person next to you and eventually present each other in front of the group. In both cases you should try to mention something which makes you stand out from the other candidates – you want to be remembered!
Formal presentation: There are typically two different types of presentation: a planned or an on-the-spot presentation. Planned means that candidates receive a topic several days before the AC in order to prepare a proper PowerPoint presentation. In contrast, the latter refers to a more spontaneous form. After a short preparation time the candidates give a presentation on a self-chosen or a given topic. During this exercise, the assessors will be looking at the communication skills and body language of the participants.
Case study: During the case study the applicants need to find a solution for an industry-specific problem. The candidates receive different fictional documents such as company reports and research results and are then asked to make a decision. To increase the level of difficulty, some of the information might be wrong or incomplete. The assessors test the analytical thinking, problem-solving skills and creativity of the participants.
In-tray exercise: The applicants play the role of a manager who just came back to the office after a long holiday. The task is to sort the overloaded in-tray to a tight schedule. Typically, the documents consist of private as well as business-related letters, mails, and memos. The aim is to find out whether applicants are able to set priorities and delegate tasks.
Role-play: During a fictional face-to-face conversation, you need to show how you cope with difficult situations and awkward encounters. One of the assessors could, for instance, play a dissatisfied customer or an angry employee. In a role-play it is mostly about negotiating a compromise and not to impose your opinion.
Written assignment: Written assignments are generally used to bridge breaks. While one part of the group is tested in individual exercises, the other part needs to write about an industry-specific topic or about a general political, economic or social issue. Through this exercise, the assessors are testing your writing skills.
Interview: The interview during the AC is comparable to a normal job interview. Typically the applicants are asked about their motivation, strengths, and weaknesses.
Group discussion: In a group of 4-6 people you will need to prepare a business-related topic and eventually discuss it in front of the assessors. In some cases, candidates are assigned a particular role. This is not about imposing your opinion on others, but balancing assertiveness and empathy. It is important to show your teamwork skills through this exercise.
Aptitude and intelligence tests: During these timed tests you have to solve problems and do numerical, verbal as well as logical reasoning tasks. Normally, the time is insufficient to work through all questions.
Personality questionnaires: In contrast to the tests mentioned above, personality questionnaires don’t have right or wrong answers. They typically take the form of multiple choice or open-ended questions in order to assess the suitability of the candidate for the position.
The exercises and tasks during an AC are complex and exhausting. However, it is important to remember that applicants are assessed all the time – even during breaks and while having lunch. Therefore don’t let your “game face” slip completely when you are not in an obvious test situation.
The most important point is to gather as much information as possible about the position, the company, and the company branch beforehand as most exercises are based on one of them. You should maintain a friendly and polite manner throughout the day – then you are already one step closer to getting your dream job.