January 21, 2013

Making the most of an assessment centre

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Following our recent post, 'A quick guide to assessment centres', we've got another great student installment. This time Louisa Nefs, a final year history student, reflects on her experience at a Teach First Assessment Centre...

The anticipation is worse than the reality

The graduate recruitment process can seem like an endless stream of hurdles and an assessment centre invitation is often met with mixed feelings; relief and excitement, but also nerves. This was how I felt when I attended a Teach First Assessment Centre and despite many people’s assurances that assessment centres are never as bad as you think, I'm not sure my fears were wholly allayed.However, having come through the other side I can now say they were right; the day was actually quite enjoyable - or certainly as enjoyable as such an event can be! Try to be confident about your prospects and show your preparation - this will help you maximise your chances of success, by letting your strengths shine through.

Find out what's expected

When you’re asked to attend an assessment centre you’ll often get a brief description of what you will be asked to do on the day, if not this information will be readily available on the relevant company’s website. The tasks will vary according to the post but often they will include 3 types of activity namely a competency based interview, a case study and a presentation of some description. A good starting point is to try and find accounts from previous applicants. These are widely available on the web and my advantage also has a number of feedback forms from those who have been through this process. These can shape your expectations and help you to prepare.

Familiarise yourself with the core competencies

In the interview you will be questioned to see how far you match the company’s core competencies Companies and organisations are pretty transparent about this information and you can ususally find it on their website. It is essential to have a number of examples demonstrating your ability in these areas; for example, leadership or teamwork. That said, try not to make these answers too formulaic, yes, preparation is vital but sounding like you have rehearsed your answers or not being able to adapt your examples to fit the specific question is a no-no. The interview is also a time for the employer to assess your desire and motivation to work in your chosen field so try and stay up-to-date with the latest news stories or developments relating to the sector you are applying to. When I applied to Teach First I looked into how current government education policy might affect the profession and the company’s goals. This can show a real understanding and passion for the job.

Cracking the case study

A case study is difficult to prepare for but there are a few skills which are important to show. Firstly, you do not need to dominate the task. It is good to show your leadership abilities but be careful not to overpower others; be inclusive of those you are working with and remain focused on the intended outcome of the task. The case study generally takes place under timed conditions and so you need to show that you can process a large amount of information quickly while working collaboratively to deal with the task at hand.

How to approach individual tasks

Many assessment centres will also ask you to do an individual task, for example I was asked to prepare and conduct a lesson. Always keep in mind your target audience and alter your research and content accordingly. The most important part of this is to be concise and focused, delivering your message with confidence. No-one expects you to be an expert in any of the tasks you are asked to do on the day, but a candidate who is able to deal with the difficult questions or situations while retaining their composure will undoubtedly seem attractive.

Challenging - but a great experience

I won’t pretend that it is not a challenging experience. This is something I expected but while it was nerve-wracking, nerves don’t have to be a negative. Use and channel them to show a sense of drive or desire for the job. The assessment centres give you the tools to demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. Rather than feeling like I was waiting to be tripped up, the day had a supportive atmosphere and I did not feel it was a test but a mutual investigation to see if I would fit within their ethos and culture. You may encounter unexpected challenges but try and stay positive and remember they liked you enough to put you through the earlier application stages. Thorough preparation is the key as it is clear if someone is being disingenuous. Whether you are successful or not assessment centres are invaluable learning experiences with many companies providing some kind of feedback on your performance. Take this opportunity, make the most of it and most importantly learn from it.

And finally...

There is plenty of information out there to help you prepare for assessment centres but if you do spend time on forums (and there is a pretty good thread on Teach First in the Student Room), don't assume your experience will be exactly the same. We were asked not to go into too much detail about the Teach First assessment centre as this could mislead other candidates - the format stays the same, but the content will change. You have been warned!

*Louisa is a final year history student and Careers & Skills rep for the History Department


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