Surviving assessment centres

As a final year student I am starting to look into applying for jobs and graduate schemes, and the thought of an assessment centre is quite daunting. So I decided to attend the Skills for Success session 'Surviving Assessment Centres', organised by the Careers Service. The session was put on by IBM and run by an intern and two people who entered into the company through the graduate scheme, so all three were familiar with the process they were advising us on. Although the session was focused specifically on the IBM assessment centre, it gave me a good idea of what to expect from the application process for any major company.

An assessment centre is essentially a way for the employer to see how well you interact with other people - an inevitable aspect of any job. The key to succeeding in this part of the application process is to demonstrate your ability to work effectively with others. Be friendly to the other applicants and show an interest by asking questions; remember that as soon as you walk into the room you are being assessed. It is important that you don’t view other applicants as competition or you will come across as a poor team player - you are applying for a job, not being a contestant on The Apprentice!

Following an introduction to assessment centres, in groups of eight we were given a team work task which was intended to demonstrate our ability to work together to reach a decision. Our task involved numbering 15 objects in order of importance if we imagined we were a member of a space crew that was faced with mechanical problems and had to travel 200 miles to a meeting point on the moon. As this was a situation that none of us had ever been in, we had to work as a team to come to a conclusion through discussion and negotiation. We were assessed by the facilitators throughout and they presented us with feedback after we had completed the 20 minute task. From the feedback we learnt that it is not the quality of the answer that matters, but how you get to it. It was apparent that the most successful candidates would have been those who demonstrated the following qualities:

  • actively supporting and contributing to the team decisions
  • encouraging all to participate
  • being adaptable by willingly accepting the role that you are delegated
  • listening to others’ ideas without shouting them down if their ideas differ from yours
  • not over powering or being too dominant within the group - try to make sure you talk for less than two minutes in a group of this size in this time frame
  • not sitting back and leaving it to the others and making sure your voice is heard
  • being aware of the time limit you have
  • if the discussion goes off topic, bringing it back to the focus of the task

The session covered a lot of information and has definitely given me more confidence to apply for graduate schemes that involve an assessment centre in the application process. I would recommend attending a session like this if you are applying for highly competitive jobs, as you will definitely leave feeling more prepared. Even though I am not planning on applying for the IBM grad scheme, I will definitely be putting the skills I learnt into practice for any future applications.

Emily V (Student Blogger)
Careers Service

Careers Service

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