Be yourself at assessment centres... just yourself on a good day!

On the 17th of October Network Rail, the second largest landowner in the country, delivered a Skills for Success session on how to manage assessment centres. The session was run by a long term employee and a recent Sheffield graduate who was starting their second year in the graduate programme.

They started by speaking about interview techniques, saying that many interviewers favour competency based questions where they ask for examples where applicants have displayed a certain skill or attitude. The importance of using the ‘STAR’ technique to answer these types of questions was highlighted. This technique involves breaking down your answers into four different parts:

  • Situation - where you set the scene for your answer
  • Task - where you outline the challenge you were facing
  • Action - where you state what you did to complete this task
  • Results - where you review what happened as a result of your actions and, importantly, state what you could have done differently to improve this outcome
This helps to stop you waffling and rambling off topic with your answer, and allows a response that ticks all the boxes you need to. However, it’s important not to make up situations for these questions, as skilled interviewers will be able to tell and could mark harshly against you for this. 

Group work in assessment centres was the second topic covered in the session and, to show what this could be like, an activity was used that has been previously used in the Network Rail assessment process. This was a great chance to practice something that otherwise you’d only get to do under the pressured conditions of an actual assessment centre. In a discussion after the activity, the speakers advised that leadership is not the only quality looked for, and that how you work is often more important than the final result of the activity.

However, assessment centres are definitely a two way process and the company should be trying to impress you, as much as you are trying to impress them, as strange as that might seem… They ended the session by giving a few pieces of advice for assessment centres; relax, speak, ask questions and engage with everyone you meet (remember, you are being assessed the whole time you’re in the centre), and lastly, be yourself... just yourself on a good day!

Ed (Student Ambassador for the Faculty of Science)
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