5 reasons you didn’t pass that assessment centre

What’s it really like to be at an assessment centre?

What's it really like to be at an assessment centre

As a Careers Adviser, I regularly work with students and graduates to support them in preparing for assessment centres. When FDM, a top 100 graduate recruiter who receive over 30,000 applications each year, invited me along to observe one of their assessment centre days, how could I say no?!

5 things not to do at an Assessment Centre

1. Not interacting


I arrived at 8.40am, with the assessment centre due to start at 9am. Already I could see the waiting area was filled with nervous and apprehensive graduates.  I could almost feel the tension as I walked in.

I was surprised they were not interacting, as this is advice I would always give to students and graduates.

Mainly to help break the ice and feel more confident throughout the day.  When the assessors met me, I questioned them about this and they agreed they felt students should use this as an opportunity to meet the other candidates. After all, they could be working with each other very soon and sure enough, an interview question about how they make use of networking opportunities was asked!

2. Lack of preparation


There were 13 candidates in total and they spent 90 minutes in a seminar room at the beginning of the day, with a member of staff delivering a presentation about FDM. The session was very interactive, starting with introductions; including the university graduates attended, telling the room a piece of information about themselves and how they heard about FDM.

The facilitator was excellent at including the whole room and as discussions progressed, graduates had ample opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and preparedness for the role.  Candidates were challenged on what they knew about the company, including the current share price and name of the CEO.  All information readily available online and that candidates can easily access beforehand.

The key message from this session was to do your research on the company before attending any assessment day!

3. Not making the links

broken links

The presentation continued, sharing pictures of staff and the company behaviours. A real indicator of what they expected to see throughout the day and information candidates should already be aware of having done their research! Information on opportunities, training and working at FDM were shared and as an observer, I could see this is what the employer wanted the candidate to demonstrate throughout the day. The clues were there, it was now up to the candidates to demonstrate this. Almost everything that was presented could have been used as evidence within the interviews to be conducted.

My advice is to listen, take notes and make the links!

4. Not demonstrating a good understanding of the company or role


Following the presentations, the interviews started.  Each candidate had three, one to one strengths based interviews, looking for key behaviours that had already been shared with candidates.

Some candidates appeared to struggle to articulate what they knew about the company and why they wanted the role.  Others were not able to speak about the company behaviours that had only been talked about an hour before the interview.  It seemed clear to me which candidates would be successful.

My advice is to be clear on the requirements of the company and role when preparing for an interview.

5. Not listening to or understanding the questions


The interview questions had to be read from the sheet and interviewers were not allowed to deviate from the question. Therefore, questions could not be rephrased or explained, but could be repeated.

My thoughts were that sometimes candidates started to answer a question without real thought to the structure of their answer.  This sometimes resulted in the questions not being answered.

My advice, if unsure of the question, is to ask for it to be repeated and take a few seconds to consider your answer and how you will structure it.  None of the questions were trick questions and many of them linked to what had been discussed earlier during the presentation, it was just a case of candidates being well prepared and considering what they already knew about the company.

3 Top Tips to pass the assessment centre


It was a fantastic experience to be a fly on the wall in an assessment centre. It gave me a real insight to how candidates perform as well as what the assessors are looking for.  So, Essex students, let’s get you ready for that assessment centre:

  1. Seems obvious, but always do your research on the company, the role and industry.
  2. Be clear on why you want to work for the company and in that role, including the strengths you will bring (with consideration of the company values and behaviours).
  3. Network with individuals and demonstrate how well you can build relationships. It’s your opportunity to show your personality and shine!

Check CareerHub for dates of the next ‘How To Handle Assessment Centres‘ workshop.

Want to find out more about assessment centres or my experience? Fill out the contact form and ask a question!


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