An assessment centre (or assessment day) usually includes a selection of different activities, which the employers use as a means to put each candidate's skills and abilities to the test.

When receiving an invitation to an assessment centre, you may find that there are some aspects that you are already familiar with (such as a panel interview), but others that you have little previous knowledge of (perhaps you've never done a psychometric test or have no idea at all what a case study interview involves). In either case, it's a good move to familiarise yourself with the different activities and what they involve below, and make use of the practice examples and resources for each.

Assessment Centres Activities Tabs

In tray/e-tray

In-tray or e-tray exercises

These timed exercises focus on your ability to prioritise administrative tasks which might form part of your workload should you join the organisation. You will be asked to look at a range of material such as reports, memos, letters and phone messages and prioritise the documents in order of importance. You will then normally be asked to provide some notes on your suggested response to each item. An e-tray exercise works in a similar way although you would undertake this exercise via a PC and be presented with a range of documents in an electronic format.  Sometimes these exercises are further complicated by the arrival of additional material which arrives part way through the test. In-tray and e-tray activities are designed to measure your ability to prioritise in addition to skills such as written communication and planning. Practice e-tray exercises can be found at University of Edinburgh Careers Service - an e-tray exercise and the Civil Service Fast Stream Sample e-tray exercise (very detailed).

Hints and tips
  • Read carefully through the background information and make sure that you are clear about the task
  • Read the items through quickly before you begin to analyse them in depth as you may find important documents further down the pile or list of emails!
  • Think about which tasks are important and which are urgent. It is likely that you will need to think about the balance between these two aspects
  • Who has sent the message or document? Try to identify how important they are to the organisation, for example, are they a client, another department, etc
  • Give reasons for your choices and explain why you have prioritised the tasks. Normally there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer but it is important that you are able to justify your action
  • Pay attention to the date a message was sent and the time required, if stated, for a response or action
Online practice examples

Presentations

Preparing for presentations

You may be given the topic on which to present a few days before the date of the assessment centre, for example, you could be asked to analyse a company of your choice and identify their strengths and weaknesses. On other occasions you may only be told the topic for your presentation on the day or asked to present on the topic of your choice. 

Hints and tips
  • Make sure that you are clear about how long you will be required to talk, for example, 5 minutes or 10 minutes?
  • What equipment, if any, will be available? Will you need to prepare a Power Point presentation or Prezi?
  • If you have a choice of topic, think about the audience to whom you are presenting and their level of understanding
  • Don’t try to cram in too much detail but make your talk interesting by including data and examples to illustrate the points that you are making
  • Read the Careers Service handout: Making presentations [pdf]

Group exercises

GROUP AND TEAM EXERCISES

These exercises are timed activities where groups may be competing against one another on  tasks which  could be anything from building a structure with simple materials to solving an imaginary problem such as conveying ping pong balls from a to b. They are used by recruiters to assess skills and qualities such as drive, leadership, creativity, motivation, team working.  There are different types of team exercise:

Group roles with leader assigned -
Group members are assigned a specific role and aim in this type of exercise.  For example, you may be allocated the role of finance manager with a brief to reduce costs and you could be required to reach a consensus with colleagues who have been given different objectives.

Group discussion without a leader -
You will be part of a group which is given a particular topic to discuss. Assessors will be assigned to each candidate and they are looking at the type of roles which people play and if a leader or leaders emerge.

Hints and tips
  • Get involved with the group but avoid the temptation to dominate the discussion.  The quality rather than the quantity of what you say is important
  • Timing is also vital so don’t leave it until the last moment to put forward an opposing view
  • Avoid interrupting others to make your own contribution and don’t let others interrupt you
  • Make sure the group can hear you but avoid talking too loudly
  • Get a good grasp of any information provided to you without getting bogged down in detail. Not everyone in the group may have exactly the same information
  • Contribute in whatever way you can, e.g. leading, facilitating, generating ideas, encouraging, monitoring progress, questioning and analysing
  • Use the different strengths of group members to good effect.  If the task is large then dividing it between team member may make it easier to complete although you will need to ensure that there are regular checks between different groups to ensure that everyone is on track. Delegating tasks to others, however, can often be productive
  • Changing your mind is allowed, especially if new ideas or information emerge during the discussion!
  • Read the Careers Service handouts on Group activities [pdf] and Written exercises [pdf]

Role playing

Role playing exercises

These tasks are designed to simulate a ‘real-life’ situation which you might experience in the job. The recruiter might take the role of a dissatisfied customer and you have to resolve their particular problem. You could also be asked to play a particular role in a group. Members of the group might have to work together on a task and everyone would have a different role, for example, you might be part of a company’s management team making a decision on whether to invest in a new product line. One member might have the role of production manager looking at the costs and challenges of implementing changes to the manufacturing plant whilst another group member might be the marketing manager, who is keen to get the product into the market place ahead of competitors and as soon as possible. The assessors will, as with other team exercises, look at how you convey your views and whether you can persuade your colleagues round to your point to view by putting forward a convincing argument.

Hints and tips
  • Make sure you understand the brief for the role which you have been given. Get a good grasp of any information provided to you and also be clear about what your role is trying to achieve
  • Not everyone in the group may have exactly the same information, and they may have a completely different understanding of the situation depending on their role
  • Keep a balance between taking your own ideas forward and helping the group achieve its task
  • Actively listen to everyone else by nodding, smiling and making eye contact

Social activities

Social activities

Usually this will be dinner on the evening before the main day of the assessment centre. Otherwise, it could be lunch, or even just a coffee break. You will have the chance to meet a range of employees of the organisation, perhaps including management, recent hires, HR staff, and any potential colleagues. Employers usually state that the social activities are not assessed, but it is still advisable to be on your best behaviour throughout.

Hints and tips
  • Use the opportunity to ask questions about the organisation
  • Be positive about the organisation and the opportunities it offers
  • Be sociable, meet as many different people as you can
  • Remember your table manners and don’t drink too much! Decide on your limit if you decide to drink alcohol and stick to it
  • Make polite conversation, avoiding potentially controversial topics of conversation, e.g. politics, religion, etc
  • Don't become too relaxed and casual

Other activities

Other activities that may form part of your assessment centre may include:

Case study interviews

You may be asked to take part in a case study scenario. This is particularly common in assessment centres for consultancy firms. Information on case study interviews can be found on our types of interview section.

Interviews

Panel interviews could form part of your assessment centre. See our page on interviews for further information.

Psychometric tests and personality questionnaires

Although psychometric tests are quite commonly used as an early-stage of the recruitment process completed online by candidates, they might instead be included as an activity during an assessment day. See our page on psychometric tests to learn more.