July 25, 2014, by Beth Dawson

Your assessment centre crib sheet

Now you’ve passed the initial application stages, assessment centres can be a nerve-wrecking experience if you’re not sure what to expect. Our short guide to different exercise types will help demystify your assessment day, or days. 

Ice breaker task11291web (1)

What is it? Usually at the start of the day, there’ll be a short exercise to introduce everyone attending and put you at ease. They’re usually about five to ten minutes long and some examples include, asking you to talk to the person next to you then introduce them to the group or introduce yourself with an interesting fact.

What are employers looking for? You won’t normally be formally assessed during this task, but employers will want to get a bit of an idea about your personality and see how you interact with new people.

Top tip: Because some ice breaker questions can be unusual, such as ‘if you could be an animal what would you be?’ Search examples online and practice answering a couple of them with a friend to make sure you’re not caught out on the day.


What is it? There’s a wide variety of subjects an employer could ask you to present on and preparation time could vary from ten minutes to a couple of weeks. Likewise, the expected presentation standard could range from very informal to professional, depending on the amount of preparation time and the employer.

What are employers looking for? This will vary according to the competencies they’re looking for, which can be found on the person specification and job description. In general, they will want to see good presentation, communication and organisation skills demonstrated by how you present, the structure of the presentation and the research included.

Top tip: Before you attend the assessment centre, check what visual aids the employer wants you to use and the presentation time limit. Also, on the day bring a back-up of your presentation, such as handouts, a memory stick or note cards. This will not only demonstrate that you’re forward-thinking, but will ensure you’re not panicking if there’s a technical problem on the day.

Careers - Ernst & Young_DSC2198Role play

What is this? Depending on the position you’ve applied for you may be asked to role play a situation with a customer or client that may occur at work. You could do this with the assessors themselves or with other candidates.

What are employers looking for? Although it will vary between the situations you’re acting out. They’ll want to see that you’re calm, friendly and helpful and can work well with others. Demonstrating that you’ve looked at any materials given will also impress.

Top tip: If you’re given a brief, read it carefully so you fully understand the situation you’re acting out. You wouldn’t want to give your mock client or colleague the wrong information!

Careers - Capital FM_DSC2391In-tray exercise

What is this? You could be given an actual in-tray of information, reports and correspondences or an email inbox. You’ll then need to prioritise this information and use it to solve a problem.

What are employers looking for? That you can process a lot of information and deal with a situation that might come up in the role: they will want to see that you’ve prioritised the information in a logical way that you can then explain to them.

Top tip: Don’t panic! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re presented with a lot of information. However, take a moment to relax and work through the task, splitting it up into various stages to help you manage your time.

groupGroup activity

What is this? You’ll be required to work with the other candidates to resolve a problem – it could be abstract or real.

What are employers looking are? Good communication skills and a level of contribution, so make sure you don’t fade into the background! Depending on the task they may also want to see analytical, organisational and leadership skills demonstrated. When you’re presented with the task think about what competencies they may be testing.

Top tip: Demonstrate how well you would work with others by bringing into some of the quieter members to the discussion, as well as contributing your own points. This will show you’re keen to advance the team’s performance.

If you want more advice about preparing for an assessment centre, we have a range of information and resources available on our webpage. You can also access videos which follow a group of candidates through various types of assessment centre exercises. 

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