Jade Brewster-Mahon

October 9, 2020, by Jackie Thompson

Assessment Centres – Being Yourself Matters

By Jade Brewster-Mahon, BSc Microbiology with Industrial Year

Based on previous work experience I always knew I wanted to do a year in industry. Having had meetings with the Careers team towards the end of my first year, I began the process early. I had written CVs and attended job interviews in the past but not to the calibre that was required for an industry placement.

As a result, I decided to prepare before applications opened by:

  • Drafting a CV and cover letter. I had never written a cover letter before, so I wanted to hit the ground-running by sending drafts to the Careers team to receive feedback.
  • Attending careers events. I networked at the events and received emails from specific people in companies of interest.
  • Going to placement talks. I heard from past placement students about their experiences.
  • Signing up for mock assessment centres. I attended as many as I could, even those that were not tailored to my course because it felt more realistic to be surrounded by unfamiliar faces and people from other degrees.
  • Preparing for interviews. I was surprised at how many different types of interviews there are, so try your hand at all styles.

My experience of an assessment centre

I applied to GlaxoSmithKline for pharmaceutical microbiology. The process involved four key steps: eligibility form, online assessment, application form and assessment centre.

The assessment centre was quite small with three other candidates, two interviewers and one current placement student. All the candidates were gathered in the reception beforehand and this allowed us to break the ice and get to know each other. The assessment centre involved:

  • Group activity and Q&A. I worked with the other candidates to complete a task about the introduction of a new product and we were individually asked questions about the activity at the end.
  • Laboratory session. This involved an individual demonstration of a serial dilution plus a written explanation of the demonstration and answering a question related to products the department work with.
  • Strength-based interview – this involved the identification of behavioural competencies to see if I matched their cultural and social values, such as “Do you prefer to focus on your successes or failures?”

My tips for success

I attended two assessment centres and I was offered a place for one, but was unsuccessful with the other. I think this gives me a perspective on the dos and don’ts.


  • Be confident. In group activities, it is very easy to begin to doubt yourself, but you have to remember that you got to this point in the recruitment process because you are capable.
  • Have a voice. Know when to speak up and when to let other candidates have their say. You want to showcase yourself but not to the detriment of others which could impact you in a negative way.
  • Ask for feedback. If you’re not successful, it is always good to ask for feedback after the assessment centre via a follow-up email.
  • Research the company. Knowledge of the company’s values and the job role will showcase you as someone they can work with.


  • Dwell on your mistakes. After the group activity, I was asked a question that I completely misunderstood, but I didn’t let it take over the rest of the day. Instead, I focused on other tasks and I was still offered the role.
  • Rush. During the interview or any other discussions on the day, take a deep breath and articulate what it is you are trying to get across.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Find out more about what happens at an assessment centre and sign up for one of our job-hunting workshops or mock assessment centres.

Posted in Applying For JobsWork experience