Assessment centre exercises

The exact exercises used by individual employers is likely to vary from one organisation to another; however, below is an overview of the type of exercises you can expect to encounter as part of an assessment centre:

Competency-based interview

Competency-based interviews are a structured form of interview where you will be asked a series of standard questions. Every candidate going through the interview process will be asked exactly the same questions; ensuring the process is objective and fair. You may be interviewed by just one person, or there may be a panel of two or three interviewers.

For more information on how to prepare for interviews, please see our guide to interviews.

Psychometric assessments

Psychometric assessments are used to measure aspects of personality, ability and competency.

  • Ability tests measure your ability to perform or carry out different tasks. The majority of mainstream ability tests focus on verbal, numerical and logical reasoning.
  • Personality questionnaires are used to assess your workplace behavioural style and preferences, i.e. how you typically like to act. They are designed to measure those particular aspects of personality that determine, or are predictive of, successful performance at work; how you handle relationships at work, your thinking style and how you manage tasks, and your feelings and motivations.
  • Competency-based assessments focus on the skills and knowledge that you demonstrate in the workplace.

Find out more about psychometric assessments and how they're used in the workplace.

Group-based exercises

The aim of group-based exercises is to assess your ability to work effectively as part of a team. During these exercises, you will be presented with a hypothetical scenario in which there is a problem or dilemma of some kind that you are required to provide solutions to as a team. Typically you will be put into groups of 4-6 people. You are likely to be presented with a number of competing problems and it is your job to prioritise which issues are the most important to attend to and for what reasons.

Employers will be looking at:

  • your standard of communication
  • how well you are able to put forward your ideas and influence the other members of the group
  • the quality of your ideas and your ability to consider the issue from different perspectives
  • your commercial awareness
  • your problem solving abilities and whether you are able to arrive at an effective conclusion during the time allowed.

Presentation exercise

In this type of exercise, you may be given a brief and asked to prepare a presentation in advance of the assessment centre; alternatively, you may be given the brief and a pack of accompanying information on the day. The brief will generally highlight some kind of problem or ask you to make recommendations on a particular course of action. You will typically be given between 30-60 minutes preparation time to read through the information, identify the key messages, and prepare a presentation outlining your solutions. The presentation will usually be concluded by a series of follow-up questions from the assessors.

Presentation exercises are designed to assess your ability to:

  • organise and structure your points effectively
  • communicate your points clearly and concisely
  • analyse the information presented and the quality of the solutions/recommendations you make.

Case study exercise with written report

These exercises take the same format as the presentation exercise, but instead of the presentation component you are required to produce a written report summarising your findings and recommendations from the information presented.

The choice between these two exercise formats will depend on the key tasks and duties involved in the job role. If a large part of the role is to deliver oral presentations then the presentation exercise is more likely. Alternatively, if the job role is more focused around production of written reports, then the written report exercise is more likely.

Role play

Role play exercises are often used to assess your communication, influencing or negotiation skills, particularly if the job role requires a high degree of interpersonal interaction, for example a sales or customer service role. You will be required to play the part of the jobholder and will be presented with a customer problem or complaint that you will need to effectively resolve. An assessor will typically play the role of a customer.

Role play exercises can also be used to assess suitability for managerial and leadership roles. You will be required to play the role of a team manager, while an assessor will play the role of one of your subordinates. Generally, there will be a performance issue with the subordinate that you are required to address during a meeting and come up with an effective resolution. In this type of exercise, you will be assessed on your communication skills, interpersonal sensitivity, coaching skills, but also on your ability to conduct an effective performance management conversation, achieving a clearly defined outcome.

Inbox/in-tray exercise

An inbox exercise - also referred to as an in-tray exercise - places you in the role of the jobholder and requires you to work through a number of tasks presented to you via an email inbox. These tasks can come in the form of emails, memos and reports. The aim of the exercise is to simulate a 'day in the life' of the jobholder and to replicate a typical 'inbox' of the jobholder. During this exercise you will be assessed on your ability to organise and prioritise your workload, your ability to analyse information presented and make effective decisions. The typical tasks you will face are likely to include summarising a report or drafting a response to an email.

Meet and greet session

Often assessment centres will include a 'meet and greet' or introductory briefing session with the hiring managers, recruitment and HR representatives, and sometimes members of the team you will be working within. This session is an opportunity for members of the company to see how you interact with others and present yourself in a more informal situation.

Whilst, this may be positioned as being quite an informal session, with the opportunity to talk to these individuals over coffee, this is often one of the most important parts of the day. Remember - you are being assessed so be prepared:

  • Make sure you have some intelligent questions prepared to ask about the company and the job itself.
  • Make sure you appear interested in what the representatives have to say and show good listening skills.
  • Sometimes this session can take place in an evening over dinner - if this is the case, make sure you always remain professional and don't drink too much!