Preparing for an assessment centre
Like any interview or meeting with a potential employer, the key to success is preparation. Whether you’re travelling to an assessment centre or being assessed online, being prepared will help you feel relaxed and confident, and perform at your best.
Check the basics
Make sure you have all the details you need – like dates, times and locations for assessment. If the assessment is virtual, the employer should let you know in advance which software you’ll be using. Make sure you have a link to login, or the meeting address and password.
If it’s taking place face to face, plan how you’ll travel to an assessment centre and what you’ll wear – and have a back-up plan for both. Make sure you eat properly during the day, and take essentials like snacks, a face mask and water.
For virtual assessments, it’s vital to test the computer, software and internet connection you’ll be using ahead of time. You’ll find more technology tips in our guide to online interviews.
Do your research
It’s important to research the employer and role you’re applying for before the day – especially since the tasks you face will usually relate to the business. A good grasp of what the company does – and its goals and challenges – could help you give insightful answers or performances. At the very least, study the ‘About us’ and News sections of their company website or LinkedIn page.
Young HPC has lots of information about Hinkley Point C, for instance, including what the key contractors do. You can discover more about the project too, on our main Hinkley Point C web pages. Make sure you understand what your potential employer’s role is at HPC, how it fits in with the overall project, and what part you might play.
If you have friends or family who’ve been to an assessment centre, ask them about their experience. The more people you speak to, the more you’ll know what to expect and you’ll feel more comfortable.
Prepare to present
Make sure that you complete any presentations or assignments you’re been given before the day – and don’t leave it until the night before! Focus on the theme or brief you’ve been given, and check that what you’re preparing aligns with this.
For example, if you’re giving a 15-minute presentation on the role of nuclear power in the UK’s energy mix, make sure you break it down into logical steps. Unless the brief says otherwise, you might want to briefly cover sub-topics including the decline of coal, the rise of renewables, and the role of nuclear in delivering low-carbon power.
Practise your presentation in front of friends or family. Check it’s the right length, and use feedback to improve it. If you’ll be presenting online, practise sharing your screen on the same software platform you’ll using on the day (e.g. Zoom). Print copies as a back-up in case the technology fails on the day. And in a virtual assessment, email or post copies of your presentation to the employer beforehand just in case too.
You should also prepare for the exercises you’ll be given. This is a bit trickier as you don’t know what you’ll be doing. So try and find some sample exercises online (look at the Useful links section below). You’re unlikely to face the same challenges on the day, but at least you’ll feel more comfortable tackling the exercises if you’ve practised a few in advance.
Group activities vary greatly, but they’re often related to the apprenticeship or industry you’re applying for a job in. Previous assessments at an HPC contractor included planning the construction of a wind turbine, for example.
On the day, be sure to approach exercises methodically:
- Read the instructions: If anything is unclear, ask
- Plan your time: Break the exercise down into timed tasks
- Remember the job description: Try to showcase the skills and behaviours the employer is looking for
- Remember your research: Be as relevant as possible to the business
It’s important to contribute to group activities, but listen to other candidates, too. Take on board what they say, and try to work with them, not against them.
If you’re online, remember to mute your microphone when you’re not talking. Remain engaged – don’t look away from the screen unless you’re writing notes!
Try to enjoy your day at an assessment centre. This is an opportunity to learn more about an industry or employer that you’re interested in. It’s also a chance to showcase skills and behaviours that go beyond your qualifications. If you don’t have strong hard skills such as GCSEs, this is your chance to demonstrate your other strengths.
Good preparation is key to avoiding nerves on the day… But accept that some butterflies are normal! You may be able to work them off by taking a little exercise on the morning of the assessment. Or practise some breathing exercises or mindfulness beforehand.
Remember that an assessment centre is designed to see how you react to various situations. So it’s quite possible that not everything will go smoothly. The assessors may even throw in a surprise. They’re not trying to catch you out! They’re just seeing how you can adapt to a changing situation.
So don’t be too concerned if you make a mistake in an exercise or activity. Keep your head and try to identify how you can recover the situation. The assessors will be just as interested in your analysis of events and how you overcame any challenges – as they will be in seeing how you complete a project.
After the assessment centre
Be quick to follow up any outstanding matters from the day. For example, sending over any examples of work you promised to supply. Also, send a thank-you to the employer for inviting you to the day. Running an assessment centre takes a lot of effort. And they’ll appreciate your consideration – plus, any feedback you give about the activities you enjoyed.
When will I hear back?
Employers will usually tell you when you can expect to find out if you’ve been successful or not. But it’s usually a couple of weeks after the assessment takes place. Depending on the job and employer, you may also receive an offer that’s conditional on achieving certain grades at college first.
And if you make it through to the next round – well done! But if you aren’t successful this time, try not to be too disappointed. Taking part in an assessment centre is a great learning experience. You’ll know what to expect next time and you’ll probably have developed some of your skills too. Ask the employer if they have any feedback – most will be happy to share any learnings to help you improve your chances next time.
To find out more about the apprenticeship recruitment process, take a look at our visual guide.