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Graduate Careers Advice Video: Graduate Assessment Centres
So your CV managed to get you a telephone interview and you didn’t muck it up, so you’ve been invited back to the all important assessment centre. Now this really is the final hurdle guys, so I asked my CareerPlayer friends for some advice.
I’m James Meachin and I’m a Business Psychologist at Pearn Kandola.
My name is Janet Cowell and the company I work for is Resourcing Matters.
My name is Michael Weary and I’m a director at the finance department of UBS Investment Bank.
My name is Matt Sevenoaks and I work in the Forensic department of KPMG.
I am an assessor so I have been involved in the assessment, interviewing graduates and assessing them on the group exercises and presentations. It’s actually think it’s more tiring for the assessors than it is perhaps for the candidates!
So what is an assessment centre?
An assessment centre can mean lots of different things. Generally speaking assessment centres tend to be either half or a full day, will normally be at a client organisation and it will involve a number of different activities and exercises so for example you might expect to have an interview as part of that, you may have psychometric tests as well. What you will probably have is what we call a work sample. Now very simply that is something that simulates an important part of the job you are trying to get, so that might be a group exercise where you are having a discussion about a business problem, it might be a presentation we are presenting to other people, it might be a written exercise where you are asked to give your thoughts on a particular type of business problem.
One of the reasons we use them is because if you are talking to a graduate, in most cases you are talking to somebody who has never done this job before. So you’re looking at how successful are they going to be and in graduate recruitment, you don’t want them to be ordinary performers, you want them to be really extraordinary performers and what lots of companies say is that we are recruiting the leadership of this business 10 years from now.
They are actually big investments for companies because it takes a lot of time and money to develop them and it takes a lot of resource. So actually they tell organisations a lot of very useful information. One thing we’ve found is that they actually provide the best prediction of will candidates perform well in the job?
So it’s serious stuff, psychometrics, interviews and work samples. I’ve watched our video on psychometrics so I’m alright on that, but what about this dreaded interview.
You’re very likely to have a competency based interview – an interview based around looking back at what you’ve done before, your past experience, so all the questions are going to be around, “give me an example when”.
To succeed at a competency based interview you need to know what kinds of things employers are looking for. That’s quite easy to find out. Generally there are a similar set of skill sets. Once you’ve really worked out what those things are, you can then look at what your experiences are and try and align those to those specific areas employers are interested in.
Probably the biggest way applicants can stand out in my experience is actually having something tangible to talk about that’s very work related. An awful lot of graduate recruiters hear very similar examples of experience from candidates especially where candidates talk about their dissertations and their exams.
Answer the question that you’ve actually been asked and I think that is a really big mistake that many people make is that you go off at a tangent.
James was talking about these written work samples. What does that mean?
The final assessment day, which is a day where you will do an e-tray exercise which is where you will sit down with a laptop and you’re given a series of email questions with lots of responses that you can reply to and you will also be asked to draft to emails yourself in relation to a client request.
A little tip is that sometimes, once you have started there can be a knock at the door and another piece of paper can be delivered to you once you’ve already done your evaluation and you’ve already planned. So it’s really to replicate real life.
Presentations next – now I know what a presentation is, but what are the employers looking for?
Take your time, try and remain calm, try and put across your answers or your responses as cleanly and concisely as possible.
When you do a presentation 80% of it is actually your body language and actually you delivering your message.
Try to look confident but not too over-confident.
Lastly, group exercises. Is it all about team-bonding and being the keenest person in the room?
Well there’s lots of myths out there about the group exercise – make sure you’re the person who picks up the flip chart marker, you know, all these things. Now again, from an organisations point of view, it doesn’t matter if you’re holding the flip chart pen or not. It doesn’t matter actually how much you say, what matters is the quality of your contributions and are you working with the other people there to get a positive outcome.
They don’t need to be the people who talk the loudest, the people who notice when someone is being talked over and say “what was your point?”
Obviously at assessment centres you create those artificial situations to put people under pressure as well so how do you react to pressure?
So should I prepare for an assessment centre or should I just wing it and what are the best ways to prepare?
A lot of people will think they can just go along and just wing it. You really can’t do that because there’s too much at stake. But preparation is key and also, if you can practice any of the exercises beforehand, we run mock assessment centre workshops where you can practice.
Ok, I will practice so I can beat these other guys.
You’re not pitting yourself against the people in the room, so if there are 6 of you in a group exercise it’s not just the best person there that’s going to get offered the job. If you’re all great and you all meet the global skills and behaviours that KPMG looks for and you demonstrate that well in the group exercise, there’s a good chance that you will get made an offer because you’re all the sort of people that KPMG want as employees.
I think for me the big mistake people often make is really around second guessing what is going to happen. So for example, thinking about, what am I expected to say, what are they trying to measure here; and a little bit like anxiety, that’s a form of distraction. So actually there is maybe 5 or 10% of your thinking time spent thinking about other things other than, “am I doing a good job here?” With a lot of research into what we call divided thinking time, chances are you do both of them less effectively.
Whether you are successful or not, make sure you get some feedback and the more feedback you get the more aware of yourself you will be at assessment centres and the better you will perform. Be completely honest about who you are and if you fit in with that firm then that’s great and if you don’t that’s equally good because you’ve not wasted progressing or wasted the first year of your career in an organisation where you shouldn’t really be there.
So forget about everyone else. Make sure you tick the metaphorical competency boxes and you should get the job. And if you don’t, don’t worry, it might not have been the right graduate job for you anyway.
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