Careers and Employability Service

Assessment Centres



Place the mouse cursor over any part of this diagram to get tips.

What are assessment centres?

Selection centres (also known as selection centres) consist of a number of exercises designed to assess the full range of skills and personal attributes required for the job.

Who uses selection centres?

Generally large organisations, in both the public and private sectors. Some of these include:

  • The Civil Service
  • The Armed Forces
  • The Police
  • The National Health Service
  • Manufacturing companies, e.g. Unilever, Shell, GSK
  • Banks
  • Retailers
  • Service companies, e.g. BT, IBM
  • Large professional services firms, e.g. chartered accountants and law firms.
The smaller the organisation, the less likely it is to use selection centres - they are very expensive to run!

Why hold assessment centres?

  • They are one of the most reliable methods of assessing candidates. Interviews, or any other method, taken alone, may be as low as 15% accurate. However, when scores from a number of different selection exercises are combined, their accuracy can rise to over 60%.
  • They are generally accepted as a fair method of selection, providing equal opportunities for all candidates and selecting on merit
  • They are designed to provide selectors with as much information as possible about candidates
  • They assess what candidates will actually do if selected: not just how good they are at interview!
  • They offer a thorough, in-depth assessment: most candidates, even if rejected after a selection centre, feel that they have had a fair chance to show what they can do

How will I know if an organisation I'm applying to uses assessment centres?

Usually, the selection procedure will be outlined in the employer's brochure. You will never have a selection centre sprung upon you unexpectedly: at the very least, the letter inviting you will tell you what to expect.

Large organisations may book a venue such as a hotel or training centre for the selection centre, which may last two days and and involve specialised staff such as psychologists, whereas smaller organisations may just run a day of exercises at their office. According to Personnel Today magazine assessment centres are most popular with service companies (e.g. retailers and banks), followed by public sector organisations with the lowest usage being by manufacturing companies.

The costs of running an assessment centre are high, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of staff time: a number of middle and senior managers may have to be withdrawn from their jobs for several days to take part. This is why they are many run by large organisations which can absorb the high costs involved more easily

How do assessment centres fit into the recruitment process?

With commercial employers, they are likely to be the final stage of selection. Usually, they follow on from an online application and a one-to-one first interview.

Public sector employers may follow a different pattern - invitation to Civil Service Fast Stream assessment centres, for example, is dependent on reaching the required standard in the online reasoning tests and the supervised e-tray exercise, but no interviews are held before the assessment centre.

Many are called, but few are chosen!

Quite a small percentage of candidates gets to the selection centre: typically, five to ten per cent of the original applicants. So if you have got this far, you have already done well!

What is being assessed at an assessment centre?

The employer will have a checklist of competencies - the essential skills and personal attributes required for the job. 
These will naturally vary from job to job but may include:


Each exercise at an assessment centre will assess one or more of these competencies in order to build up a complete picture of each candidate's abilities in relation to the job applied for.

Computerised methods such as psychometric tests are more objective and don't suffer from observer bias, but observational are much more effective for assessing personal attributes and personal competencies.

Below is an assessment centre form based on a real example used by a retailer looking for trainee retail managers.   

Application Form Aptitude Tests Oral Presentation Group Exercise Informal Contact
Criteria to be assessed   Major criteria to be assessed      
      Major criteria to be assessed   Criteria to be assessed
        Major criteria to be assessed Major criteria to be assessed

Criteria to be assessed

Criteria to be assessed    
  Major criteria to be assessed       Criteria to be assessed
Major criteria to be assessed       Criteria to be assessed  
  Criteria to be assessed        
  Criteria to be assessed     Criteria to be assessed  
    Major criteria to be assessed      

What happens at an assessment centre?

Where do people fail?

  • Poor preparation: no reading of pre-assessment centre briefing materials
  • No research about the company or the sector: superficial awareness of challenges being faced
  • Lack of understanding of the role or types of skills/attributes required
  • No consideration of what challenging questions could be asked/ No preparation of thoughts or answers
  • Bad at building rapport
  • Not reading or clarifying the task instructions
  • Running out of planning time
  • Nerves
  • Being derailed by one bad performance
  • Being derailed by one bad person in the group

Source: Association of Graduate Recruiters

The secret of doing well at an assessment centre (or for that matter, an interview) is to try to enjoy it! It will be demanding, but will also be fun and the candidates who put the most in will get the most out of it.

75% is on how a candidate comes across rather than what they say. Presentation, firm hand shake, communication etc, are of key importance.

Major retailer about graduate assessment centre participants

Assessment centres usually last for one or two days. During this time a group of candidates - typically 6-8 people - will take part in a range of tasks, both individually and as a group, designed to assess the competencies that the employer requires. The group exercises (and some of the individual exercises, such as presentations) will be observed by assessors noting the skills and competencies displayed by candidates. At some centres, there will be one observer assigned to each candidate.

Assessment centres usually take place at a hotel or at a company training centre. If an overnight stay is required, the employer will arrange accommodation and meals for candidates. The evening meal will usually involve the group of candidates and representatives of the company, both selectors and possibly recent graduates. You are not being formally assessed at this time, so don't worry - but at the same time, be sure not to drink too much and try and remember what your granny told you about table manners.

Are candidates competing against one another?

No: everybody, or nobody, in a group might be successful. There are normally no quotas and everybody is performing against a standard.

Who are the assessors?

Managers from the company, who have been trained in assessment. There will probably be a mixture of managers from the HR/Graduate recruitment function and line managers for whom the eventual graduate recruits will be working.

What is the most important part of an assessment centre?

Candidates are assessed on their performance across all the exercises and there is no one most important part. If you feel that you have performed poorly on one exercise, you may well compensate for this by doing well in another.

What does an assessment centre involve?


Contents of assessment centres

Most common activities used at assessment centres according to Employment Review

Most common assessment centre activities

Apart from interviews, an assessment centre may include the following:

The interviews will be similar to the first in some respects: a conversation with one or two interviewers. You may be interviewed by more senior members of staff: senior personnel and/or specialist line managers. Points from your first interview may be probed in greater depth.

Psychometric tests

are designed to test your numericalverbal and/or spatial abilities and are timed so that you have to work quickly: it is quite normal not to have enough time to finish all the questions. Work through the tests systematically, do as many questions as you can and don't panic. See our Psychometric Tests page for more details and lots of practice tests.

To access assessment exercises, visit our partner Graduates First. Graduates First provide assessment exercises, aptitude tests and other tools to job seekers, students and graduates. Kent students register using your Kent email address at to get access to a portfolio of free tests and tools.

In-tray exercises.

You will be given a selection of letters, memos, reports etc, in either paper or electronic format, similar to that which somebody doing the job might find in their in-tray or email inbox first thing in the morning. You will have to read through each item, decide on the action to be taken and the priority to be allocated to it and possibly to complete certain related tasks such as summarising a report or drafting a reply to an email. This exercise tests skills related to the job in question, particularly analytical and decision-making skills. Again, time constraints will be tight. 

See our In-Tray Exercises page

  • We were given 30 minutes to build a free standing tower with 50 sheets of A4 paper, 3 rulers, 50 paper clips. You had to make it as pleasing and as cheaply as possible: each object used was given a cost.
  • We were given a group exercise where we had to discuss the merits of different media (optical fibre, microwave, radio, submarine cable - don't worry, all the necessary information was given to us beforehand) to build a communications network between a set of small islands. I know less technical info than the other candidates, but the idea was to ask for other's opinions and make suggestions. Most importantly, don't hog the conversation: listen to the views of the other candidates.
  • In the written tests and interviews, they were looking for the ability to look at all sides of an argument objectively: student applying to Civil Service Fast Stream.

Group exercises

take a variety of forms: you may need to:

  • Discuss a general topic, e.g. “Identity cards should be compulsory in the UK”
  • Debate a work-related problem and come to a joint decision.
  • Complete a task, e.g. constructing a puzzle.

In most cases, you will not be competing against other members of the group: the entire group may be selected or rejected. The assessors will be looking to see how individuals function as members of the group, and how they respond and react to one another.

Think about the skills and personal qualities that will be required in the job. For some types of work, the assessors may be looking for very assertive and dominant people: in most areas it's likely that teamwork, co-operation and the ability to listen to others will be important.


may be on a topic you have been asked to prepare in advance or may be impromptu speeches. Generally, candidates are given up to half-an-hour to prepare their topic. Try to:

  • Speak clearly and confidently.
  • Keep within the allotted time.
  • Give a structured talk with an introduction and conclusion
  • Maintain good eye contact with your audience
  • Note down key points to keep yourself on course during your speech

See our Presentation Skills page for lots more tips.

The social sidecocktails.gif (3892 bytes)

Assessment centres may involve one or two nights away from home. Accommodation and meals will be provided by the employer, either in a company training centre or in a hotel. In either case, this will normally involve at least one evening meal with other candidates, recent graduate recruits and the interviewers. Although this is not a formal part of the selection procedure, you will be under observation (it has been dubbed "Trial by Sherry"!), so remember:

Who makes the final decision on candidates?

At the end of the assessment centre, all the assessors will discuss all aspects of the candidates' performance. The observers will rate candidates and give the evidence upon which their ratings are based; this is then likely to be discussed by the group as a whole before a final decision is reached.

Is that it?

Usually, yes - the assessment centre is the last stage in the selection process and will be followed by a job offer or rejection. If there are any problems - perhaps you have been offered a job with one employer while still waiting to hear from another - then ask to see a careers adviser.

If I don't get through, will I be told why?

Most employers are happy to provide feedback on candidates' performance at selection centres, if the candidate requests it - so don't hesitate to ask.



Careers and Employability Service - © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7ND, T: +44 (0)1227 764000 ext. 3299

Last Updated: 15/06/2018