Assessment Centres

These vary from firm to firm but generally last half a day and can consist of:

  1. Group Exercise
  2. In tray exercise
  3. Case Study
  4. Interviews
  5. Online tests

Group Exercise

You are normally split into a group of 4 and given a task. You will be observed throughout. You are being observed as to how well you work in a group, collaborate, influence, lead, support and get the best out of people. This does not mean you therefore have to immediately lead or dominate but neither is it acceptable that you contribute little. You need to take an active part. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you actively listen to the other members of the group and do not talk over them;
  • If there is someone who is very quiet, rather than ignore them, ask them for their opinion and try and involve them;
  • Ask for the groups agreement on something rather than being assumptive;
  • If others have good ideas or points of view, say so and act on them;
  • Take a role if its relevant (time keeper, scribe etc)
  • Do not argue or be aggressive in any way;
  • Be logical, not emotional;
  • Stand up for your point or idea and explain it and justify it – be assertive without being over bearing. Have an opinion!
  • It’s a good idea to summarise the decisions along the way or push for decisions/progress to be made. You may say, “I think we have discussed this enough now, we need to make a decision which way to go”.
  • If relevant, ensure you delegate tasks at the beginning;
  • Try and bring some structure to the exercise if relevant;
  • Don’t forget to plan;
  • Don’t lose sight of the objectives;
  • Be respectful at all times;
  • Remember there are often no right or wrong answers – they are simply examining how you interact with others.

You may also find that you will be asked to present your findings or conclusions at the end of the process.

“Make sure you stick rigidly to the time allocation you have been given.”

Many firms will stop you when your time is up. One true example of this was where an individual was given 2 minutes to present. He started by introducing himself – took 2 minutes to do this and was then stopped as he was out of time. So be sensible about how much information you can impart in a short space of time and ensure you cover the salient points.

“It’s a common mistake to get lost in the introduction or the detail.”

Case Study

The case study exercise can be for individuals or groups. You will usually be given some information about a business scenario and invited to examine the evidence before presenting your findings and advice. You may also be drip-fed additional information to assess and respond to throughout the allocated time.

Case studies are particularly popular in assessment centres for graduate jobs in banking, financial services, accountancy and management consulting, but they can also be part of assessments for other business sectors and industries. They are typically based on real-life business situations.

Practice tests for Case Study HERE

You may well need to perform a SWOT analysis on the company and would be well advised to understand what PESTLE analysis is, as this will help you. You may be asked whether a particular company should be bought or sold, your recommendations as to how you could help the company or what the key issues are.

“You will no doubt be provided with some financial data. Ensure you establish the key trends – are sales/profit/costs rising or falling.
Are certain products or geographies doing better than others.”

Think through the 4 P’s (product, price, place & promotion) as well as how the company will grow and compete, its people and management. There is probably no right or wrong answer.

“Try and understand the company’s positioning in its marketplace – what is its competitive advantage.
Your strategy and recommendation’s must be inline with this.”

Practice tests for Case Study HERE

Popular scenarios can involve:

  • Online companies – the business model is usually different. It may also be that a company needs to establish an online presence
  • Retail companies – often supply change management is important here and operational efficiency
  • Low cost suppliers (such as an airline) – understand the dynamics of a low cost operation.

The case study exercise is designed to assess some or all of the following skills

  • Analysis. How well you assimilate and evaluate large amounts of unfamiliar information.
  • Problem solving. There will probably be no one right answer, but you’ll need to show that you can respond to information in a logical and constructive way.
  • Flexibility. How you adjust to a constant drip-feed of new information.
  • Time management. Managing activities to complete the task in the allocated time.
  • Team working and leadership. How well you work with and facilitate others. The role you take within the group.
  • Commercial awareness. Being up to speed with what is currently happening in the business world.
  • Presentation. Your ability to present concise findings in a confident, clear and appropriate order.


There may well be a number of these with managers from the actual business. Some may be competency based again. Ensure you have done your homework about why you want to join that company and why that position. You may get asked detailed questions about the company such as its share price, its market cap, latest deals, and latest news. You may also get asked about current affairs or something topical. It depends who you are interviewing with.

Some companies like brain teasers – these can be lateral thinking questions as well as genuine mathematical problem solving. Popular are questions such as:

  1. How many people fly from Heathrow each day?
  2. How many cups of coffee does Costa sell in the UK in a day?
  3. How many golf balls can you fit into a mini?

You are not expected to know the answer. You are being tested on your logical approach to it. Make an assessment at each stage. So for example you may say that there are on average 300 people on a plane and one leaves Heathrow every 3 mins from 7am to 11pm which is 20 planes per hour for 16 hours which is 320 planes x 300 people = 96,000 people every day.

It does not matter that there maybe 500 people on average on a plane or that one leaves every 1 min – it’s your approach that they are looking for. Just be brave and make an assessment.


In-tray exercise

The basic idea of in-tray exercises is to place you in a realistic although simulated work situation, and to assess your workplace behaviour and attitudes in that context. You’ll probably be asked to imagine that you’re an employee of a fictitious company, and to work through the contents of your in tray in that role.

It’s usual to be given between ten and thirty in-tray items to work on, in addition to a description of your role and responsibilities in the fictional organisation. You’ll also normally be given information about the fictional organisation’s aims, objectives and problems, as well as its structure; a list of key fellow employees; and information about key third party organisations and relationships, as well as a calendar of future events. The best candidate will keep all of these things in their mind whilst responding to the in-tray items. So there’s a lot to get through in the hour or so you usually get allowed!

Practice In- tray tests here

Most in tray exercises are designed to test a particular set of key competencies, which the employer deems to be important. For example they might focus on your delegation skills, your readiness to share problems with others, your independence, or your affinity or aversion to procedures. It is important that you think about what competencies each employer is looking for, and to emphasise these traits when answering their in tray exercise. Each different employer may be looking for different attributes in their new recruits. These exercises are very good at seeing how you will cope with the real-world stresses of diary management and prioritisation.

“Remember that it’s crucial that you identify the key issues arising from the in tray items:
while you should aim to complete every task in the limited time allotted,
do not lose sight of prioritising more important tasks.”

You’ll be assessed, after all, not simply on your ability to get things done quickly, but on your ability to spot whether some tasks are more urgent than others, and on the balance you strike between working quickly and working effectively.

The best approach is to quickly read through every item in your in-tray before answering any questions. But do make notes on your thoughts as you read through each item. It’s best to wait until you have read everything before responding because an item which comes up might affect how you react to an earlier item, or even contradict it. The assessor will not look favourably on you just ploughing in to the questions.

Adapted from