Assessment centre: what to expect as a school leaver

The idea of an assessment centre may well send a wee shiver down your spine. The phrase sounds downright scary. But if you’re applying for a school leaver programme, sponsored degree, or higher apprenticeship with a professional services firm or financial firm, you’re going to have to face the thing head on. Without success at an assessment centre, you shall not pass!

However, you’ll be jolly pleased to hear that an assessment centre isn’t nearly as scary as you might think. If you are invited along to an assessment centre day with a firm, there will be information available online on the itinerary. By checking up on this information, you’re already dispelling the fear of the unknown about the whole thing, which is part of the problem.

Here’s a little list of some of the stuff you can expect from a school leaver assessment day and what you can do to conquer the experience. Read on, take heed and, good grief, when the day finally comes round you may even enjoy it!

1. Assessment centres last a whole day

Assessment centres have to cram a lot in, with different exercises and stages and constant assessment throughout the course of the day. Sounds a bit intense, right? It’s true, they will be watching to see how you react and interact with the people you meet—not just in the exercises but on your breaks as well. This isn’t as bad as it sounds! Try to relax, be yourself and smile! It’ll make you feel better and people will warm to you quicker.

2. There will be a number of other school leaver candidates there too

The idea of staring your competition in the face can be intimidating too. But remember, you’ve all got to this stage now for a reason, and it means you’re all in with an equal chance. Don’t try and picture them as competition. Instead, view them as colleagues for the day! This’ll certainly help you out when you have to work together in the group exercises, and will also enable you to relax.

3. There could be some numerical and verbal reasoning tests

Some firms will set these as part of the day. If this is the case, you’ll be made aware in good time before the day. Take advantage of the practice tests available on their websites—this way, you’ll know exactly the type of question to expect.

4. There will certainly be a group exercise or two

You’ll have to work in a team with some fellow candidates to come up with some solutions to problems you’re given. Again, don’t panic! Encourage your teammates in their ideas and make sure you do contribute. But there’s a balance to strike here: you don’t want to come across as someone who’s a bit gobby and doesn’t value the opinions of other people! So try not to talk over others and give them chance to speak too! They’re looking for someone who can work effectively in a team.

5. There will be food—with an agenda

There’s usually a free lunch involved. Brill! But remember that bit about constant assessment throughout the day? You won’t by any means be under Big Brother-esque surveillance as you gobble down your sandwiches; however, trainees at the company are often invited to lunch too, which will be a great opportunity for you to do a bit of networking. Make the most of the chance to talk to them and find out about life at that firm; it will be evident that you are enthusiastic about the programme and the opportunities on offer.

6. There will be a partner interview

This will not be a grilling! The partner isn’t there to catch you out. Remember, they are fully aware that you have a limited amount of work experience at this point; they won’t be expecting you to come out with encyclopaedic knowledge on the industry and The Financial Times! Focus on knowing about what it is the company does, who their clients and competitors are, some recent news in the industry and what that might mean for the company you’re interviewing with. A partner will be able to suss out if you have this knowledge as you talk. And they’re also interested to know about you as a person!