Assessment centres are often a major part of the consultancy application process. While they can seem very daunting, it is important to remember that they are not put in place to trip you up. Companies use assessment centres as a way of seeing how capable you are and how you work, both alone and with others.

What are assessment centres?

Also referred to as selection centres, assessment centres allow companies to assess a candidate’s ability and evaluate the skills they could bring to the organisation. Evaluations at assessment centres last between 1-2 days and take place following the first round of interviews and before the final selection.

What is involved?

At assessment centres there will be a range of tasks which you shall be expected to complete. Activities are usually made up of a combination of aptitude tests, group and individual exercises, presentations and interviews. Some of the tests will examine your skills and knowledge of a particular area, while others will be looking at how you interact with others and work in a group environment.

Top tip 1:

‘Show that you truly understand the company you are applying to. Memorising the website then repeating it parrot fashion is no good.

 

A great candidate can talk about what the business does, where it is going and how it is a great career prospect. This is the kind of preparation that will make you stand out above other candidates.’

 

Gillian Bray, HR Manager, Alfa

Group exercises
Group tasks often worry candidates the most. The main concern here is knowing what you’re being assessed on. Working well with the others in the group whilst you are competing with them for the position can leave candidates unsure of how to behave.

Group exercises can vary in topic, with some directly related to consultancy and others based on solving a business problem or even a simple unrelated task. They do however have one common theme: they are assessing how well you work with and interact within the group. Firms want to see evidence of your team working and communication skills, as well as problem solving skills and determination or drive.

If you are worried about group exercises, take a look at our top tips for group assessments. 

In-tray exercises
One of the most common forms of individual task is an in-tray or e-tray exercise. You are set up on a computer with a fictitious email address. You will have to work your way through various queries in your inbox and deal with them accordingly.

These exercises are looking to assess your decision making, problem solving, organisational and interpersonal skills. Your attention to detail and time management will also be noted.

Take a look at a sample in-tray test and read our advice on how to succeed in them.

Top tip 2:

Impressive: It’s impressive to meet a focused candidate who has clearly thought through why they are interested in this career, what they can offer us, what Bain can offer them – and one who is well prepared and structured in their responses. It’s also impressive when a candidate consistently applies common sense to the numerical answers they come up with. Without the interviewer prompting them, great candidates ask themselves ‘does that number make any sense given what I do know?’ and either justify or revise the number on that basis.

Not so impressive: The worst thing to do is ramble. If, halfway through an answer, you’ve forgotten the question, clarify with the interviewer rather than trying to wriggle out of it. Also, look the part – casual clothes are a no!

Jessie Lemieux, Recruiting Specialist, Bain & Company

Presentations
You may be asked to prepare a short presentation either before your assessment centre or when you arrive to present on the day. Topics for these presentations can vary from the typical ‘why would you like to work for us?’ through to specific topic or consultancy related questions.

The audience may vary for your presentation; it could be the other assessment centre participants or senior staff at the company. If you are present for other candidates’ presentations, make sure you are attentive and polite: remember, you are still being observed by assessors even when you’re not presenting. Regardless of who you are presenting to, make sure you remain confident and professional throughout.

Firms are looking for you to display strong communication skills, enthusiasm, confidence and a genuine interest in the topic. Depending on the topic you may also need to show a sense of commercial awareness and the ability to identify key information.

Interviews

Depending on the company, interviews may take place during, after, or instead of assessment days. Often held with a senior consultant these interviews are largely competency based. Be sure to remain polite and professional but allow the interviewer to get to know you. While you may be the one being interviewed, you will be given a chance to ask any questions you might have; prepare yourself with a couple of strong questions about the company or their culture to show your interest. Remember, the application process is as much a process to help you choose your employer as it for the companies to choose you.

Read on for more information on how to handle interview case studies.

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