Assessment centres

Assessment Centres

You may be invited to attend an assessment centre, particularly if you are applying for a job with a large employer. Invitations to an assessment centre usually follow on from a first successful interview, although this is not always the case.

Why are they used?

Assessment centres give employers a chance to assess your performance in a more specific and analytical way and see your skills and personal qualities in action. The activities will have been carefully selected to provide the best chance of identifying candidates who are the best match to the job. The exercises may simulate typical duties in the job, or be more abstract, e.g. problem-solving games. No matter how odd or silly these activities seem, have a go and enter into the spirit of the task. The day will be challenging but stimulating, and students often report enjoying the experience.

Remember, everyone you meet during the day is important: staff, fellow interviewees and company representatives. How you present yourself to them and deal with them is likely to be noticed.

Be aware that it is not a competition within the group, you are all aiming to do well. All of you may get through or none of you.

Types of exercises recruiters use

Some main examples are outlined here but you may come across other exercises. Ask at the Careers Service for materials that will help you prepare.

  • Aptitude and Personality tests - You may be asked to repeat online tests you completed when you applied, or be given a personality questionnaire to complete. Our page on psychometric tests will help you prepare
  • Giving a presentation - is a popular choice at assessment centres as it shows the employer your ability to research, understand and communicate information well. It's worth brushing up on your presentation skills prior to attending an assessment centre
  • Report writing - in this exercise you will be provided with information about a particular issue and asked to write a short report or draft a response to a letter. You may have to discuss your ideas with a selector afterwards. You will be tested on your ability to:
    • analyse information quickly
    • think logically
    • use your judgement
    • express yourself clearly and accurately
  • In-tray & E-Tray exercises - you are given an appropriate work role (marketing manager for example) and the email in-box or 'In-Tray' for that job. You are asked to make decisions on the priority and handling of each item and will be working against the clock. 
    This exercise shows your:
    • ability to handle complex and unfamiliar information
    • basic job skills
    • communication and decision making skills
    • common sense
    • how you cope under pressure
  • Try out our sample in-tray exercise - what would you prioritise first? 
  • Group tasks and role play - Group tasks and role play exercises vary greatly but often involve candidates working to a brief with defined roles (as the finance manager, sales manager etc.) to tackle a workplace problem. Demonstrates your skills in:
    • group work. Particpate without dominating and try to involve others if they haven't said much.
    • communication. Listen to others without interrupting, but contribute your ideas, be prepared to challenge them if necessary
    • build on what others say - don’t just repeat it.  
    • adaptability and flexibility. Show you can adapt your ideas to achieve consensus
    • working under pressure. It's important to help the group achieve the task within the allocated time
    • determination, perseverance and commitment. The task is likely to be challenging, so keep focused
    • analysing information and problem solving. Help to generate possible solutions

Virtual reality exercises

To make assessment centres more engaging and realistic, a small number of employers are starting to use Virtual Reality technology whereby candidates undertake tasks in VR settings. The tasks may be a series of abstract games or scenarios which simulate the types of situations that the job involves. The immersive nature of VR means you will quickly feel involved and engage naturally with the task. Although far from commonplace, VR assessment may well be used by more employers in the future.

Graduates First - sample assessment centre exercises

Through our partnership with Graduate First, Sheffield University students and graduates have free access to:

  • Sample assessment centre exercises plus
  • 7 verbal reasoning tests
  • 7 numerical reasoning tests
  • 7 logical reasoning tests
  • A work style personality questionnaire
  • Situational judgement test
  • Interview Question Identifier tool

Register using your university email address at University of Sheffield portal for Graduates First to access the above free tools and tests. You will be required to register using your University of Sheffield email address.

If you are a graduate, you also need to use your University of Sheffield email address AND then email us at careers@sheffield.ac.uk to ask us to activate your account. Please supply your name, registration number, department and graduation date.

Please read the Graduates First Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy before you register.

Graduates First offer a variety of psychometric tests and other job assessment preparation solutions for students including detailed step-by-step guides to over 100 top graduate employer's recruitment stages and hints on how to pass their assessment process.

Access Graduates First practice tests

How to handle job offers After an initial verbal or email offer, you will usually get a formal written offer with details such as:
  • salary and hours of work
  • period of notice required for either party to end the contract
  • date you will start work
  • holiday entitlement and other benefits, e.g. pension scheme and bonuses
  • any required ‘probationary period’ before the job is ‘permanent’

The offer may be ‘conditional’, e.g. subject to satisfactory references, medical checks, a specified degree class, or security checks.

The offer forms one half of your contract of employment. If there is anything you do not understand or think has been omitted, you need to ask the employer. If you are unsure about any aspect, discuss it with a careers adviser before contacting them.

You probably have a good idea about whether you want the job but do think carefully about your needs and options. Accepting an offer of employment in writing constitutes your half of the employment contract. When the job is confirmed and no longer conditional, you should withdraw from all other job offers, interviews, and remaining applications.

Job offers can cause problems if you have other applications pending, but do not accept one with the intention of hoping to turn it down in favour of another employer. Verbal and written acceptances are legally and morally binding. The best advice is to thank the employer, explain you are definitely interested and ask for some time to consider it, giving them a date by which you expect to respond. If you are uncertain what to do, discuss it with a careers adviser.

If you decide to decline an offer, let the employer know as soon as possible so they can offer the job to someone else. Thank them and outline your reasons if appropriate. Be professional and considerate as you may come into contact with this employer again in the future.

What to do if you are not successful

Ask for help. If you are getting to interview or assessment centre then your applications are fine, so something could be going wrong during selection. Think about how well you prepared, what happened, how you responded to questions, and whether you really came across as enthusiastic about the job.

Ask the employer for feedback. Not all employers will discuss their decision but they may give you advice. Discuss things with a careers consultant to help identify any problems.

Remember, there may not be much wrong with what you did. You may have only just missed out!

Keep trying; you will become even more skilled and confident with practice.