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How to Survive a Graduate Online Assessment Centre

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Building a Better You

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What is today's blog about?

Jake Edwards is a recent First Class graduate from the BSc (Hons) Real Estate course at the University of the West of England (UWE).

This article is written in Jake's own words about how he secured his first graduate role at Cushman & Wakefield - we hope you find it useful!

I recently went through the graduate application process and successfully secured a position with a leading real estate company. Below I share my experience of an online assessment centre, which I hope can help you prepare for yours.

What is an online assessment centre?

If you are applying for a graduate-level job or internship, you probably know that the larger companies hold assessment centre days, most of which are currently online due to coronavirus.

An assessment centre is a combination of tasks and activities set by the employer to evaluate how you respond to various situations, exercises, and tests, to determine if you have the skills needed for the job. They are usually the final stage of the application process, with online centres taking a few hours. If you have reached this stage, it means that the company likes you.

Assessment Day Structure

Every company has a slightly different structure. It is important that you do your research and know exactly what is expected of you. Contacting graduate recruitment is a great way to do this, while building a relationship with them.

General structure in my experience (with gaps in between):

Welcome Talk 30 minutes

Group Exercise 30 minutes (+20 minutes offline)

Presentation & Interview 60 minutes

Closing Talk 15 minutes

Individual Microsoft Teams links were emailed to me for each part. The email addresses of the other candidates were visible, so I checked them on LinkedIn. By learning about them prior to meeting with the group, I was able to prepare more effectively and control my nerves.

I was told that the group exercise, presentation, and interview were the only parts being assessed. However, in reality, you are being observed the entire time, so you should keep that in mind.

Welcome Talk

There will be a welcome talk at all assessment centres where the Early Careers team explain the day's structure. All other candidates will be on the call, so be there a few minutes early to show that you are keen. There's no harm in dressing 'too' smart, as first impressions do make a difference, but don’t overdo it. I wore a suit and tie, which was perfectly adequate.

Group Task

After the welcome, we received an information pack via email containing the brief and lots of information about possible solutions for a decision that the company had to make. Our task was to review the options and agree as a team on which solution was best for the company to move forward with. The welcome call ended, and we had 20 minutes to analyse the resources. This was done offline, individually, with no assessors present.

After 20 minutes, we joined our smaller group calls. Again, make sure to turn up a few minutes early. We had 25 minutes to discuss our ideas as a team, and 5 minutes to present the solution we chose.

Our group consisted of 5 people, including me. However, during the exercise, one candidate dropped out due to poor Wi-Fi speed. Make sure you have access to a quiet space with good lighting and internet connection a few days before the assessment centre.

Stepping up as the timekeeper is a great way to excel from the start and play a key role in the entire exercise. However, you must be quick because others will try to do the same.

In 25 minutes, we covered all potential outcomes and their:

  • Alignment with the company’s values and business objectives

  • Associated risks and opportunities

  • Speculative business growth

  • Consideration to employees, clients, and other stakeholders

Researching the company’s values in advance helped me a lot, and as a team, we quickly determined the non-viable outcomes. After we agreed on a solution, the assessors provided last-minute information that potentially invalidated our decision. They were looking for critical thinking and quick problem solving. Providing a valid solution to work around the new information is a really good way to demonstrate solution-oriented thinking, while communicating it to your team and proposing it as a leader.

For the presentation, it was up to us to decide whether one or more people should speak. We agreed that we would all present. I recommend always stepping up to say something because it further demonstrates your keenness to contribute. After 23 minutes, we decided who would say what. This is a good opportunity to delegate. For example, ‘Name, you had some great ideas about the associated risks and opportunities involved, what do you think about presenting those points?’. Positivity, encouragement, delegation, and leadership!

There are many soft skills you can practice for group tasks. Again, doing your research and knowing how to behave and what language to use will benefit you massively.

By all means, do not be negative. If someone comes up with an idea that does not fit the goals of the task, support the point of view and build on it. Just mentioning that you do not like someone else’s idea reflects poorly on you.

Nervousness is normal, and everyone in your group wants to do well. My experience has been that when I got stuck with an idea, someone else quickly stepped in and vice versa. As long as you are enthusiastic, communicate effectively, contribute, and demonstrate the soft skills they are looking for, you have nothing to worry about.

Presentation & Interview

At this stage, you have a chance to really impress the assessors and convince them that you will be beneficial to their company. I joined the online room before the two assessors to show that I was ready and on time, and to calm the nerves.

My interview was conducted by a partner and a senior member from the company. It started with a 10 minute presentation, followed by 20 minutes of presentation questions, and ended with 30 minutes of competency based questions.

A week in advance I was emailed several topics on which I was to prepare a presentation on one of them, acting as though I was briefing and advising a company client. The presentation had to include the following:

  • My stance on the topic

  • Considerations I thought the client should take account of

  • Recommendations I had for the client moving forward

I practiced my presentation a lot in advance. Having my script memorised helped me deliver the presentation confidently and within the time limit. Also, if you do research on your chosen topic and conduct further reading on each point in your presentation, you will show a keen commercial awareness and be able to give convincing answers.

Question topics asked on my presentation:

  • Commercial awareness on topics covered

  • Presentation preparation

  • Presentation structure

  • Sources of information and data

  • Assumptions I made about the client

  • Rationale behind my viewpoint

  • How I reached my conclusion and recommendations

The assessors were particularly interested in my point of view. However, as long as you prepare and practice, there are no right or wrong answers.

The best way to feel confident is to be prepared. For the competency interview, I wrote down a list of 20 popular questions I could have been asked and then rehearsed them aloud in a private room with my CV. I found this was a good way to cover many experiences in my life that I could use to answer the questions. Hearing yourself speak helps you refine your answers, and the more you rehearse and practice, the more confident you become at improvising. Only the assessors know what they will ask you, so it is important that you improvise from the rehearsed questions.

Common questions asked can be found online and if you dig deep enough there are likely to be lists of questions previously asked by the specific company you are applying to.

Always have questions ready at the end, to show enthusiasm and interest for the role and company.

Closing Talk

The closing talk consisted of 15 minutes during which we were informed about the next steps and had another opportunity to ask further questions. features articles that go into more detail about how to secure a job and prepare for interviews and presentations, including:

Good luck!

How can we help?

Stay tuned for our next blog post to help build a better you.

N.b. Nothing in this article constitutes legal, professional or financial advice.


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