Case studies, in-tray exercises, and written exercises can all form part of an assessment centre.
They are designed to assess your competency against the key requirements for the role.
They are usually placed after the initial (or telephone interview), and can often be performed on the same day as your first face-to-face interview.
Just as with interviews, preparation for an assessment centre is the key to success here, and you should dedicate time and effort to make sure that you give your best possible performance.
Here is our advice on how to perform well in an assessment centre…
A case study exercise involves being provided with information (written or verbally) and drawing conclusions from it, then presenting your recommendations or proposed course of action.
The case study can be a real-life case study with information from a business situation, or it may be completely fictional, written especially for the assessment centre.
You may be given information prior to your assessment center, or perhaps on the day of the assessment center itself. Either way, it is important to take time to digest the information and understand it fully.
Also make sure that you are fully aware of what is expected of you in your response – if in doubt, ask.
With the information that you have, it is a good idea to make notes and / or highlight key parts that you feel are most important to the task.
This is a skill that your assessors will be looking for – being able to synthesise the important information from the rest.
Once you have understood the key information, decide what the real issue or problem is. This will help you focus around the key problem, and will help you structure your response.
Now you have made an assessment of the key problem or issue, you can start to build your response. Identify potential solutions to the problem, and how they could be actioned.
Whatever you propose as your solution should directly address the problem.
If you have identified more than one issue from the case study materials, make sure you devise the same number of solutions – one solution for each problem.
You may be asked to present your response verbally, or in written format.
Either way, you should start with a summary of your assessment of the case study materials. Then highlight the main problem you have identified, and subsequently present your proposed solution.
Make sure you are very clear on what your solution is, how it can be implemented, and how your solution will address the problem.
Be aware of the time limits for this exercise. It is better to have a finished response that is not perfectly detailed than to have a very detailed response that is not finished, which shows a lack of time management.
In fact, this important principle is applicable for all exercises in an assessment center.
An in-tray exercise is designed to represent a real-life working situation, and are often considered one of the most effective exercises in any assessment centre.
You may be presented with a series of telephone calls, emails, documents, etc. and be asked to respond to each of them.
Your aim here is to prioritize the tasks, make decisions and delegate tasks, all within the set time limit.
In order to prioritise your tasks, you must first know everything that you’re dealing with, so read all documents through before responding to any of them.
Once you have read through everything, decide which of the tasks you must deal with first.
For example, a health and safety issue is more important than responding to a social invitation!
As you prioritise, keep a note (if only mentally) of why you have prioritised certain tasks above others – you may be asked to explain this later.
Even if your assessor may eventually suggest you could have prioritised differently, it is important to have a justification for why you made the decisions that you did.
Some of the tasks you will be able to delegate – this is a quick way to deal with the task freeing up your time.
As well as delegating to your staff or colleagues, you may also be able to ‘delegate upwards’ to your boss – consider this if there is a task that you feel requires a decision beyond your role’s responsibility.
For the tasks that you deal with directly, prepare notes of what you would do or what your decision is.
Unless you are specifically asked to write written responses, make concise bullet notes that you can refer to later to explain your course of action and / or decision.
As with tasks that you delegate, you should be able to provide a strong justification for why you have reached your decision or taken your action – it can help to refer to the original materials for this.
You may be asked to write a report about a certain topic, having being given information to review and summarise.
Given that you will be under a time limit for this exercise, it is important to focus on structuring your response around the key themes that you want to raise.
Read all the documentation thoroughly to make sure that you have a good understanding of the topic and the task. Make notes or highlight key information that you think will need to address in your written response.
Before you start writing, make some notes about the structure of your response. A simple yet useful structure to use is:
Introduction – tell the reader what you are going to tell them
Summarize the issue or problem from the materials you have been given. Then briefly explain that you have reached some conclusions and recommendations, and you will outline what these are.
Main body – tell the reader what you want to tell them
Consider breaking the main body of the response into sections, each with their own title, based on the conclusions or recommendations you have made.
Conclusion – tell the reader what you have just told them
In the Conclusion, you should articulate how your conclusions or recommendations address the task or the problem.
As with any written communications, don’t assume that your audience has the same knowledge or background information that you do. Explain your ideas in enough detail so that someone reading them for the first time can understand them too.
Generally it is best to avoid using acronyms, as this can alienate a reader who doesn’t know what it means.
However, if you do use acronyms make sure that you write the words out in full the first time you use it, followed by the acronym in brackets (e.g. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)). After that, you can use the acronym on its own.
So there you have it – our advice on how to perform well in an assessment centre.
With this information you should be well on your way to getting that job offer, so you should now start thinking about how to negotiate a job offer to get the best deal.