Assessment centres

What to expect at assessment centres, types of exercise, and top tips for performing well


What is an assessment centre?

Assessment centres are typically the final stage of the recruitment process for large graduate recruiters. They may take place in-person or online and range in duration from half a day to two days (one day being typical).

Assessment centres are considered to be the most reliable predictor of performance in a job role and are used to assess candidates’ suitability. You will be asked to complete a range of activities designed to test your motivation, skills and fit.   

The process itself can be exciting, stimulating and challenging. It’s normal to feel nervous but with the right preparation you can manage your anxiety and have the confidence to engage with the process. You might even enjoy it!  

  • Before the assessment centre, remind yourself of the attributes this employer wants by looking again at the job description and person specification. These should give a good insight into the skills they will look for at the assessment centre.  
  • Read your original application so it’s fresh in your mind, as you may be asked for more detail.
  • Check the invite for further details; it will tell you what to expect and how best to prepare. 

Considerations for in-person assessment centres

  • Read the information you've been given beforehand on location, date, time and the format of the day. 
  • Check your travel arrangements and allow for delays and navigating rush hour traffic. Arrive ahead of time but not too early – why not find a cafe or quiet spot nearby? 
  • Dress appropriately; you are well-advised to stick to more conventional clothing – think ‘business dress’. If you are on a tight budget you could try local charity shops.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.

Considerations for virtual assessment centres

Virtual assessment centres tend to be very similar to a traditional assessment day in terms of the tasks and activities they include. How can you prepare? What can you expect in the run up to the day? This article will help: 

What to expect from a virtual assessment centre (University of Edinburgh login required)

How will I be assessed?

  • There will be an assessment framework which will reflect the job requirements and core competencies. All observations are evaluated using a scoring matrix.  
  • Assessors will observe you closely and will make notes – don’t see this as a negative action – they are keen to record positive behaviours.
  • Recruiters will look at your performance across the whole assessment centre, so if one exercise doesn’t go particularly well try not to dwell on it. Look ahead to the next task. Stay focussed and motivated, even if you’re feeling drained, as this will be noticed.  
  • All candidates will receive feedback irrespective of the outcome.

Types of activities

The types of activities you might expect are: 

Further support

If you’re unsure and would like to talk through aspects of the assessment centre or any concerns you may have, there are a range of ways we can support you:

Information and advice drop-ins

Offered online and on campus. No need to book! Great for asking quick questions and getting answers.

Information and advice drop-ins schedule (University of Edinburgh login required)

Book an appointment with any of our Careers Consultants

Use the "Talk to us" tab and select the “Discuss my career (up to 30 minutes)” option: 

Book an appointment (University of Edinburgh login required)