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How to prepare for a graduate or consultant assessment centre?


Candidate assessment is used to select the best person for a role or to identify the development needs of a current population of employees.

Graduate and consultant assessment is a very similar if not the same assessment process in terms of:

  1. Assessment Methods/Exercises

  2. Ratings

  3. Indicators

Assessments are typically carried out by a manager (sometimes senior managers) and a second assessor is usually present to support the assessment. This person will either be a member of a team for that area of the business or a member of HR. The assessors will use rating scales to score your performance. Usually 1-5 rating scale. More on the rating scale below. 


🎤 Competency-based interviews

Competency interviews consist of questions that are designed to target a specific skill or competency. Competency interviews are based on the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

Questions will typically begin with:

‘Tell me about a time..........’ / ‘Describe a time..........’ / ‘Give me an example of..........’

E.g. If you were applying for a job which involves customer service, an interview question might be:

‘Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer’

I am not fond of these interviews but they are here to stay for now.

Interview hints and tips:
  1. Try to take every opportunity to demonstrate your skills throughout the interview. If you don’t share information about your suitability then the assessors will not be able to include it in their assessment.

  2. Take time to think before you answer.

  3. Try to turn any negative points raised into positive attributes.

  4. Use specific examples where you have played an important role, in order to demonstrate your experience of the competencies and use ‘I’ inside of ‘we’

  5. Use a framework to help you to respond to questions in a well structured manner:

When answering these questions, think about the Situation, Action and Result as a model to structure your answer around. Do not answer more than 3-4 mins in total against each question. Finish off with a question (do you need more detail?) or simply stop talking to indicate you finished.

  1. Try to provide examples from a range of situations to offer breadth and depth

  2. Bring in evidence of how you keep up to date professionally, through reading, networking, professional bodies, etc.

  3. There will be the opportunity for you to ask questions at the end of the interview. You should stick to questions about the role, the team, the future strategy or direction of the team rather than asking for initial feedback about your performance in the interview. It is good practice to prepare some questions in advance.

Technical Questions

The interview may include some technical questions. These are designed to assess the specific skills and knowledge that are relevant to the role. These questions will be specified by the hiring manager and will be linked to the role profile.

Technical knowledge and skills could be languages, project management methodologies, law and legislation, coding skills etc

💻 Presentations

Presentations look at your ability to organise, structure and present information in a clear and concise way. A presentation topic may be given to you on the day of assessment with time to prepare or may be given out before the day of assessment.

Whilst the content and the quality of the presentation is important, the assessors will also be looking to see how well you can deliver a well-structured, clear presentation and how you respond to follow up questions.

Presentation Hints and Tips

  1. Consider using visual aids such as flip charts or power point (if available)

  2. Keep to time, otherwise you may be stopped before you have completed the presentation.

  3. Give your presentation a structure: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve told them

  4. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as such but if you don’t have structure the point you are trying to make may be lost.

  5. Speak clearly to person/s you are presenting to – not to the flipchart or your notes.

  6. Make brief notes or write down cue words to help keep you on track but make sure that you do not read talk your notes word for word

  7. It is likely that you will be questioned at the end of the presentation so keep this in mind if you make any assertions

  8. Be conscious of tone of voice and body language, words themselves only make up a very small percentage of communication.

  9. Make eye contact and try to engage the audience

  10. If you’re asked to present options and a recommendation, think about taking it a step further to implementation plan and evaluation: how will you measure success, ROI (return on investment) and the commercial impact/benefits?

🚀 Case studies

A case study exericse might be used to look at how you analyse a range of information and how you make decisions about future actions and priorities. This information will usually be based on a fictional company and scenario and may include graphs, charts and numerical data as well as written information.

The specific details about what is being looked for will vary from role to role, but your ability to identify key themes and trends, to link data and to make rational decisions and recommendations are often important.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate your planning, decision making and communication skills.

Case Study Hints and Tips

  1. Don’t panic if there is a large amount of paper involved

  2. Try to look through and identify priorities

  3. Ensure you understand the purpose of the exercise as this will help you focus on the right elements of the task

  4. Ensure you plan your time well - you must leave time to achieve the objective

  5. Make use of frameworks, e.g. SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Consultancy cycle to help you analyse, digest, prioritise information and gather evidence of reasoning in your decision making

  6. Think about pros, cons, risks associated with your decisions

  7. Look for opportunities to work in partnership with others externally and internally

  8. You may need to make some assumptions. You should make this clear and explain what you would do in order to clarify your assumptions

  9. Demonstrate a plan of action including how you would proceed and take your recommendations forward through implementation and evaluation

  10. Think about metrics and performance measures via key themes: people; customer; financial, etc.

▶️ Role plays/simulations

A role-play looks at how you behave and perform in a job- related situation. As the candidate you assume a defined role and typically deals with another person in a one-to-one meeting. A role player responds “in character” to your actions, comments and behaviours. Example role-plays might include:

· Handling a difficult customer or complaint.

· Disciplining or appraising a member of staff.

· Negotiating a contract or project delivery.

· Meeting to discuss your company’s ‘equality’ record.

Role play study hints and tips

  1. Build rapport in the role play with the other person

  2. Always listen to what is being said

  3. Use open rather than closed questions when you want to draw out more information – you can always ask if there is anything else the role player can share that they are aware of but has not yet been discussed

  4. Think about your body language and tone of voice

  5. Make sure your role play has a beginning, middle and end and treat this like a meeting you would run following a degree of structure

  6. Don’t assume you have all the information to hand, use this as an opportunity to test what you know and consult around the topic

  7. Think creatively about options and potential solutions, how can you drive change?

  8. Ask their opinion as well as offering your own

  9. Consider when it might be appropriate to use different influencing styles (push versus pull)

🎙 Group exercises

A group-exercise requires you to work with other candidates as part of a team to resolve a presented issue. These exercises are designed to measure interpersonal skills such as group leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and group problem solving skills.

Group Discussion Hints and Tips

  1. Read any information as quickly as you can and try to absorb the essential points.

  2. Don’t feel pressured to lead or chair the meeting, or take a role such as scribe, think instead about making a valuable and valid contribution balanced throughout the meeting

  3. Ensure that the brief is followed by paying careful attention to the purpose and outcome of the exercise.

  4. Make your contributions relevant, positive and well thought out.

  5. Be assertive but don’t dominate the group.

  6. Speak confidently and loudly enough for all to hear.

  7. Show regard for other group members - encourage others to contribute and listen to the points being made.

  8. Ask others in the group for their points of view and feedback.

  9. Be aware of any time limits.

  10. Be ready to compromise if necessary – this is not a sign of weakness! Do not argue dogmatically; be polite and tactful when presenting an opposite view.


For interviews and observed exercises (excluding personality questionnaires and ability tests), assessors will score your performance using standardised indicators that align with the below 5 point rating scale as a general example. A rating of ‘3’ represents the benchmark for adequate performance in the role.

This rating scale is broken down into a range of INDICATORS for each competency. These indicators support a standardised and consistent scoring approach. They are always tailored to each exercise and programme. They are rarely to never shared with candidates as assessors use them to assess candidates and allocate a rating.

As an insight always look at the relevant organisation values, mission, purpose and competency based frameworks if published and picture they will ask you questions entered around them. Try and put yourself in the assessors' shoes.

It is all about:

  1. Can you do the job we are assessing you against?

  2. Is there a potential for you to grow?

  3. Should we invest in you as an organisation?

Some organisations use a 4 point rating scare or different point scales. I hope this gives you an idea how it may look.

If you need help to prepare for your graduate or consultant role assessment, you can ak k h call with me to go through all detail or a coffee call to discuss your concerns.

Best wishes and Good Luck with your assessments


Person reading reports
Graduate or Consultant Assessment Centre

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