Navigating
Assessment Centre

Interviews and online tests are not the only mechanisms that employers use to screen candidates. A popular mechanism that many employers use is the assessment centre.

Navigating Assessment Centre

01

Role-play Exercises

Let’s say you are applying for a role that involves client management or customer services, and you mentioned in your job application that you are really good at it. The best way for the employer to assess your aptitude, is to put you through a role-play exercise.

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What is it

  • A fictional scenario in which you have to assume a role to respond to a situation, a person or persons. The scenarios can be difficult or awkward, but is usually relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • You will be provided a brief on your role, the situation, and your desired outcome.
  • An assessor might be at hand to observe how you react and respond as the scenario plays out, or the entire session may be recorded.
  • These scenarios may include but are not limited to:
    • Dealing with a difficult/ angry customer or colleague
    • Disciplining or appraising a staff member
    • Bargaining for a pricing position
    • Negotiating a contract or project delivery with a stakeholder

What is being tested

  • A mix of strategic thinking and people skills
  • Can you create a solution that support the needs of your customer or stakeholder while also serving the needs of your company?
  • Do you actually understand what your customer or stakeholder really need, over and above what they are saying?
  • Can you stay calm and collected under pressure?
  • How adaptable are you as new developments unfold?

How to prepare for it

Before the role-play, familiarize yourself with the organization and job you are applying for. Note the key competencies or skills stated in the job description. This will give you clues to what behaviours you will most likely be tested on.

At the start of the role-play, read through the brief thoroughly and think about the strategic outcome that you are supposed to achieve. The brief is usually kept short so that you should focus more on your reaction and not on analyzing the causes of issues. Pre-empt the possible arguments that the role player may throw at you, and consider your possible responses.

Start the role play with positivity and enthusiasm, project understanding and empathy towards the role player, and maintain amicable throughout the conversation. Be firm by summarising the follow-up actions and your outcomes at the end. Also, be mindful that assessors will be evaluating your ability to defuse a situation or negotiate a positive outcome, not your acting skills.

Who uses it

You will likely encounter this assessment method if you are applying for the following roles:

  • Customer engagement or relationship management
  • Procurement and liaison with either internal or external stakeholders (e.g. government relations)
  • Corporate communications or media relations

02

Intray Exercises

One of the major differences between campus and workplace is that unlike your assignments and examinations with structured milestones and deadlines, workplace tasks and duties can come at any time, anywhere and in any format. Some employers use in-tray exercises to evaluate your response to these scenarios.

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What is it

  • It is a scenario where you will be asked to assume a role within an organisation.
  • You will then be given a collection of fictional documents resembling official company documents relevant to the role you’ve assumed. You will also receive access to an email inbox.
  • These documents are usually in the form of emails, reports, calendars and or work instructions in your “in-tray”. It may include customer complaints, telephone call memos, resignation letter, order invoices, bad press for a supplier, etc.
  • You will be given a specific time review the documents and emails before you are asked to share with the assessor how you plan to manage the different tasks before you.
  • You may also be asked to determine which item(s) you will work on first. The assessment will be based on how aligned your priority list is to a set rubric.
  • You may also be asked to identify business challenges and opportunities that you may have noticed from reading the documents and correspondence before you and how you plan on addressing those challenges and opportunities.

What is being tested

  • Ability to prioritise tasks based on urgency (and sift out the “chatter”, so to speak)
  • Ability to connect the dots (for example, how tasks may be interrelated)
  • Time management skills
  • Analytical skills

How to prepare for it

In-tray exercises are essentially a good simulation of the demands of the job. It is mainly a test of how well you prioritize what’s urgent vs what is truly important, sift out the important stuff from the “chatter”, and how well you connect seemingly unrelated items.

A good strategy at the start is to lay out the in-tray items in chronological order and highlight important or urgent items. Typically, you will score well for giving the correct priority to certain items, as well as taking appropriate actions on others. Verbalize your thought process on the reasoning behind your priority list to the assessors.

Familiarize yourself with simple models like the Eissenhower 2 by 2 Matrix or the SWOT framework. They will help you sort out the information before you.

Who uses it

You will likely encounter this assessment method if you are applying for the following roles:

  • Banking & financial institutions
  • Accountancy companies
  • Consultancy companies
  • Public sector

03

Group Discussions & Presentations

In most job descriptions, “teamwork”, “collaboration” and “communication” are common soft skills that employers are looking for. These skills are also often the ones that ensure job longevity and career progression. Some employers will use this method to determine if you have these requisite skills.

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What is it

  • You will be grouped with others into small groups and given a time frame to look at a problem statement together. The case study may or may not be related to the employer or the industry.
  • You will typically be given tools (writing materials, charts, laptop) to put together a group presentation that summarises your group’s recommendations to solve the problem.
  • There will be roving assessors observing every candidate in your team, or the session could be recorded and assessed later.
  • The presentations will usually conclude with a Q&A from employer representatives. In some cases, the groups may be required to ask each other questions.

What is being tested

  • How well do you work in a team?
  • Can you communicate clearly with your group mates?
  • What are you natural behaviours in group settings? Do you lead? Do you dominate? Do you contribute ideas freely or do you need to be invited to speak?
  • When discussions are not going anywhere, can you create a framework or matrix or set of criteria to help the group make a decision?

How to prepare for it

Group exercises are essentially a simulation of real work scenarios, where employers will measure your ability to work in a team; to lead, contribute, delegate, and to solve problems. They are also looking to assess your ability to lead your group to a good decision for the company. To do that, it helps to familiarize yourself with a few frameworks that can aid in decision making? Some are common frameworks like SWOT or the BCG Growth Matrix and sometimes you will have to create a simple score card system with scores for different ideas measured against key objectives decided by your group.

During the discussion stage, display initiative by volunteering to kick-start the process. Project confidence by taking the discussion forward without being too domineering. Be inclusive of opinions that are different from yours and do not appear defensive if your opinion is challenged. Be encouraging of every member in your team and if you notice any member getting ignored or sidelined, make it a point to engage them by asking for their opinion. Also remember that assessors can only evaluate based on what you say, so you have a great idea, verbalize it. In the process, your ability to listen to other people's ideas, be positive and seek consensus between dissenting opinions will be valued.

If someone has already taken a ‘leading role’ in facilitating the group discussion, do not try to take over his or her position. Instead, play the role of ‘best supporting actor’ by finding other ways to contribute. You can share idea, propose a useful decision-making framework, or help the facilitator bring the quieter ones into the discussion.

Who uses it

You will likely encounter this assessment method if you are applying for the following roles:

  • Banking & financial institutions
  • Consulting Firms
  • Technology or Info-Communications companies
  • Fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) industries
  • Generally companies that consist of cross-functional project teams, multinational and has a diverse set of employees

04

Networking Sessions

At assessment centres, it may seem daunting and nerve- wrecking to try to uncover information about the company and role while also making a good impression on potential employers. What can you do to get ready for such networking sessions that call for some improvisation?

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What is it

  • A “coffee chat” or lunch or dinner “networking” session that allows employees to interact with you on an informal basis.
  • The format will usually be free and easy with no specific programme or seating arrangement. The session usually occurs in the middle or towards the end of the assessment centre.

What is being tested

  • Networking skills – the ability to create a positive and lasting impression
  • Curiosity
  • Ability to make small talk and gather crucial leads and information at the same time
  • Personality traits

How to prepare for it

Networking sessions are simulations of social scenarios. Besides the allure of a food break, do remember that you are being assessed. Professionals working at the firm will be fanned out during the session to engage candidates and will later provide an assessments of who they remembered the most and why to the assessors. Hence, do make yourself visible and network meaningfully with as many representatives as you can.

The trick to being effective here is to having something interesting to talk about. Read up about the firm before and find questions to ask, or interesting news to bring up. For example, they may be launching a new product, or recruiting talent from an uncommon source or they have launched a new clinical trial. Ask questions about these things and you are will leave an impression as being someone who is well read and curious.

As you move across the room, make it a point to remember the names and titles of company representatives who are present. It is also an opportunity for you to deliver your memorable 30 second elevator pitch with a “sticky” factoid about yourself – it could be a project or a co-curricular activity you were involved in, or a hobby or an area of interest.

Who uses it

You will likely encounter this assessment method if you are applying for the following roles:

  • Technology or Info-Communications companies
  • Generally firms that are multinational and has a diverse set of employees

05

Aptitude Tests

Amongst the components of assessment centres, this is the one that you can practice the most for. Employers administer aptitude tests usually at the initial stages of the assessment centre or even before to look for candidates with specific attributes or reasoning skills.

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What is it

  • A test or series of tests designed to determine your abilities, skills, knowledge, aspects of personality, behavioural traits and cognitive abilities.
  • The most common forms are:
    • Psychometrics: personality & behavioural tests that aim to find out your motives and preferences
    • Reasoning: Numerical, verbal (critical thinking) and diagrammatic (logical reasoning), which are usually timed and take the form of multiple choices

What is being tested

  • Your ability to process numerical data and draw conclusions and recommendations
  • Your critical thinking skills
  • Can you see the big picture from the fine details and connect the dots in the process?
  • Your logical thinking skills
  • Your values, interest and preferences towards work
  • Your cognitive traits like how quickly you learn from mistakes, how willing you are to take risk, etc.

How to prepare for it

Profiling Tests
  • 16 Personalities
    • Find out more about your personality type, strengths and weaknesses, how you manage your relationships and possible career paths after completing a FREE personality test.
    • You can read up more about 16 Personalities and the theory behind the tool here.
  • O*NET Interest Profiler
    • A complimentary self-exploration tool to help you identify your interests, how they relate to the world of work and what careers you might want to explore.
Game-based Assessments

A common test used is ‘Pymetrics’ – a series of 12 games (like how many times can you inflate a balloon before it pops) to which there are no right or wrong answers. Based on how you play the games, inferences are made about your traits like how fast you learn from mistakes, your risk appetite, your focus and attention and many others. Some firms look for fast learners and risk takers for certain roles while they may look for more structured and methodical learners and risk averse individuals for other roles. Read more about pymetrics

Who uses it

Companies who recruit candidates from many disciplines through their graduate recruitment programmes

06

Case Studies

Some employers may want to test your business acumen and check whether you can apply what you learn in the classroom into real-life business scenarios. They may present you with a business dilemma or problem statement and seek your recommendation to it.

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What is it

  • A case study is a documented study of a real or hypothetical scenario, where you are required to analyze a problem statement or dilemma and present your recommendations, usually supported by assumptions.
  • A case study can revolve around but not limited to these topics:
    • Entry of a product or service into a new market or customer segment
    • Navigating governmental or national regulations
    • Marketing or pricing of a product or service
    • Analysis of potential or existing competitors and customers
    • Assessing the impact of a variable (e.g. technology) in your product or service

Case studies can also take the following formats:

  • Individual, verbal – you are presented with a problem statement and expected to break down the issue, probe for data and additional information, and drive the overall discussion.
  • Individual, written – you will be given a brief along with a broad set of information or data ahead of the interview. You will then be given time to prepare and present your recommendations in person, usually supported by a deck of slides.
  • Group case – you will be assigned to a group and given a case with some time to prepare, discuss within the group and present recommendations to the interview panel.

 

What is being tested

  • Technical ability- business acumen and fundamentals, industry awareness
  • Ability to think on your feet
  • Structuring problems and breaking them down into solvable parts
  • Communications– whether it is clear, concise and effective
  • Poise– composure, calm behaviour, style, intellectual curiosity and ability to cope with challenging questions
  • Overall fit– your fit into the organization and how well you work with stakeholders

How to prepare for it

For case studies, it is useful to equip yourself with frameworks to guide your thinking process. The most commonly used frameworks can include but not limited to:

Online Resources:

Offline Workshops:

  • CFG invites employers and industry trainers to conduct hands-on workshops on How to Crack Case Interviews as part of the Career Booster workshop series. If you would like to get familiar with solving case problems, please check the workshop schedules here.

Publications:

Who uses it

You will likely encounter this assessment method if you are applying for these industries:

  • Consulting Firms (they typically have a standalone test dedicated to a Case Challenge. This is highly competitive and we strongly recommend you attend CFG’s Career Booster on Case Interviews)
  • Market research firms
  • Fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs)
  • Public sector agencies that deal with trade promotion and policies