Graduate Assessment Centres are a hurdle in the interview process faced by many applicants to graduate schemes. One that is often daunting for prospective candidates, balancing the challenges of standing out from other applicants while demonstrating effective teamwork with them.I have had the opportunity to evaluate many candidates applying to graduate roles at Deloitte, most often to join the software engineering graduate pathway. Through my experiences, I have identified several key factors that have contributed to a candidate’s chances of success. In this article, I will share my personal insights and provide seven tips that can help candidates prepare for a graduate assessment centre.
Environment & Set-Up: Get the Basics Right
At Deloitte we now often, but not always, run online assessment centres. If you are offered an online assessment centre it is worth getting the basic set-up right to ensure you can perform at your best. For most candidates, that will be ensuring that you are in a space that will have no interruptions, that is quite enough to allow you to concentrate and has a good stable internet speed. You might wish to consider trying a few locations, prior to the actual assessment centre, to see where you feel most comfortable.
From an interviewer’s perspective, we want candidates to perform to their full ability – so ensuring that you have the basics in place will enable you to focus on the task at hand.
Group Exercises: Contribute & Facilitate
If you are asked to complete a group exercises, then do have confidence to share your thoughts. If the opportunity presents you might try to lead the group towards a resolution or answer, building bridges between other candidates input to create a consensus. If the group is quite to begin with, then don’t be afraid to lead it – however, if another candidate takes the lead then be respectful and support the group. You might do this by asking another candidate their thoughts if they haven’t had a chance to speak or helping summarises the most relevant points in a move towards a task conclusion.
From an interview’s perspective, it is noticeable when a candidate offers little to a group exercise. It is also noticeable when a candidate seeks support the group as they navigate their way to an answer, facilitating the discussion as much as actually providing the answer themselves. A strong candidate might contribute good ideas, as well as, at some point, look to lead or support the group in the completion of a task.
Individual Exercises: Think Outside the Box
While it isn’t necessary to think outside the box, it is noticeable when a candidate provides an answer during an individual task that is unique and adds value. Keep in mind that an interviewer might have conducted the same task with other candidates, therefore they are aware of the common responses. Imagine offering a connection or an insight that is entirely different, that adds a new valuable perspective not yet expressed before. There is an opportunity there for a candidate to excel in such a task, though it must be genuine and add value (rather than being a contrarian for the sake of appearing unique).
To be clear it is not essential to success, but if you believe you have a valuable insight that perhaps is unique when doing an individual task then share it – it might help you stand out from other candidates.
Evidence Based Questions: Don’t Force It
It is great that so many candidates prepare for interviews, I would certainly encourage you to do the same. However, when it comes to evidence-based questions do not rely on a memorised example if it has no relevance to the question at hand. It is clear to an interviewer when a candidate delivers a great experienced based answer that simply doesn’t match the question asked.
Answering the question is more important that shoehorning a memorised answer that half fits. You can take a few seconds to think of a response, then proceed to answer the question well. Be genuine, truthful and use your preparation to inform you of the structure of a good response – your quick thinking and ability to answer the question is likely to be noticed.
While many candidates will fit their preprepared evidence based answers to the questions, you can operate on a higher level, applying the structure of evidence based answers while recalling experiences in the moment to specifically answer the question.
Passion Shines Through
Most candidates will memorise a few facts from a company’s website and pull together a few thoughts on why they are excited to join that company. That isn’t really passion. Passion is the hours you have invested in your area of interest; it is the courses you have done where no one compelled you. It is the competitions and experiences you have had with teams you enjoyed being a part of.
Candidates that can show that their passion matches a part of the job role on offer stand out. Applied in an example, a candidate who has undertaken software engineering courses on their own volition, enjoyed being part of hackathons and build code solutions for their own interest can demonstrate a passion for coding at a more advanced level. It doesn’t mean that this guarantees success or that every candidate needs to demonstrate this to be successful, but it can help a candidate to stand out. Instead, it is an area you can excel in if you prepare with this in mind.
The Perfect Answer
Worth remembering that most exercises, whether group or individual, don’t have a perfect answer. Such tasks might see candidates comparing different options, before selecting one or ranking them. From an interviewer’s perspective, the answer itself is often less important than the journey to the answer.
Therefore, invest more time and thought on creating clear arguments or ideas around your selected answer – rather than overly stressing about getting the perfect answer. Clearly, this doesn’t always apply – sometimes there is a correct answer that stands out, but in situations where multiple answer might be correct, shift your mind to think about how I can best communicate my preferred answer(s) and the choice I have made. Communication and insight is key, selecting the perfect answer from a range of very similar answers – where any could be right – is less key.
Graduate assessment centres are often full day experiences. I have witnessed candidates run out of mental energy halfway through the day and their performance suffer on account of this. You are unlikely to be hired on the grounds of one task, but instead your performance across the entire assessment centre. When breaks are offer take them, consider what food you need to support you through the day and keep hydrated. No matter how you think you are doing, keep trying to perform at your highest level – most of all don’t give up. Every experience doing a graduate assessment centre day will help you prepare for the next one, after all getting good doing interviews is a skill that can serve you well in life.
I hope that the above tips will be useful to candidates preparing for graduate assessment centres across any industry and company. They are tips drawn from my own experiences and don’t reflect Deloitte’s hiring policy. Clearly nothing can guarantee success during an interview process, however, you can improve your performance levels by preparing in the right way.
If you are interested in finding out more about my journey as a software engineer and entrepreneur, then visit my entrepreneurial blog at https://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/matthewrusk/ or have a read of my previous article on “Unleashing potential: the benefits of student entrepreneurship”