Ahhh, the assessment centre. The bane of many a fresh-faced graduate who sees it as the villain who is there to crush their hopes and dreams. You’ve probably heard these two words before, uttered by traumatised graduates who have failed to conquer its trials: assessment centre.
They may sound foreboding, but assessment centres need not be an intimidating process. With a bit of preparation and a solid understanding of what they entail and how to navigate them, you can nail whatever is thrown at you. At the end of the day, the assessment centre is just another opportunity for you to show off what makes you great and why you deserve to be hired.
An assessment centre is not a specific location, as it may sound, but actually refers to a recruitment process where you rock up alongside a bunch of other hopeful applicants and go through a series of activities and exercises designed to simulate real work situations and assess your skills and culture compatibility.
Assessment centres differ between organisations as they are specifically designed to suit the position that is being filled. No two assessment centres are the same, however, most of those conducted for government jobs follow a similar structure, consisting of an individual task, a group task, and a panel interview. This allows recruiters to assess different kinds of skills and ensure that they are hiring grads who perform strongly across the board. Government departments don’t want highly intelligent grads if they can’t communicate with others in their team!
Preparing for an assessment centre is all about knowing the role you’re going for. It’s not a test that you can specifically study for, but you should familiarise yourself with the role description, the department’s website, and any other reading material you may have been provided so that you have a good grasp of what kind of employee they’re looking for.
Other than that, get a good night’s sleep, get there with plenty of time so you don’t stress about being late, and read over our breakdown of the different stages usually found in government assessment centres (right here!).
The individual task is just that – a task you complete by yourself. If you find that you get nervous during panel interviews or group work isn’t your strength, then this is your opportunity to shine! The individual task is often a written task and you will usually be given a computer or notebook to assist you with your response – but don’t think you’ll just be expected to write essays! The written task will usually test your ability to synthesise information provided to you and communicate it to the assessors in a way that emulates how you would in the workplace.
The written task will be designed based on the kind of work you will be doing in the role you’ve applied for. Depending on the role, the task may not even require much writing. For example, if the role requires you to have strong organisational skills, the task may require you to sort through various pieces of information and prioritise tasks.
A common style of an individual written task used in government assessment centres is the classic ‘in-tray’ exercise, which presents you with a mock email inbox (or something similar) and asks you to prioritise the various emails you find in it and explain why you chose to order them that way. Sometimes they may even ask you to draft responses to the emails.
The key to acing the written task is to make sure you read everything very carefully and express yourself clearly. Sometimes the devil is in the detail and you should be taking a mental note of everything from timestamps on emails, to the positions held by the senders, to external factors that may affect deadlines.
This rings true for other kinds of written tasks too – whether you are asked to draft a letter or a report, respond to a case study, or conduct an analysis, the key is to make sure you read everything properly and express your thoughts and solutions as clearly as possible.
Given the range of different types of exercises you may face, it’s important to go in with an open and calm mind, and be prepared for anything!
Assessment centre group tasks are designed to test your collaborative skills and your ability to work with others. With these tasks, the assessors won’t just be looking at how well you can contribute as an individual, they’ll also be looking at how well you listen to others, as well as how they think your personality will mesh with the culture of their organisation.
Group tasks can take a variety of forms including discussion groups, group case studies and negotiation exercises. No matter the exercise, the key to standing out in a group task is a balance. You want to make sure you’re assertive and contributing to the discussion without being dominant or aggressive.
It’s important that you show off your communication skills by speaking clearly and confidently, but this doesn’t mean yelling above others to make your voice heard. Wait your turn, listen to others, and speak assertively when the opportunity presents itself. If you know you are generally a quiet or shy person, try to participate a bit more than you normally would. If the opposite is true, try not to dominate the discussion and make sure you show that you know how to listen too.
It’s also good to be aware of the tendencies of the other people in your group. This way you’ll be able to demonstrate your ability to respond and adjust to others in a team environment. If someone is being overly dominant, show that you recognise this by asking questions to the quieter members of the group. Being able to not just work with others, but to actually draw out their strengths is a skill that is held in high regard in the public service.
The panel interview is the part of the application process that people often find the most intimidating. The idea of sitting alone in front of a bunch of stern faces who hold your future in their hands might seem daunting, but really, a panel interview is just like any other
.In fact, in many cases, it can work to your advantage as you don’t have to worry about not making it through merely because a single interviewer didn’t like the first impression you gave. Rather than looking at it as though you have multiple people judging you, view it as having multiple simultaneous opportunities to show the department why they should hire you.
The panel interview is designed to test your individual attributes. The questions that you’re asked may be similar to the targeted questions you have answered during previous stages (asking about your experience and why you are suited to the role), but they may also be scenario-based (and ask how you would respond in a real-life situation).
In case the interview stage still has you shaking in your boots, we’ve gone ahead and written you the ultimate guide to what you can expect, and how to best prepare for job interviews in the public sector.