Day 19: In it to win it – Assessment Centres and Psychometrics

By Feb.03, 2017

Eileen is a co-author of the book ‘How to succeed at an assessment centre’

SO… you complete an online application and then you get an invitation to do some assessments online or attend an assessment centre. What can you expect and how can you give it your best shot?

What is an Assessment Centre?

An assessment centre is not an actual physical PLACE but a format which is used in recruitment (though obviously it happens in an actual place). It is designed to get lots of information about job applicants so that the company can make well informed decisions and hopefully select ‘the right’ people for the job.

Why do employers use them?

They are much better at predicting future job performance than interviews alone. From your point of view a great thing about an assessment centre is that you can be sure you have had lots of chances to show your stuff!

Assessment centres are increasingly used by companies looking to employ graduates for a couple of reasons. First of all, competition levels are high and they can get to see lots of applicants this way and secondly, when they invest time and money in training a new graduate they want to know that they have long term potential to do well, not only in their first job but hopefully in many different roles later on in their career. So many companies are keen to find ‘good all-rounders’ who have the skills

What happens at an assessment centre?

You will have a timetable of assessment activities which might include any of these:-

  • Interview
  • Presentation
  • Group task/discussion
  • Practical work-related task
  • Lunch where you talk to people from the company
  • Psychometric assessments (see below)


How can you do your best?

It is totally normal to feel nervous about going to an assessment centre but most people forget nerves once they get started as they don’t get the time to worry!

  • Prepare for it. Read about the company and especially any ‘competencies’ they are looking for. You may have had to talk about these competencies in the application process already so make sure you have read your application as they may ask you about it.
  • Think about what to wear. Smart and tidy is essential but the dress code may be different for a creative media company than it is for a traditional firm of accountants. Make sure you feel comfortable in your clothes (and shoes!)
  • Relax but don’t drop your guard. You are being assessed the whole day, even during breaks & lunch, in corridors and lifts so be on your best behaviour.
  • Remember that you might not be in direct competition with those around you, many assessment centres have a ‘benchmark’ level which you pass or fail. Some days everyone might get through, other days nobody!
  • Reflect upon the day afterwards, especially if you are not successful. You might never know why you didn’t get through but think what a great learning experience it has been and what you could do better next time.

Psychometric Assessments

These are tests which have been scientifically developed to give an accurate and objective picture of your abilities. You may face:-

  • Numerical ability
  • Verbal ability
  • Abstract ‘intelligence’ or problem solving (e.g. shapes and patterns)
  • Other abilities specific to the job role (e.g. scientific knowledge, technical aptitudes)
  • Personality (or personal style)
  • Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs)

You may have already done these online as the timing of the tests differs between employers. You may be asked to repeat them to check you didn’t get someone else to do it for you!

How to shine

Assessments are usually strictly timed so you need to work really quickly but not so quickly that you make mistakes.

Although there is an element of ‘raw ability’ involved in some tests, that is, things that you haven’t specifically learnt (e.g. abstract shapes and number patterns) there are also things which you can revise and refresh your memory about (e.g. working out percentages, verbal comprehension).

Don’t worry if you think everyone else is better than you at these type of tests. It doesn’t mean you won’t get through. Usually there will be a pass mark, which might not be as high as you think. They may want to know that you have at least a ‘good enough’ numerical ability, not that you are an A* Maths student.

In personality assessments don’t try to second guess what the test is trying to find out or what kind of a person they are looking for. Many of these assessments have an in-built lie detector but more importantly, do you really want to change your personality to fit in? Be your ‘best self’!

Even if you are not successful in the end it will have been valuable experience so reflect upon what you have learnt from it and what you could improve next time. Lots of people actually enjoy the experience of the assessment day and feel quite euphoric at the end… believe it or not!


Do lots of practice psychometric assessments and if there is something you struggle with, learn how to do it.

If you still have an active university email address you can use the ‘Graduates First’ portal which allows unlimited test-taking practice of numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning tests. It also includes a Situational Judgement test and a trait-based personality test. If you don’t still use your university email address, contact the Careers team in askUs and we can add you as a user of the system manually (

Check out this great website Assessment Day set up by two graduates who wanted to pass on their experiences

Further information

If you feel that you need to brush up on some basic maths skills look at this BBC resource and Maths Centre resources. There are also some useful Maths MOOCs. Here’s  one from FutureLearn.

Saville & Holdsworth develop many of the tests you may encounter so try some of their practice tests

Read this advice from a recent graduate and a graduate recruiter taken from Houston, K. & Cunningham, E (2015) How to Succeed at Assessment Centres. Palgrave Macmillan

Read Salford Careers guide on assessment centres and Psychometrics.

Watch this video from Career player about Assessment Centres.




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