Assessment centres: Think Mumford, not Muse

Warwick student caller. Photo: Warwick University, DARO

In the next few months, any finalist looking to sell their soul, sorry, secure a comfortable and well rounded future through means of a job with a well-known company, will most likely come into contact with an assessment centre. As of last weekend, I have both participated in, and also aided the running of an assessment centre (for the same job), and here are my pearls of wisdom.


Assessment centres are a series of tasks performed in groups with others in order to display a range of transferable skills relevant for the workplace; you probably already knew that, sorry to patronise you.

Last year, I applied for a job with Warwick University’s student caller team. We are a part of the Alumni Relations department and we get in touch with the University’s graduates to update contact details, chat to them about their time at Warwick, and to try and get them involved in our charity fundraising initiatives. One of the most popular jobs on campus due to its generous pay and flexible hours, the student caller job is highly competitive. This year we had around 40 places and 100 attended the assessment centre.

Last October I’d been fighting against a number of other candidates who’d also written an competent application and passed a phone screening too. Combined with the onset of Freshers’ flu, the day was a challenge, to say the least.

We took part in a number of group activities and tasks such as brainstorming ‘Why do people give to Warwick?’, debating difficult responses to argumentative graduates, and practising conversational roleplays.

The applicants were marked on the following:

Knowledge – using information given, demonstrating knowledge of the role and our projects

Communication – good listening and confident speaking skills

Teamwork – working well as part of a team

Initiative – good ideas and creativity, thinking on their feet

Leadership – supporting, leading and working a role

When a candidate clearly displayed the attributes, I would tick the box, and write comments of their behaviour and performance throughout the day on the side, as to aid the supervision team’s selection of callers.

On the other side of the table, the nervous candidates had to appear confident, calm and collected, without appearing bossy and overpowering. We were looking for people that loved Warwick, had clued up on the job, and had the right personal skills to fit in with a demanding communications based role as an ambassador for Warwick.

Tash’s Top tips for assessment centres:

–          Always appear engaged.There’s nothing more noticeable than when someone’s head is not in the task at hand. An assessment centre will be a challenging day to stay focused for, but if you throw yourself into every opportunity, it’s worth it for a job afterwards

–          Clue up beforehand on what the role will entail. (And subtly slip knowledge into your tasks.) I didn’t mark anyone high who didn’t mention in detail any of Warwick’s philanthropic areas of giving; if they didn’t have the confidence or the sense to speak about it confidently in front of a member of staff, I had little faith they would have the balls to ask someone they’ve only just begun speaking to if they’d like to donate £10 per month of their hard-earned pennies to us

–          Get the balance right – communication is about talking and listening, and a good candidate for any job will display a healthy mix of both. Leading too much and neglecting the rest of your team will appearing overpowering and dominating, whereas sitting tight will blend you into the beige realms of the ‘average’ category. Hint: noone really remembers you

–          Care about the job – do you really want it? If not, don’t bother, there are numerous other people fighting for this role. Be inquisitive, ask questions and find out as much as you can about what you will be doing; it shows a genuine interest in the position, indicating to the assessor that, in line with Jessie J’s colourful lyrics, it’s not all about the money

In an assessment centre, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve come across in an interview or application; these are the interpersonal and communication skills required for any job, caller or otherwise. You have to shine in them, and not in the Take That sense of carnivals and dramatic Wembly gigs. You must stand out from the crowd; (but not in a hipster sort of way) smile, show passion and enthusiasm, knowledge, and above all, care. Think Mumford and Sons, not Muse; it’s not about the size, but what you do with it that counts.

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