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Getting Through Assessment Centres Successfully: Part 1

Getting through assessment centres successfully

Part 1 – The Case Study

Once you’ve got through the first interview stage there’s a high likelihood that you’re going to go through to an assessment centre.

Assessment centres vary in length, however most of the time they will last either a half day or full day depending on the Company’s process and the number of people being hired.

Your recruitment consultant will advise you of these things prior to going into the assessment, so make sure you understand what’s involved in advance.

Every Company will have their own approach to how they run things, however there are certain elements that are regularly included;

  • A case study
  • A pre-prepared presentation
  • Group exercise (to assess how you interact with others)
  • Selling exercises / role playing
  • Psychometric testing
  • Competency Based Interview

Sprinkled throughout the content of the case study and wider assessment will be competencies you are being measured against that the employer will regard as critical to perform in the role. For sales and marketing based roles these could include;

  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Planning and organising
  • Customer service focus
  • Influencing others
  • Delivering results
  • Working together

For today’s blog we’re going to look in detail at the case study component of the assessment centre. This will something you are given on the day and asked to present back on.

A favourite option that a lot of Company’s use is a fictitious case study about a Company or brand with a specific challenge that needs to be addressed. It is less likely to be about the disease area and more about assessing your ability to transfer and demonstrate the skills they’re looking for to any given topic. Examples I’ve known candidates to tackle include how to turn around a failing territory for a made up disease area through to a failing national bank who needs to readdress their high street vs online strategy.

Regardless of the chosen topic the number one piece of advice I give to all my candidates is to use a significant amount of time to think and plan. If you’ve got two hours, for example, then I highly recommend you use an hour of that time to think about your options, sketch out your ideas on paper and get clear on the approach you’re going to take from a) a business perspective and b) a presentation layout perspective.

From a business perspective there’s rarely one outcome the assessors are looking for, but there is a distinction between something that has been well thought through vs something that hasn’t. By taking the time to think and plan you’ll have a much clearer head when it comes to the presentation and any questions that follow, so you’ll come across more confidently and considered than those who just get straight into the writing things out as soon as they start.

From a layout perspective make sure you use a structure that gives you a balanced, objective presentation where the audience can see a clear line of thinking such as;

  • The challenges you’re facing (within the context of the made up case study)
  • The (SMART) objectives you wish to achieve (ranked in priority order)=
  • A consideration of the different options you have
  • A clear recommendation of what to do
  • Awareness of the pros and cons of your approach (and why you have chosen this path)
  • Cite any stakeholders you’ll need to consult (i.e. your manager, team mates, customers etc.)
  • A timed plan of action with measures in place

Creating your presentation

There’s a high likelihood that you’re going to be using Microsoft PowerPoint to create your presentation. It’s also probable that you’ve used this before several times, however if you haven’t then I highly recommend you go online, download it and get to grips with the basics of adding new slides and getting bullet points onto the page.

When it comes to creating the slides there are three simple rules I like to follow;

  • Get the structure right
  • Title page
  • Contents page (highlighting the structure of your presentation)
  • The actual content pages (that mirrors your Contents page)
  • Summary slide (covering your key points one last time and any next steps)
  • Make one or two clear points per slide that you can expand on verbally
  • As a rule of thumb try to use no more than half a dozen bullet points per slide, with a limit of half a dozen words per point
  • Keep the font style and size consistent across pages; e.g. 44 for headings, 24 for other text (if you want to use sub-headings then you can always embolden this text)

If you’re ahead of time and you’ve got a lot of PowerPoint experience then of course feel free to add a more visual element to your slides, however it’s rare that you’re going to be marked on style over substance.

Delivering the presentation

There’s a chance that you’re going to have to be able to hook up your laptop to some form of visual display, such as a TV, monitor or projector. If you’re not versed in this then as a minimum research this online, dust off your laptop (or borrow a friends) and buy some cables that you can practice plugging a laptop into a TV with prior to your assessment. However we have had experience of Mac laptops not being compatible with visual displays, so if you are bringing a Mac please flag this in advance to your recruitment consultant.

Once you’re all hooked up it’s time to deliver your presentation.

Keep it simple. Follow your structure. Don’t read off the slides. Rehearse before you deliver it.

Remember you’re the only one who knows what you’re going to say, so as long as your thinking is clear in your mind (and on the slides) then you can be confident you will come across well.

Case Study Questions

These will be designed to test your clarity of thought out, so don’t let them blow you off course.

All you need to do is revert to the logical flow you created in building your presentation, including reminding the assessors of the options you considered and the pros and cons of the choices made.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong here, just better or worse, so stick to your guns and have courage in your convictions. If you show a logical thread of thinking and make an argument for your approach then this is a good indicator as to how good you operate under pressure when trying to influence either a customer or internal peer.

If it becomes really clear that the assessors think you’ve omitted something major from your thinking then of course it’s OK to be gracious rather than bull-headed about this. Simply thank them for pointing this out and say that you’d like to reflect on this point a little further.

Additional Advice

  • Stand up tall, not covering the screen you’re presenting (hands by your side, not in your pockets)
  • Don’t pace up and down or shift your feet
  • Work your way through the audience by engaging their eyes one person at a time for a few seconds each, before looking at the next person
  • Place your laptop in front of you so you can see the words whilst facing the audience
  • Smile from time to time. Make reference to the parts of the case study you found challenging
  • Keep on point and follow the structure you’ve already created
  • Speak slowly, don’t use slang or jargon and most importantly be passionate about your ideas!

OK so you can breathe a little bit now! Get a drink of water, walk off some energy and get some fresh air. In the next part of this blog we’re going to go through the other parts of your assessment centre; group exercises, roll playing and psychometric testing.

If you’re interested in looking at your career options and would like to speak to a member of the team simply call 0131 553 6644 or email

Kelly Davis
Executive Recruitment Consultant; Bucks, Berks, Oxon, South West, South Wales