From Impostor Syndrome to Success, a Guide to Acing Assessment Centres

Ready to take the first step in shattering the glass ceiling? Here’s your need-to-know guide for the very first step; smashing the assessment centre.

Libby Cameron
March 15, 2024
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Your CV is excellent. You passed the psychometric testing, impressed the interviewer, and now you've advanced to the (typically) final round of the recruitment process, the assessment centre (often shortened to AC). Many students and graduates find this to be the most difficult part of the recruitment process; seeing the other applicants and being grilled by recruiters can be intimidating, not to mention that the stakes have risen as you've reached the final hurdle after investing a great deal of time and energy into your application over the last few months. 

Sadly but unsurprisingly for women, there are additional hurdles. Our all-common enemy, impostor syndrome will likely rear its head. With confidence being such an integral factor in the selection process, and 41% of females in a recent study citing career confidence as the skill that required the most work, we've spoken with a recruiter and a recent graduate to compile the best tips on what to expect and how to ace your assessment centre. Along with some great advice for those annoying on-the-day nerves, you can walk in there with your head held high, knowing just how powerful of a woman you are. 

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So what are assessment centres? 

An assessment centre is part of an interview process that usually forms part of recruitment onto a grad scheme, or other job. It often takes place over a full working day (sometimes half) and aims to assess you through activities and tasks that will demonstrate why you would make a great employee at their company. An amazing benefit of partaking in an assessment centre is it allows you to show the recruiters any special skills or talents that will set you apart that you have not been able to show so far in the recruitment process. 

Tasks that often come up in assessment centres are;

Case studies- The recruiter will give you a situation and need to respond analytically, eventually reaching a logical conclusion with substantial backing from what you have been told and by applying wider sector knowledge. 

Psychometric tests- These will be similar to the ones you may have already completed and aim to assess different types of reasoning and personality.

Interviews- These will likely be more competency-based than previous interviews, looking to assess both your hard and soft skills with questions, such as “Tell me about a time you led a team to success?” and "What are your actions when a team member disagrees with you?” You should be able to find more examples of these online to help you prepare, it’s useful to keep in mind the STAR method when answering these, more on this later!

Group work- You may be given a business scenario or problem and have to discuss the logical course of action with other attendees. Group work can also consist of role-play in which you will be provided with a role, background information and brief before conducting a mock meeting or conference with your group. 

In-tray exercise-  During this, you will often be tasked with replying to emails/ analysing charts, policy documents etc typically over 30-60 minutes, this aims to assess time management and prioritisation skills. 

Presentation- You may get a presentation brief before or on the day of the AC, here you will focus on your communication and public speaking skills as well as formatting a set of information you have completed or been given into a talk.

Example day. 

  • 09.00 - introduction (maybe breakfast if you’re lucky!)
  • 09.20 - talk with the recruitment team and head of the department you are applying for
  • 10.00 - psychometric tests
  • 11.30 - individual task: in-tray exercise
  • 12.45 - lunch and networking
  • 13.45 - group exercise: case study
  • 14.45 - assessment interviews
  • 15.30 - evaluation
  • 16.00 - finish

Networking can provide you with amazing opportunities to grow your professional community


Networking with the other recruits and assessors is crucial during these activities and break times; not only does it demonstrate to the recruiters that you are sociable and enjoy meeting new people, but it also allows you to make personal connections with some wonderful like-minded people!  Being cheerful, friendly, and passionate are some of the most important qualities recruiters look for. Networking can provide you with amazing opportunities to grow your professional community, so introduce yourself and talk to as many people as possible, as a student myself the best work opportunities have come through networking with women at in-person events. Never underestimate what a friendly smile and quick chat can do! 

A great tip for young women not just on assessment days but when networking, in general, is to talk to more senior women about their career journey and experience in the company. If you sound eager and ambitious they are likely to remember your name and want to help, or maybe mentor you, as we know at Female invest women love helping women! 

How to prepare? 

So now you know what to expect, how can you best prepare to showcase your abilities and do the best you can on the day? Like most things, you do not want to leave this preparation to the night before (even if that’s your status quo!). When you find out you've proceeded to this stage, look at your calendar for the weeks running up to it and decide when you'll sit down and plan how you'll give this assessment centre your all. You know yourself best and how you can best prepare so keep how you work most effectively at the front of your mind. Remember that giving yourself more time is always preferable to giving yourself too little time, so give yourself a few more hours than you think it will take. Remember, you are smart and strong and you got this!

Hannah is currently in her final year of university and recently completed her first assessment centre. She told me, “Overall I had a pretty good experience considering it was my first AC, the thing I will do in preparation for my next one coming up next month is spend more time preparing for the group work as I wasn't as confident here as I would have liked to be as well as preparing for the more specific questions that come up in the interview”.  

I can certainly relate to these struggles!, and I’m guessing if you’re here then you’ll want all the best advice. So how can we prepare ourselves for group work and the interview? Rachael Fennessey, Founder and Managing Director of Aspire Exec, Recruitment and Coaching Specialists for the Financial Advice industry gave me some expert advice, and above all stresses that the most important thing is, you might have guessed, PREPARATION. 

How to prepare for group work…

Speaking and collaborating with peers when you are all going for the same job can be pretty intimidating. Rachael recommends finding a happy medium, somewhere between over-talking and being assertive enough to be heard when your point is relevant. To hone in on this, she suggests that you, “get familiar with company values and language, making sure to communicate these”. This is a great way to show any recruiters watching you have done your research into the company and know their ethos. 

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How to deal with imposter syndrome…

Rachael advocates that we don't try to ignore imposter syndrome when we feel it but to reframe and understand it. The fact that you are feeling uncomfortable is just proof you are growing and pushing yourself. “Your ego tries to keep you safe with negative self-talk” she explains, the best thing to do is keep yourself grounded when imposter syndrome or anxiety kicks in as “calm equals clarity”.

Rachael also advises envisioning a time when you were your most confident, try and tap into that, making sure the actions of other candidates don't knock this. Focus on yourself, for yourself. 

How to ace late-stage interviews…

It is important to understand these interviews will differ from the earlier stages. They will be mostly scenario-based within commercial organisations, but over the last few years value judgements have also become imperative for companies. Many candidates find using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) method effective when answering questions. Another top tip from Rachael is to make sure you emphasise the part you individually had, not just the team as a whole. 

Rachael recommends familiarity with company values again here, “when looking at an organisation's values think how you individually have acted in alignment with these before” This will impress interviewers as it will show them how you can fit into their company culture. However, you should let your personality shine through here showing how you are situated regarding company values. You will work best in an environment where your values align with the companies, don't compromise on your morals just for a paycheck, you are worthy of working somewhere that both pays you well and has ethics you align with.

What to do if you feel it's going wrong…

Spoiler alert: “Breathe, and you can turn it around in an instant”. While picking your performance apart at a later day could be helpful for career growth, as Rachael says- now is not the time, “focus on the positives and don't dwell!” You might at some point in the future be able to use this to your advantage. Asking for feedback shows your willingness to learn and ability to be coached, which is essential for any graduate role. 

Let’s talk about last-minute prep. On the night before the assessment centre, make sure you have an early night, have alarms set and have everything prepared and ready to go in the morning. Assessment centres often start early in the morning and if you’re commuting you will need to factor in time for any transport disruptions (it’s Murphy's law that there will be a problem when you least need it!). Give yourself time for a good breakfast as this can have a substantial impact on your performance, however, if you’re lucky they might give you breakfast. What better way to calm nerves than some delicious pastries and freshly squeezed juice?!

This way you can cancel out any unnecessary stress and focus 100 per cent on bringing your best, fully present, self to the assessment centre. If you feel anxiety levels rising, simple breathing techniques such as inhaling for four and exhaling for six can help calm your nervous system down or even just paying attention to your breath.

Finding work at the beginning of your career is a daunting task. The uncertainty and volatility of the jobs market in recent years have only added to this stress. If you haven’t already now is a great time to figure out how YOU best deal with stress, and if you haven't there is no time like the present. Finding healthy coping mechanisms for stress will be beneficial not just for the assessment centre but future stress-inducing jobs or personal situations.

Mental health charity Mind has some great tips on dealing with work-related stress if stress in your career is a debilitating factor for you.

Now you should be ready and all set to tackle your assessment centre. Remember to give yourself TIME and plan when you can prepare so you can go in feeling confident in yourself and your abilities. As young women we can often feel out of place in corporations, don't let this imposter syndrome get the better of you. You deserve to be there just as much as the next person and keep in mind the most gregarious person in your group isn't necessarily the best fit for the job so don't let them discourage you. 

Your progression to the assessment centre evidences your ability and potential and you should be proud of getting to this stage. Assessment centres are great as they can give you an insight into the company's ethos and culture and what it would be like to work there. So even if you don’t get the job this time, your effort and attendance at the assessment centre will never be wasted, and it is an amazing place to practise networking and grow your network. You never know where or who your next job might come from. 


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