By Anna Preston, Senior Careers Consultant at the University of Warwick.
So you’re finally through to the assessment centre stage and understandably pleased that you’ve survived the initial selection processes. Now’s your opportunity to show the employer just how much you’ve got to offer as over the course of several hours you’ll hopefully be able to relax and really shine.
This is the key to doing well at assessment centres – knowing what to expect, practising elements if possible and feeling confident about managing your disability with the employer and the other candidates. So let’s start with looking generally at what these two aspects of an assessment centre might look like.
Several types of employer use case studies within their assessment centres including management consultancies, law firms, and other financial employers. They are designed to test your ability to reason logically and justify your decisions and are usually based on a business scenario. Some basic commercial awareness will help but specialist technical knowledge is not normally required (phew!).
How might a disability affect your performance in a case study? If you have dyslexia or a physical disability which affects your writing you may benefit from extra time or assistive technology. To level the playing field this would need you to share information about your disability with the employer in advance so that they can make any adjustments. Without this, you will be at an unfair disadvantage. If for example, you have a stammer this might affect you discussing the case study and again letting the employer know in advance will enable them to better support you.
On the day make sure you use the time effectively, focus on the key points and ignore any red herrings. Be prepared to defend your corner and be clear about your reasoning.
These are designed to see how you work in a team and your presentation skills. It’s advisable to be clear as a group about the allocation of roles and clarity about who is delivering which bit of the presentation will make it slicker. If you get the chance to practise beforehand you can time yourselves as it is important to stick to any parameters laid out in the brief.
You should consider whether or not you can use visual aids and whether they will assist or detract from your content. You may be able to use flip chart paper or a whiteboard for example and these can help the audience stay on track with what you’re saying. However, DON’T spend a lot of time writing during the presentation with your back to the audience. Good presentations are well structured with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you’re not using visuals then make sure you keep your audience on track verbally using phrases such as “Today, we’re going to focus on three key aspects” or “So, in conclusion…”
If you feel that your disability may present difficulties for you in a group exercise you can consider whether or not to inform the employer and/or to your fellow applicants in advance about your disability. If you have a visual impairment, for example, it may help you if the rest of your group are aware so that they can help position you for delivering the presentation. You may also need the brief in a particular font to ensure you are not at a disadvantage which the employer can only facilitate if they know in advance.
If you suffer from anxiety an assessment centre may exacerbate things. Think about what generally helps you e.g. breathing exercises, time away from the crowd and plan how you will manage the day. If you are engaging with a mental health team ask for their advice and careers staff will be happy to discuss techniques that will help you to manage your nervousness.
Informing the employer about your disability
All the employers I have spoken to about disabilities have said that they would like applicants to share information in advance so that they can make any adjustments. Students often worry that if they disclose they will be discriminated against and it is a very personal decision. Further guidance can be found here. If you do decide to share information you could do this in your initial application or you could contact the HR team prior to the assessment centre. Informing the employer about your disability on the day will make it extremely difficult for any alternative arrangements to be put in place so this isn’t ideal. Talking to your fellow applicants about your disability is also an option. You could practise how you would phrase this with careers staff or your friends to see what it feels like and to ensure you feel as comfortable as possible.
After any assessment centre, it’s a good idea to reflect as soon as possible on what went well and what you would do differently next time. This will help you prepare for future applications – should they be needed!
Many students tell me that they actually enjoyed the assessment centre as they found it challenging and interesting. If you can keep calm, and be the best you on the day, this could be a great chance to show the employer who you really are.
Anna Preston is a Senior Careers Consultant at the University of Warwick where she has a lead on Diversity.