Engineering assessment centres: what to expect and tips for success – TARGETjobs

An assessment centre is usually the final step in securing an engineering graduate job or internship. Find out what tasks to expect and how to prepare.
Most employers’ assessment centres are designed around their core competencies – the skills they most need in their graduate engineers. Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, will be looking for people who match its eight ‘high-performance behaviours’, which include efficient delivery, agility/flexibility and clear direction.
Technical ability is obviously important, but it’s soft skills that allow engineers to successfully apply their technical knowledge in a business context. There’s no point designing a brilliant new product or system if you can’t communicate the concept to colleagues, convince them of its potential value to the business or adapt your ideas in the light of practical or commercial considerations.
Assessment centres generally last one or two days. Rather than being judged by your performance in one interview, you’ll be observed in various situations, providing a much more accurate picture. Common tasks include the following:
Your assessment day may well move on to technical matters. This can either be in the form of an interview with technical questions or group work designed to reflect the type of role you can expect in the organisation. For example, previous candidates at BP’s assessment centres have been given business scenarios including:
For further help, read our tips on technical interviews for graduate engineering jobs .
As well as formal exercises, most assessment centres include opportunities to chat to recruiters or current employees. Rolls-Royce, for example, encourages you to network with its employees on the day. Remember, even your lunch break is an opportunity to make a good impression.
Some employers, such as Associated British Foods, host an evening meal before the assessment centre so you can meet the other candidates, the assessors and current graduate employees. This is a good opportunity to get a feel for the culture of the employer and to talk to its current employees. One of the best ways to get noticed is to do at least as much listening as you do talking. Ask employees about their work; this will demonstrate genuine interest and you may get some inside information. Don’t neglect the other candidates, though – they could be your future colleagues after all! Just remember to behave professionally and be respectful of the other candidates – even the most ultra-competitive ones. Your assessors are gauging you by their standards, not those of your fellow candidates.
Similarly, some engineering recruiters invite you to tour their manufacturing plant during or before the assessment centre. They’ll still be assessing how you behave so treat this as professionally as you would the rest of the assessment centre. Your assessors may even ask the people you meet along the way for their opinion of you. Be courteous towards any staff you meet, listen to what’s being said, show enthusiasm and ask sensible questions; this is a great opportunity to learn more about the business. You might find it helpful to think of some questions you could ask about the industry, employer and individual in advance.
A little knowledge goes a long way. The more facts you have at your disposal to do with the organisation you’re applying to, the more likely you are to feel confident at the assessment centre. Good sources of information include:
Take a look at our engineering research checklist for more help on what to find out about an employer and where you can find this information.
Yan Zhou, a structural engineer and former Imperial College London student says:
‘Everyone feels nervous before the day, but I felt that the more I prepared, the less nervous I would be. I collected information about the company and tried to understand what kind of people the company was looking for. I also went to my careers service for advice and tips. On the day, assessors will do their best to put you at your ease – they want to see what you can accomplish, and no one performs well when they’re nervous. In my technical interview, the engineers gave me clues when I was facing difficulties, which made it less stressful.’
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