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    Preparing for the NAO assessment centre

  • Posted on May 16, 2014 by

    Our recruitment process for this year’s intake is coming to an end: only one more assessment centre to go. For those of you attending the assessment day next week, we’ve dug out a previous post from James on what to expect and how to get ready. Good luck!

    Assessment CentreFor most the prospect of attending an assessment centre is a daunting one. Like my colleague Laura the thought of meeting all those new people, trying to cram my brain full of personal triumphs, facts about NAO work and the role I was applying for left me in a bit of spin. However, it is important to remember that being invited for the assessment day is itself a significant achievement. The NAO receives a lot of applications so give yourself a big pat on the back for getting this far and make the most the opportunity that the assessment centre provides you.

    Whilst it is undoubtedly useful to have read up and prepared for what is in store, my primary piece of advice is to stay calm and relax as much as possible. It’s fair to say that when I arrived on the morning of my assessment day the other candidates appeared nervous and I sought solace from the knowledge that we were all in the same boat. After recognising a few familiar faces from my previous visit – both other candidates and HR staff – I was immediately put more at ease.

    Another key piece of advice is to focus on the core competencies outlined on the graduate recruitment website. As with any employer these will be core skills which are integral to succeeding on the assessment day and are those firmly embedded in our day-to-day work.

    The assessment day involves four components all of which are focused integrally upon these competencies as understandably these are the kind of things the NAO need to be confident you can display if you are to be offered a contract here. I myself had no prior experience of finance, accounting or auditing other than an Economics A-level many years ago and with a degree in Geography it is clear that I was never going to bamboozle on my assessment day with talk of discounted cash flows; austerity plans or Statements of Parliamentary Supply!

    Component 1: Group exercise

    The group exercise provides a platform to display your ability to work well as part of a team, something which is a routine occurrence for an auditor. The exercise itself provides a rather surreal feeling of being watched holding a staged meeting with relative strangers but it’s one that becomes more normal once you get into the swing of it!

    Whether in an internal team meeting or at a client, it’s extremely valuable to demonstrate an ability to articulate your points, listen to other peoples’ and act professionally throughout. There is a false perception that auditors spend an inordinate amount of time with their heads buried in piles of invoices and spreadsheets but in fact communicating messages in meetings is equally commonplace.

    Component 2: Client presentation

    The client presentation is an opportunity to show off a combination of creativity, gathering and interpretation of information. This is something I enjoyed most on my assessment day as it gave me an opportunity to show off more of my personality. I even attempted to squeeze a couple of puns into my presentation and although they were met with a muffled response, they at least put me at ease! Giving presentations is something which is increasingly part of our day-to-day work as we now aim to provide work outputs in a wider array of formats rather than simply our traditional written report form.

    Component 3: Written case study

    The written aspect of the assessment day is more in line with what will be expected of you when it comes to taking examinations for your ACA qualification and completing write-ups in for both financial and value for money work. As with many of the exams you’ll encounter for the ACA it’s important to focus on completing all aspects of the written work rather than getting bogged down in very specific details.

    Component 4: Competency based interview

    The competency based interview draws on all of the aspects covered in the other components. The interview is held with a Director who is likely to be vastly experienced and knowledgeable but also very human and interested in you and your experiences. It’s useful to remember that they themselves have quite possibly been through exactly the same process, albeit a number of years ago! It’s really important to have lots of ideas and examples to hand ready for the interview but also to allow yourself to show your personality and be spontaneous. The interviewers are keen to see people with an enthusiasm, passion and drive for the type of work we do. It’s quite possible that the Director interviewing you could be overseeing your work in a few months’ time and so there’s no harm leaving a lasting impression now!

    During the lunchtime of the assessment day you’ll be provided with a presentation from some of the current trainees who will then hold a question and answer session for anything you’re interested in. It’s a great opportunity to quiz the trainees about their experiences of anything from audit work, to college to the social side of being a trainee.

    Good luck to you all! Remember – relax, and just be yourself!


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