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    Keep calm and demonstrate competencies: how to survive the assessment centre

  • Posted on February 27, 2015 by

    assessment-centreRecently, on my way past reception as I headed into the office, I spotted a cluster of well-dressed people wearing visitor passes sitting, waiting and nervously talking about how they’d found their first interviews. I knew immediately what it meant: the year’s assessment centres had started.

    Looking at them, I could quite vividly recall my own assessment centre – though I admit that I missed out on the particular agony of waiting for the day to start on my assessment day. In a bit of bad luck, when I should have been sitting alongside my fellow prospective trainees, I was still on a train delayed outside of Paddington and I was seriously worried that they wouldn’t let me attend.

    It’s a bit of a forgone conclusion what happened next – since I’m writing this post now as a second year trainee. But, after a quick phone call to the reception desk and negotiating the tube alone for what was only the second time in my life, I made it to the NAO and everyone was very nice and kindly ignored my late arrival. (It may have helped that my booked train ticket showed that I was due to arrive at 08:02.)

    The true reason it wasn’t counted against me though isn’t that HR were feeling particularly generous but because, at the assessment centre and throughout the selection process, assessment is against the competencies and, thankfully, “Sways First Great Western to their will” is not one of them. (I’ve even heard you can get away with knocking a jug of water over your interviewer’s trouser front and still get in. So, the klutzes of the world need not fear about impeding their chances.)

    But I suppose the big question is, how do you make the assessment day go well for you? (Other than considering whether, if you live further afield, you might be better off booking a hotel rather than leaving home before 6am and also watching out for any errant water jugs.)

    • Do your research
      There are a lot of good past posts about this on this blog already including this one which breaks down what you’re in for on the day and this one which offers a range of sources of information about the job and the NAO and goes beyond the standard advice that you read a VFM report before the interview (though that tip is definitely not one to be sniffed at).
    • Be yourself
      No, really. You should research the things you’re interested in rather than pretending the most recently published VfM report is your bag. The office has a pretty long memory and I’m certain you’ll do better if you show a genuine interest in our 2013 report on free schools than if you attempt to regurgitate findings from our most recent report on The performance of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2013-14, if that’s not really something that you’re passionate about. You should also be aware that the interviewer will likely ask you for your actual opinions and, so far as I know, there is no “wrong” answer – though they may question your reasoning.
    • Wear what you’re comfortable in
      Or, at least, don’t feel too stressed about what you’re wearing. Clothes have an impact but it’s likely to be as much on you as it is on the people assessing you. You’ll want to look smart but being smart about how you present yourself and your skills is more important than how expensive your suit is or whether you’ve mastered the art of perfect hair.

    Good luck!


    Last chance to apply – applications close 28 February

    If you want to apply for our 2015 graduate training scheme, you can only do so until Saturday, 28 February 2015. Head over to our graduate recruitment site for further information.

    If you’ve got any questions around the application process, please leave a comment below. You can also contact our recruitment team by email, via our Facebook page, or on Twitter.


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