Assessment Centre Advice

Most of our recruitment and selection processes will involve an assessment centre. These vary depending on the vacancy but their core purpose is to create an environment in which you, along with other candidates, demonstrate key workplace skills. This format makes it much easier for you to showcase a broader range of skills and competences than you would have opportunity to demonstrate in an interview as well as providing you with some insight into the position and the RCN.

The assessment centre could include assessing communication, teamwork, problem-solving, task management and leadership and they are assessed through activities like a role-play, group discussion, seen and unseen presentations, psychometric assessments, work sample tests and in-tray exercises.

Our competencies are integral to everything that we do and it is important that they allow us to become an even better organisation. The competencies are called ‘core’ because they support our declared mission, values, and strategy and are applicable to all our staff. The competencies are 'behavioural' as they explain how staff are expected to work, not just what they are expected to do.

There are six core behavioural competencies.

Each of the core behavioural competencies has a list of behavioural indicators underneath each heading. This list suggests how you can demonstrate your progress towards the competency headings, but they are not a definitive list. You should use them as a guide and a starting point, to understand what our staff are aiming for.

Our  competencies relate to all our roles and are embedded in everything that we do. These are key behaviours which we identify as needing from our staff in order to be an effective organisation. We use them throughout our recruitment and selection process, they are integrated into one-to-ones and appraisals, and we also use them to create learning and development events to support development against our competencies.

We will be looking for evidence of these behaviours and the specified relevant skills throughout our selection process.

Read the RCN core competencies.

Tips to assist you for the assessment centre

Turn up with an open mind and be ready to get involved, but remember that some standard, practical preparation before the day will be your biggest help and confidence booster.

• You need to contribute, but not to dominate. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you are aware that you are usually a shy person who does not speak up, do your best to participate. If you know that you can sometimes be overbearing in groups, hold that tendency in check.
• Speak clearly and confidently. Listen and don't interrupt. During a group discussion or role-play be aware of what others are contributing. You could try to draw out quieter members and seek their views.
• Be diplomatic. If one person is behaving in a dominant way, don't shout them down, but try to make sure that everybody gets a chance to share their thoughts. Be prepared to compromise.
• Keep an eye on the time and stay focused on the overall objective. From time to time, try to summarise progress.

Use your careers service. Most careers services run practice sessions for assessment centres. At the very least you may be able to practice psychometric tests or book sessions to prepare for the individual assessment centre activities, such as group exercises.

Read carefully all the literature the employer sends you. As well as practical information about the date, location and start time it should also tell you how the day will be structured.

Ensure familiarity with the job description and person specification.

Check whether or not you will have to complete any tasks before the day. You may need to work on parts of a case study or put together a presentation. Plan time for this and don’t leave it until the last minute.

Be self aware. To succeed at assessments you need to be aware, flexible and responsive. Don't attempt to force your personality on the situation. Be yourself, but be aware that ultra-competitive behaviour can easily come across as arrogance. And if you are too shy to speak your qualities won’t be assessed.

Group exercises

The group exercise is a key part of the assessment centre day and helps recruiters assess how you'd perform in the job. The group exercise is usually used to see your communication and problem-solving skills, and to ensure that you can work effectively in a team and indentify leadership skills. You need to support the group in completing the task that has been set, whether that involves discussing a particular issue and presenting your findings. The best way to proceed is to show yourself as a good team player – flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen to and help expand the ideas of others.


This type of exercise allows the assessors to actually observe how well you behave with others, how you respond when put on the spot or dealing with conflict. The key purpose of the exercise is to again see what competencies you display and how your behaviour matches those of the required role. The scenarios will be based on the sort of situations that are very difficult to emulate in any other sort of test or an interview. They usually take a one-to-one format with an Assessor observing the interactions.
In most instances the RCN will use a use well briefed actor. You must keep at the forefront of your mind that this role-play is about you exhibiting the required behaviours and not necessarily providing the ‘best answer’. As part of your own preparation you should ensure that you have both face-to-face and over the phone interactions with a colleague.
For the majority of role-play’s you will have about 10 to 15 minutes in which to read the briefing information and then between 20-30 minutes in the actual exchange. This limited time doesn’t usually offer you the opportunity to explore issues in depth so keeping control of the dialogue and reaching your required conclusion or outcome should focus your line of communication and questioning. Your ability and speed with which you come to the main issue will be a direct reflection of your planning and analytical abilities to the assessors.

Verbal and Numerical Reasoning

As a part of your assessment centre you may be required to complete an online verbal and numerical reasoning test. Verbal tests are designed to measure your ability to understand written information and to evaluate arguments about this information. Numerical tests are designed to assess your understanding of tables of statistical and numerical data as well as your ability to make logical deductions.

It is advisable before taking these assessments that you attempt the practice tests before you complete the actual numerical and verbal reasoning tests. This will give you a good understanding of how the tests work. Should you wish to practice, go to http://www.shldirect.com/practice_tests.html and select Verbal and numerical reasoning tests. Upon arrival on the day you may be required to complete a verification test.

Occupational Personality Questionnaire

As a part of the assessment centre you may be required to complete an online Occupational Personality Questionnaire (herein referred to as OPQ). These will be ordered from a company called SHL who will e-mail you a link to the SHL website and provide you with a log in and password in order to complete the QPQ. Personality questionnaires assess personal behavioural preferences, that is, how you like to work. They are not concerned with your abilities, but how you see yourself in the way you relate to others, your approach to problems and how you deal with feelings and emotions. With this type of assessment there are no right or wrong answers. For more information on the OPQ you can go to http://www.shldirect.com/personality_questionnaire_examples.html. If you would like to practice some SHL tests before you complete the OPQ you can go to http://www.shldirect.com/practice_tests.html and select personality questionnaires.

Written & Work Sample Tests

Written & Work Sample Test can also form part of the assessment centre you may be required to complete a written work sample tests. These assessments look at the extent to which you are able to carry out various aspects of a job. Prior to test you will be given a full briefing, background information and time to complete the exercise.


As a part of an assessment centre presentation and unseen presentations can be common. For an unseen presentation you would normally be given 30 minutes to prepare and you would be given the full presentation title on arrival. A presentation would normally last 10 minutes. Different options for presentation are available such as PowerPoint and Projector will be available as will flipcharts. Look for specific instructions with the assessment centre invite.
You can also gather information on how you may expect to be assessed as part of a recruitment or selection process. An understanding of the various approaches will not only help you to be better prepared, but also more relaxed and confident.

Interviewing Advice

When it comes to an interview, you can never be entirely sure what questions you will be faced with. But you can do a lot to help yourself by preparing for different types of questions in advance. Even if they do not all come up, just having prepared for them should give you a confidence boost on the day. Often, interviewers like to ask for specific experiences which prove certain abilities or characteristics. This is made a lot easier if you can think of examples during your preparation. And remember, even if you are asked for an example of a skill you have not thought about before, you may well be able to adapt those responses you have already planned.

Give examples

Being specific is much better than being vague. Always back up what you are saying with tangible, relevant examples of your experience, achievements and any resulting key learning as a result. This is important both on your form and, if shortlisted, in your interview. So rather than just saying 'I am a good team-player', give examples of teams you have been part of, describe your role within those teams, and explain what you achieved by working collectively. For example if questions arise about how you work with others, the important thing here is to find a balance between confidence and modesty. You should emphasise your ability to lead if and when the situation requires it, but also show willingness to compromise and learn from others around you. Examples are the best way to prevent any of this sounding too vague.

Be clear

This is not just about speaking calmly and audibly - although both of these things are very important. But it is also about letting the panel know what point you are making, and why. For example, if you recount a story of a particular problem you faced in a previous job, do not assume people will guess the relevance. Instead, make a point of deliberately linking what you say to the requirements of the job.

One way to help make sure you stick to the point by keeping your answers to within a rough time limit and structure your answers with three or four main points.

Be flexible

Not all interviews are the same, and you may find yourself surprised by something, such as the questions themselves, the tone of the interviewers, or even the seating arrangements. As a general rule, try to keep in mind that things may not proceed exactly how you imagined they would. But this can be a good thing - you will get the chance to show your ability to think and act on your feet.

Other tips

• Remember that a panel still consists of individuals, and try to address them as such.
• Asking questions, which is always important in any interview situation, is the perfect opportunity to show you are keen

Remember, the most important part of an interview is to sell yourself, and to show why you are right for the job. But try to show the 'real you' if you can, not just someone who can learn answers to interview questions. Whether you get the job will be as much down to your personality and enthusiasm as it will to your skills and experience, and the answers you give.