Future You transcript

Acing virtual assessment centres webinar

June, 2021

This is a transcript of the virtual assessment centres webinar held on Tuesday 20 April as part of the Future You series


Host: Ellie Reynolds


  • Georgina Guest, recruitment team leader at Aldi
  • Anup Vithlani, selection officer at Police Now
  • Tracey Buchan, early careers recruitment consultant at Arcadis

Episode transcript

Ellie: And we'll just start now then. So hi everyone and welcome to the Prospects webinar which is acing virtual assessment centres and today's webinar is going to run as a panel so we've got top graduate recruiters from Arcadis, Aldi and Police Now.

And I'm guessing that many of you are here, either because you've got an assessment centre coming up soon and you'd like to get some advice and information about how they work. Or maybe you've been to an assessment centre in the past and you'd like to get some more information on how you can improve or maybe you're just generally interested and looking to the future if one does happen to come your way.

So we've got 20 minutes to have a discussion so hopefully we'll be able to answer all of your questions there. If not the Q&As open to pop your questions in the Q&A box and then we have 10 minutes at the end to answer them for you and we will try and answer as many as we can.

We'll start by introducing our panel, we have Tracey, Georgina and Anup. So Tracey if I can ask you first to introduce yourself and your company.

Tracey: Thanks Ellie. I'm Tracey Buchan and I work for Arcadis we are a leading design and consultancy for natural and built assets. And my role is the early careers recruitment consultants I look after all aspects of early careers recruitment graduates, undergraduates, placement students and apprentices and it’s very nice to be here with you today.

Ellie: Thank you. And Georgina, could you introduce yourself, please?

Georgina: Yep, so like Ellie said, my name is George, I work for Aldi and I'm sure you will know that we're the fifth biggest grocery retailer in the UK having a bit of social media fame this weekend with the Cuthbert and Colin saga.

And for me personally. So I work as the team leader for the graduate recruitment teams and there's a team of four of us. And we specialise in all elements of the graduate life cycle. That's everything from university engagement to reviewing applications to those groups, assessment centres, as well. And I've been part of the Aldi graduate team for coming up for four years now. So that is me.

Ellie: Thank you, Anup, would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Police Now?

Anup: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Ellie. So my name is Anup Vithlani. I've had a pretty extensive career, both in the corporate sector and now in charitable sector. My focus has been on graduate recruitment and development. We're obviously living in this new world at present, this COVID-19 world, which has meant that we've had to be dynamic, and change the platforms on which we deliver our assessment centres. And I'm an integral part of the selection team here, at Police Now, which is part of the wider recruitment, marketing team. And we're responsible for the assessment and selection of our candidates to conditional offer stage. And then they go through a vetting process before they are made confirmed offers as police officers with their respective forces. In terms of Police Now, our fundamental mission is to transform communities and we do that by recruiting, developing and inspiring diverse leaders into policing.

Ellie: Brilliant, thank you very much Anup. So if we just jump straight into the questions, so the first one is very specific to your individual assessment centres. So if we can go in the same order that we did the introduction starting with Tracey. Can you tell our attendees what they can expect from your assessment centre so in terms of format and timing or are there any particular exercises that you use? Would you be able to describe them for us?

Tracey: Of course, yeah. So our assessment, so just over half a day, we run a Q&A session beforehand, so that you get the opportunity to understand what exercises and how we're going to score those exercises. And you get to try out the platform as well, because we're very aware that there's so many different platforms out there. People have got various different levels of experience and exposure. We use Teams, we don't want your first encounter of Teams to be the morning of your assessment and you're trying to get to grips with where the chat feature is and how you share the screen etc. So we run a half an hour session a couple of days beforehand just to make sure everybody's familiar with the process.

So we start off at nine o'clock, and we have a virtual reception. So what we've tried to do with our virtual assessment is replicate our previous face to face, pre COVID world. And we would have a number of our graduates there sharing their stories and their expectations and giving all our candidates the opportunity to ask questions about what it's like to work for Arcadis, what kind of products or projects they can expect to get involved with all that kind of thing. So we try to replicate that as closely as we can. Obviously, there are limitations, because in a virtual scenario, it's difficult to have free flowing conversations. But we do our best to, as I say, to make sure that it's, it's relaxing and as true to the experience that we would have had with a face to face.

So you have half an hour to kind of like chat with our current graduates before we pull you through to our virtual boardroom. And now you have the opportunity to introduce yourselves formally, our assessors will introduce their selves formally, we have a little bit of a kind of like a run through of a couple of our values that are important to us, we have strayed away from doing a big kind of sell on Arcadis. During the assessment centres, we send lots of links and information ahead of the day. And that's just because we appreciate that trying to keep engaged in a virtual platform is very, very difficult. You're staring at a screen trying to absorb information, and then having to do exercises afterwards. So we've kept that down to a minimum. But there's still plenty of time to kind of like engage with each other and our assessors and kind of like relax before you do your exercises.

For our assessments, we have two exercises, a group scenario, which is kind of a typical thing that we as a business would expect to be involved in. Obviously, I can't tell you too much about it just in case there's any potential candidates out there. But it's a kind of town planning exercise, I think I can share that with you. So you work in a group of around six people, again, those numbers have kind of been cut back from the virtual, where you've got the opportunity, sorry, we're from the real world where you got the opportunity to kind of splinter off and work in subgroups, that doesn't work so well in the virtual format. So we've kept the numbers slightly low after that exercise without it doesn't compromise the experience, or you know, our ability to assess. And so that exercise is around about two hours in total. And normally, you'll be assessed by one assessor throughout the day. And that assessor is just looking at one or two candidates. So they're really able to kind of observe you fully that one exercise will finish around about lunchtime, then we give you a 20-minute break to go refresh, grab a drink, a sandwich, just take your eyes off the screen for a few moments. And then we have a capability scenario, which is a bit more role specific.

So in terms of sort of pre preparation, there isn't too much we ask candidates to do. All our exercises, with your kind of like degree backgrounds, and then the selection process, we feel that everybody's able to compete ably without doing too much prior research. But what we do advise our candidates to do is kind of like learn a little bit more about us as a business. And obviously that allows you then to feed in that knowledge. When you're doing the exercises. Think about things that are important think about our values. So what do you notice on the projects that we've undertaken? What kind of things do we sort of like gear our projects towards? What is our customer relations like? All those kinds of things that you can glean from those projects that you were then able to feed in to those exercises when you're carrying them out. Did you want me to go into what we're actually assessing as well Ellie is you're going to cover that a bit later.

Ellie: We'll cover that a bit later. That's brilliant. Thank you very much. George, would you be able to tell us a bit about the Aldi assessment?

Georgina: Yeah sure. So we we've tried to keep our assessment centre as close as possible to what would happen if you come into an in person assessment, quite similar I assume to Tracey and Anup. And so our assessment centres take two and a half, three hours at the very, very most, and you’re normally in a group of eight people and there'll just be one assessor on the call with you. We're using Microsoft Teams as well, to hold those assessments. The day is split into two main parts. First of all, we start off with introductions just so candidates can settle in a little bit and get a bit more comfortable working together with one another. Then after that, there will be a store walk presentation and you get told before the day to visit a store, make a note of what you see in your experience. And we ask them to present back on the day tailored around a specific topic, then we'll pause for the break. And then after that we take part in some teamwork and leadership activities. And it won't be a surprise that one of the key things we look for is leaders from our graduates. And so that's why we do that leadership exercise at the end. And then there's obviously opportunity for them to ask questions and we can talk about more the culture of our day towards the end of the assessment. So that's our brief overview.

Ellie: That's perfect. Thank you very much. And would you be able to talk us through Police Now?

Anup: Yeah, sure Ellie. So just as Tracey and Georgina said, we've done our utmost to replicate our face to face assessment centre onto the digital world. We conduct two assessment centres a day. They're both half day events. So the morning session would start about 8.30am till one o'clock, the afternoon session runs from 1.15pm till about 5.45pm. And our assessment centres at this moment in time, what digital assessment centres at this moment in time are conducted on Zoom, just because of the simplicity of the platform and its offering that it gives to us.

We start off with an introduction, which gives you an insight into the operation of Zoom, allows the candidates to mingle with each other. And it also gives them an insight into a fictional town, which will be the focus point of the assessment centre. And that fictional town is where they will be policing, we undertake a range of assessed and non-assessed exercises during each half day event. And in terms of the assessed exercises without giving too much away for our last program, they consisted of a team meeting, two roleplay exercises and a motivational alignment interview. Those exercises range from 25 to 40 minutes. But our fundamental aim is to ensure that we're providing an effective insight into what life is like as a neighbourhood police officer or detective constable. And we want the candidate to make an informed decision. That policing is the path they wish to pursue as part of the career.

Ellie: Thank you. And just going in the same order. Could you just give us a brief idea of how students could prepare for one of your assessment centres? Is there a particular dress code that you're looking for? Is there anything that they need to be researching or available to practice anything beforehand? Would you be able to just briefly go into that for me, Tracey?

Tracey: Hi, yes, Ellie. So in terms of how to prepare, as I say we have the Q&A beforehand, which hopefully means that you've got a good understanding in terms of, you know, the technical, the platform, etc. So we do ask for things like making sure you've got a decent sized screen so that you can see everybody on camera that you're engaging with, that you've got a headset, so we don't get feedback and that kind of thing. 

In terms of what to wear, it's the same as if you were doing a sort of face to face interview really, at least from the you know, the top half of you, if you've got slippers on and trackie bottoms. Obviously, we're not aware of that during the virtual assessment, but at least sort of like make sure you've got a decent top, you know, hairs in order that kind of thing.

In terms of research and preparation, I think I covered that a little bit, I jumped the gun a little bit in a previous sector. So we sent information out about the company, and we'd expect people to have a little look at that. But in terms of practice, the exercises are set up that there's not too much preparation really required. It's about just tapping in to, you know, your natural behaviours and abilities that we're sort of assessing on that at that particular time.

Ellie: Perfect. Thank you and George, would you be able to give us an idea?

Georgina: Yeah, so we when we send an invite to an assessment centre, we do let candidates know what one of the activities is and that is our store walk presentation element of the morning or afternoon. And I would say definitely go out to stores visit our stores, research us online. There's a lot of changes that we're making at the moment as a business. So we've launched click and collect in the last six, eight months. We've also launched lots of sustainability trials as well. So make sure you know about all that before you come to one of our assessment centres and really showcase how you've gone the extra mile to research Aldi. Then in the second half very similar to what Tracy was saying about your natural behaviours, it's all about how you can work in a team and how you can lead a team as well. So just be yourselves, relax as well, I know it's easier said than done to relax in an interview or, or an assessment style situation, but just try and be yourself and work with other people like you would do at university or any part time job or in a society. So I absolutely say to candidates who are coming to an assessment, just relax and let your personality shine through in that second half.

Ellie: Perfect, thank you. And Anup could you just give us a brief idea about Police Now?

Anup: Yeah sure. So just to build on what Georgina just said there, I think it's so important for candidates to just be themselves. So they have gone through a process. And they've been given an insight into policing, we want them to be themselves and just show themselves that, you know, the decision we're making on them is the right one. Obviously, the usual elements apply. Just because it's a virtual assessment centre doesn't mean you shouldn't try to arrive early, have smart attire, we know that we're you know, working behind our desks and so on. But make sure you're smart and don't have anything controversial in the background, that probably allows us to read into you, as a candidate. Make sure that you check and I can't emphasise this enough, make sure you check that the technology works on the device that you're going to be using. Just makes your life easier. And you're able to relax, and really display what you're all about.

Use our resources, we provide a range of hints and tips on our website. And we want candidates to really feel comfortable as if they know what they're going into when they attend one of our assessment centres. Fundamentally candidates who apply to us want to pursue a career in policing, you can't practice the assessments, our assessment centre, but just be yourself. You know, I cannot emphasise that enough.

Ellie: That's brilliant. Thank you, there's a lot of just be yourself and relax and the positivity will come through there. And I think that leads into one of the next questions, which is kind of key advice for the assessment centre. And the do's but also particularly the don'ts. There's a lot of do this and do that. But what are the things that people should be staying away from, Anup you mentioned about nothing controversial in the background. And obviously making sure when you're on screen, it's professional, but could you guys maybe give any advice or tips about something that maybe people really should be doing or things that they really should be staying away from. I’ll just open that up to the floor if anyone wants to jump in.

Georgina: Yeah, I just wanted to touch on what you said earlier about, we've all said be yourself, we've all said, let your personality come through. And it's because you, you can't bring someone else to work every day. And ultimately, we're looking for people, especially at Aldi and I'm sure in the police as well who can connect with other people, and build those really strong relationships. That's how you lead people. That's how you influence them and get the best out of whether that's your team in store or a situation in the wider community, you need to be genuine. And that's how people then relate to you. So that's why we say just be yourself and don't feel like you need to put up a front. I think that's maybe one of the pitfalls that people experience is they come to an assessment centre and they think, well I need to showcase I'm a leader. And to do that, I'm going to talk over everyone, I'm not going to cooperate with any of the other people in the group. And I'm just going to make myself known as the assessor but in not a positive way. And sometimes people can be quite disruptive and think that they're showcasing their leadership skills. So I would say make sure you're accommodating for the rest of the group because it's you know, the six other people may be there who are getting assessed at the same time and you need to show that you can work in group situations and you can work as part of a wider team. So while yes, we want leadership skills, we want people to be able to do that at the same time. So that's my perspective on what you should definitely not do.

Anup: Yeah, Ellie, I completely agree with Georgina there in terms of, you know, what's just been covered. The only two things I wish to add to this particular question is virtual assessment centres. And, you know, I hope I'm not sounding too controversial. They can be a bit like a double edged sword because you're in your home environment, and you're in your comfort factor. The only thing I would say is be comfortable but not too comfortable because it still is an assessment centre. Don't just be completely laissez faire or chilled out about everything. Go into it with the mindset that I am being assessed here and there are assessors, there are competencies and indicators, they need to be satisfied that the assessors are looking to tick off.

The other thing I wanted to point out is we fully understand that, you know, we're all working from home. And there could be other factors around us such as pets, children, etc. Who could have an influence on your performance, just be transparent about that to the assessor. We can't try and say to them, we I'm saying that as you know me in the assessment mode, we can’t try and suss out what's happening in the background, and how it's affecting you. So be transparent with us. And it stands you in good stead.

Tracey: I agree totally with what my two colleagues have said there and really there's not much more I can add. I think the only other one is the opposite of talking too much is make sure you say enough to be assessed as well, because there's nothing more frustrating than a candidate that on paper has got loads and loads of potential, and then doesn't display enough of that at an assessment centre for you to be able to carry them forward. So I appreciate I mean, I'm not comfortable with a camera on. And in this scenario, you can sort of see yourself and it is a little bit disconcerting. And I appreciate that some other people may feel like that as well. But you do have to speak up, you do have to kind of like put yourself forward. And the other one there as well is, don't get kind of like too bogged down by perceived errors. So you know, we all in life will say something, sometimes, you know, out of order or a little bit maybe phrased not in a way we would have done ideally. And I think particularly in this type of scenario, it can to the individual, it can seem quite large. But if you kind of like let a small perceived error, colour the rest of the assessment centre, then you're not going to perform at your best and you don't know what the assessors are looking for. And you know, how much of it has been noted. Or if it's indeed anything that they see as a negative. So we do see that sometimes that people just say something and then completely shut down. Because, you know, they feel they've made an error. So yeah, that's the two bits I would add.

Ellie: Brilliant, that's amazing advice there, guys. And we've had some questions come in. So if we just jump into those guys, we can make sure we can get as many of them answered as possible. So if I can just pick this one, do you have any advice for handling group tasks, particularly on Zoom? So how is a group task managed? Do you go into separate rooms you put into it? Do you have a separate link? Would you just be able just to describe how that works?

Anup: Yeah, I can go first if that's okay Ellie. So the candidate participating in that particular group exercise, we get them to prepare individually for about 15 minutes. And then the assessor takes you through a set of instructions, which allows you to then have that interaction. There are some great tools on Zoom such as being able to raise your hand etc etc, we expect an element of courtesy. Now, bearing in mind, you're going into a role which is going to require the provision of service it's not a case about you just dominating the whole atmosphere. I think communication is an art and for me, it's less so about speaking. it's more about empathetic listening, because if you get the empathetic listening, right, you can then direct what you're going to say effectively, in fewer words, than just waffling on and trying to take up the conversation. So just be mindful of those that are around you. But equally, don't just give in and just you know, let the others dominate you make sure you get your point across effectively. 

Ellie: That's brilliant. Does anyone else want to jump on that one?

Georgina: Yep and just to add to what Anup said. There's nothing stopping you as a candidate implementing some kind of structure in that discussion. So at Aldi we work in a very similar way. So we give candidates individual preparation time before the group discussion starts. And there's nothing stopping the candidate saying, you know, I've had to think about this and I think we should all use the raise hand function, when we want to talk to make sure we're not talking over each other and make sure we can make every voice heard in the room. So if you feel like that's what you would benefit from, suggest it to the group and see how that goes. And that's another example of how you can lead but not talk over everyone at the same time. And you can show that you can solve problems as well. It's not something I'm expecting every single group to do. But if that is what makes you feel more comfortable, and how you think you can get your point across during the assessment. Absolutely do it.

Ellie: And Tracey?

Tracey: Yeah, I don't think there's anything different, really, I think I think that's been covered.

Ellie: Perfect, brilliant. And there's been a couple of questions about how you could accommodate for students with maybe a poor internet connection and poor mic, and maybe not the best webcam, maybe not a webcam at all? Are you able to accommodate students that do have those issues?

Tracey: When we invite students along to an assessment centre, we ask them, about their accessibility to equipment. With a sort of like backup plan that, you know, we are lucky that we're kind of like a nationwide organisation. And, you know, we've got some contingency in place where we would try and get equipment to people, if they absolutely needed it. We do on the pre call, suggest that they try, you know, wherever they decide to, to carry out the assessment, that they've checked that they've got decent Wi-Fi connection. It hasn't actually been too much of an issue thankfully. We had one student who had to be invited back because their Wi-Fi was so poor. And we've had a couple where, as I said, we always ask for headsets just to stop sort of feedback etc, we did have one student who didn't have access to that, and unfortunately, they had to put themselves on mute a bit just to stop that. But we're able to still participate through the chat function. And, you know, we just put up with the feedback where they did have something that they wanted to say. So we try to accommodate that. And same way with things like, you know, people have specific requirements around dyslexia, for example. That's something else that we would have, we have conversations with people individually prior to the assessment to make sure that we are able to make the process as fair as possible for everybody and accommodate any specific needs and requirements.

Ellie: Brilliant. Is everyone happy? Is it similar for everybody? That’s perfect

Anup: Yeah, it's usually it's usually less so about the Wi-Fi. It's more about the internet providers. And we provide a range of hints and tips as to how to make sure that you're able to effectively perform on the day bearing in mind, you're reliant on Wi-Fi or internet connection.

Ellie: I think we can squeeze in two more questions now. So we've had one comment asking, Are these roles only for recent graduates? Or anyone or anyone with a degree can apply? Are there roles for recent graduates? Or if you've got a degree? Or can you apply for the role if you've graduated years ago, and already in a full time job?

Georgina: Yeah, so we've got two different programs at Aldi, we've got our graduate area manager program, and then we've got our career changer program as well. And the only difference there is that the career changers, we look for someone who's already got a bit of leadership and management experience. And we'll take them on to the career change program, which has got slightly different training plan to the graduate scheme, what you can apply with your degree from 20/30 years ago, I don't mind as long as you've got that, that 2: 1 degree. And it really doesn't matter how long ago you graduated, everyone's Welcome to apply.

Anup: Yeah, ditto here Ellie, you know, our programs are open to recent graduates and career changes. At the heart of everything though, candidates have to demonstrate why they've got real interest in policing, and what they can offer as a role say, as a neighbourhood police officer or detective constable.

Tracey: We're slightly different that we tend to just have people that are a couple of years max postgrad. It would depend on individual circumstances, but we potentially wouldn't take somebody who's got say an engineering degree from sort of four years ago and have been in an engineering role. And that's just because the program is designed for people that are just coming out sort of like their first experience into the industry. So that program probably wouldn't satisfy somebody who's got any more than kind of like a year's experience. But obviously, there are sort of more experienced high routes, etc. So if somebody’s CV came through, we could always put them in direction of experience hire team.

Ellie: That's brilliant. And it looks like we're just at time. But if I can just squeeze one more question in, Isabella sent one in early on, and it's certainly a really great one. She has an assessment centre on Thursday, and would like any tips on how she can stand out during group tasks. I know that we did talk about group tasks. But if you've just got one to kind of top tip to finish on that would be great.

Georgina: Yeah, it depends what that particular business is looking for, from their graduates. And I would go on and look at, you know, look at their careers website, look at the culture and what you'll be doing during that graduate role. And think about what are the assessors going to be looking for, you know, with Aldi it is leadership and team working experience. Anup has talked about active listening during the police, because that is a key element of that role as well. So I would really go and think about what you are going to be assessed on and try and interpret that. And just be considerate of everyone in the group and work as part of the team, make sure you're able to work to solve the problems, you know, you obviously can't solve any of the problems you've presented with on your own, make sure you are able to work with others to do that. And I think regardless of what business you're attending the assessment centre for, you'll be in good stead there.

Anup: Yeah, my one tip early would be emotional awareness, you know, go into a group exercise emotionally aware of the exercise you have in front of you, the candidate, the other candidates you have in front of you. And the fact that you want to make a serious contribution to this group exercise and just portray yourself in the best light possible. So emotional awareness without a shadow of a doubt.

Tracey: And just make sure that you give enough for people to assess against as well. You know, don't be too passive, make sure that without sort of, like overstepping it and talking over people, just make sure you have some valid points that you normally would most exercises, you get the opportunity to do a bit of individual work beforehand, you know, some preparation to read through, etc. So, use that time wisely to kind of like really sink about what it is that's being looked for. And try and feed that in. And if there's an opportunity to sort of like take that lead passively, such as things, even simple things like suggesting most things a timeframe, for example. So if you're the one that suggests keeping an eye on the time or something just so that you're kind of like showing those leadership skills in a kind of like, subtle way. But that's always a good, good point to do. 

Ellie: Brilliant. That's really good tips. guys. Thank you so much. For today, we've ran slightly over and I'm sorry that we didn't get to answer all the questions that came in, if you are interested in assessment centres there’s loads of information on the prospects website. So I recommend just having a good look through there. We have a huge section on advice for assessment centres. And I'd like to again say thank you to Georgina, Anup and Tracy for your time and giving us the most information today. I hope everyone's finds it really informative.

You'll receive an email later on today with a link to watch this on demand. So if you'd like to get the information again, if you'd like to share with your friends, please feel free. And thank you again. Thanks, guys. It’s been brilliant.

Anup: Thanks, everyone. Best of luck. Take care. Bye

Transcript ends.

Note on transcripts

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