There is no ‘I’ in assessment centre – why you shouldn’t treat them as competitions

When approaching assessment centres, remember that teamwork is key

The very mention of the words ‘assessment centre’ can conjure up images in people’s minds of graduates doing battle against each other with the sole survivor rewarded with a contract. This perception resembles less the reality of assessment centres and more The Hunger Games.

In actuality, assessment centres are not really competitions. Or if they are, what you are competing against is the criteria set by the company that is hiring. But competing against the other graduates? Not so much.

‘You are not there to undermine or get one over on the other applicants,’ Robinder Gill, graduate and undergraduate recruiter for Jaguar Land Rover, told me recently. ‘If everyone is great, they will all be offered positions. Similarly, if nobody meets our criteria, nobody will be offered a position.’

Assessment centres can last from a few hours to a few days, and often combine group, individual and written exercises, panel interviews, social events and case studies with aptitude, psychometric and personality tests. They provide a greater opportunity for the graduate to showcase their competencies than if they were in a straight interview.

Companies who hire through these centres (usually large companies) often do so because it is one of the most efficient ways to recruit a large number of people in a short period of time. And some of them will run as many assessment centres as they need until they find enough people who meet their criteria. As the competencies of any group can vary wildly, it makes sense not to have a set number of people rewarded with positions at each centre.

As two of the competencies they most want to gather from you are how well you can work with others and how capable you are at building effective relationships, being overly competitive or antagonistic towards the rest of your group would probably not be a good idea.

Good idea

The best way to approach these centres is to practise presenting in front of people beforehand and to do some relaxation exercises. Once you get to the centre, you should act naturally and listen carefully.

Bad idea

The worst way to approach an assessment centres is to treat it like a competition and hype yourself up too much beforehand. Such an approach may not only lead to you making mistakes, but could lead the other graduates to resent working with you.

For more information on assessment centres, see

Sample CVs: can they help or harm your application?

a blank sheet of paper

Faced with a blank sheet of paper?

As I write this, I’m wondering how many people will land on this page because they’ve typed ‘sample CV’ into a search engine. You’re not alone: we know that  lots of people do it.

Job seekers want something that will kick-start the CV they need – usually in a hurry. But is a sample CV the answer to their prayers, or something that could actually hurt their application?

If you ask most university careers advisers, they will tell you to steer clear. The reason? Recruiters can always tell when you’ve used a sample CV. They will recognise standard phrases that turn up time and time again. And standard wording on an application will make you look like a bog-standard applicant – not what you want.

The key to a good job application is to make yourself stand out from the crowd. If you’re saying the same things as the other applicants, recruiters won’t be able to see you as an individual.

As well as this, they won’t feel that you are treating them as an individual. Cut-and-paste applications are a pet hate of most recruiters: they want to feel that you really want a job with them, not just any old job. So your CV has to be tailored to that company and that job.

But if you’ve never written a CV before – and many students and graduates won’t have done – it’s understandable that you’ll need something to show you how to go about it. So here’s how to use sample CVs with the danger taken out.

  • Find some sample CVs that are relevant to the level of job you are looking for.
  • Read them once to get a feel for how they look and sound.
  • Assess whether they are effective, and analyse the factors behind your assessment. Not all sample CVs are actually any good.
  • Don’t look at them again. Write your CV from scratch, putting into practice what you have learned.
  • Don’t copy anything, ever.

Even better, don’t look at sample CVs at all: look at CV templates instead. These are documents that list the standard headings for a CV, with some notes explaining what they are for, but without any sample text to trip you up. These will help with the structure of your CV and the rest is up to you.

Remember, too, that most third-level careers services can offer appointments where they will review your CV and advise you on how to improve it. But this only works if you don’t leave it to the last minute!

Find out more on The graduate’s guide to CVs

How to succeed in the gradireland National Student Challenge – by our winner

David Galbraith

David being interviewed at the gradireland National Student Challenge 2012.

David Galbraith was the winner of the gradireland National Student Challenge 2012 and the TARGETjobs Universities’ Brightest Business Brain 2011 (a similar contest run by our sister company in the UK). He has given us his tips and tactics on how to do well in the Challenge. Much of this advice is also relevant if you are taking part in an assessment centre for a graduate job, as the exercises – and the approach you should take to them – will be very similar.

David writes:

First the online part… Know what to expect. It’s probably a numerical, verbal and in-tray exercise. They are not similar to SHL or Kenexa tests. They are much quicker and much less complex. Last year’s didn’t require a calculator. Following on from this – if you are not confident about hitting the top 60 on the online tests, leave it as late as possible to enter. If you hit the top 60 early, you just raise the bar of what other competitors will need to get to beat you – which they will strive further than before to do.

At the event… don’t be ‘that guy’ trying to lead the group just to lead the group. Consider what you can do best to ensure your team reaches victory. Fill in the gaps. Allow people to do what they do best, and facilitate them in doing this. If someone is doing well as leader, let them get on with it and reassign your attention to the stuff that may come. I made this top priority, and in both Universities Brightest Business Brain and the gradireland National Student Challenge, the first, second and third placed in the competition were all from my group. I can’t say this was anything to do with me, but I like to think this attitude and ‘group culture’ gave breathing room in the group for everyone to flourish.

Remain calm in the exercises and show your working out. Voice your thought process. The judges are marking you on how you get to the end result and not what the end result actually is.

Finally – be nice. Get along with everyone. Include everyone in the exercises. I guarantee there will be quiet people in your group and most people will be celebrating this as it is one less person to compete against. You need to be the one facilitating their interaction and encouraging the best from them with the aim of successfully completing the task.

David Galbraith graduated in 2012 from Queen’s University Belfast. He blogs at

Entries are now open for the gradireland National Student Challenge 2013. The online stage of the Challenge runs until February 2013.

Some tips on moving to the UK

Moving to the UKIt is estimated that as many as 3,000 people a month are leaving Ireland. They have been moving to all corners of the globe, from Canada and the United States to Australia and New Zealand. In this blog, however, I am only going to write about immigrating to the United Kingdom, because that is specifically what I have done.

I was offered a job in the Oxford area in July, and was a little flustered at the idea of moving country. I needn’t have been really – it wasn’t that much more intimidating than moving to different parts of Ireland, which I had done many times before. Thankfully, I was also well supported by my employers. There are some things, however, that would be helpful for people to know beforehand.

Because the UK is also in the EU, which allows for free trade and free movement of people, I didn’t need a visa or a work permit. What I did need, however, was a National Insurance (NI) number. NI is the equivalent of PRSI in Ireland. I telephoned Jobcentre Plus (+44 (0)845 600 0643) and they gave me a specific time and date for the appointment. It was two weeks from my phone call – a little longer than I was expecting.

What I brought with me was proof of my address, my passport, my PPSN number and a copy of the contract with my employers. My National Insurance number was mailed to me within a week of that appointment. You must then give that number to your employer. Don’t worry if you haven’t received one by the time you are paid, as your employers can use a temporary number.

Setting up a bank account was relatively easy. All I needed to bring to the branch was my passport and my address (including postcode). An ATM card and a cheque book were sent to me in the post within a couple of weeks and my wages were paid into that bank account. Until you get a UK account, you can still use your Irish ATM card, although the charges can be quite high.

As far as finding somewhere to live, helpful sharing sites include and In other parts of the country, you will find some listings sites. In Oxford, for instance, there is

If you are applying for jobs in the UK or have one lined up, hopefully some of this information will be useful and relieve some of the stresses involved in emigrating. The most important bit of information I can give, however, is how much I’m enjoying it and how nice and friendly everyone has been since I moved.

For more information on international opportunities see

So what is a graduate job anyway?

Career ladderIt’s autumn term of your final year and everyone’s telling you to start looking for a graduate job. But what do they actually mean?

Isn’t it the case that any job that is done by a graduate is a ‘graduate job’? Well, yes and no.

In the graduate recruitment industry (and yes, such a thing does exist), a graduate job is a very specific thing.

Firstly, as you’d expect, it’s a job offered by graduate recruiters – companies large enough to need a constant flow of new talent that can be trained up for management roles in the future. Secondly, the job is almost certainly going to be a place on a formal graduate training programme (also known as a graduate scheme).

These programmes are a way for recruiters to build up what is known in HR jargon as a ‘pipeline’: a group of high-flying graduates who are expected to aspire to leadership positions. These schemes are highly structured, typically over two years, and focus on training and development, sometimes leading to a professional or postgraduate qualification.

These programmes can be found in several career areas, and are particularly favoured in the finance sector, as well as in manufacturing, retail, science and IT companies.

Most of these companies advertise on and you’re also likely to find them on campus during what’s commonly termed the ‘milkround’. Be aware that they have early deadlines, in many cases before Christmas.

But these jobs are not for everyone – partly because there is a lot of competition, and partly because people’s personalities and aspirations are different.

So perhaps it is a bit presumptuous to define only these formal programmes as graduate jobs and everything else as ‘jobs that graduates get’, particularly when the majority of graduates do not actually get onto graduate schemes.

You could also argue that a graduate job is any entry-level position that requires a degree; there are many more of these. These ‘graduate-level’ jobs – many with smaller businesses – are often a good first step on the career ladder, particularly if you’re the sort of person who likes to take the initiative in developing your skills and talents.

And if you don’t get a graduate-level job straight away? The statistics show that many young graduates begin their working life in lower skilled jobs, such as admin or retail, but that ultimately most graduates end up in a ‘professional’ role. And your graduate-level skills (communication, problem-solving and above all, the ability to learn) will be valued by most employers – whether they see themselves as a graduate recruiter or not.

Go to the ‘Choosing your employer’ section on to find out more about graduate schemes and the alternatives.