Surviving assessment centres

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Love them or loathe them, assessment centres are here to stay.You may never actually look forward to attending an assessment centre,but with Pf’s comprehensive guide, at least you’ll be prepared for whatever the day brings.

When changing company or first becoming a medical rep, it is a racing certainty that you will be required to go through an assessment centre.These extended interviews usually encompass several activities and can last for anything from a few hours to a couple of days. But what tasks are you likely to face, how can you prepare and what should you do on the day to maximise your chances of success?


You will be expected to participate in a number of activities designed to allow you to demonstrate different skills.Typically, these will include an interview, a teamwork exercise, a selling exercise, aptitude tests, some written work, some form of business analysis and a presentation. Some of these may be combined, for example, the written exercise and business analysis, and some may not be used at all.

The interview will normally be competency based, you will be asked to give examples of when you have demonstrated particular skills such as self-motivation, problem solving or creative thinking.Try to think of the different kinds of skills you will need for the role before the day and prepare some answers so that you don’t have to fumble around for examples while under pressure.

The teamwork exercise is normally quite straightforward. Your team will be given a task to complete or a problem to solve. Completing the assignment is not as important as you might think; the exercise will be designed to assess how well you can work with others, rather than your problem solving skills. Make sure you contribute fully to the team’s efforts but don’t dominate the proceedings. Let others have their say and encourage them to contribute if they are taking a back seat.You will get credit for showing leadership skills.
All your tasks are important but none more so than demonstrating your selling skills. you will be expected to do will vary from company to company. On one occasion I was asked to sell fictional drugs to actors playing doctors, on another I had to sell any object in the room to the person interviewing me.Whatever you are asked to do, the principles are the same – sell in a structured manner, ask questions, listen for answers and show that you have heard what they are saying. Finally, and crucially, ask for the business! It’s amazing how many candidates forget to do this, so if you close the sale it will help you to stand out.

Aptitude tests are difficult to prepare for, but as long as your literacy and numeracy skills are reasonable you shouldn’t have any problems. Often a written exercise and some form of business analysis will adequately show how good your maths and English are and will also allow you to demonstrate your analytical and critical thinking, so aptitude tests seem to be less common than they once were.You might be given a set of sales figures and be asked to say where you would focus your efforts to maximise sales on a territory, or you may be asked to write a plan for your first six months on territory.There will be a time limit but you will have time to think. Plan what you will write, don’t just start in a panic and keep going until you have finished. If you do this, your work will lack structure and coherence and you may miss something important.

Finally, and this is the activity which seems to cause more anxiety than any other, you will probably need to do a presentation. are many subjects you may be expected to present on, it might be the business analysis you have done that day or you may be asked to talk about your hobbies for fifteen minutes.Whatever the subject, your presentation skills are as important as the content. Stand up straight, speak confidently and audibly, don’t fidget and make sure your audience knows where things are going. Remember – say what you are going to say, say it, then say it again. Don’t forget to invite questions and don’t forget to be enthusiastic! It is impossible to enjoy a presentation delivered by somebody who doesn’t care about their subject (see Pf issue 87 for more presenting tips).


Thorough preparation is essential but very difficult.You will not know what you will have to do until the day, but there are some basic things you can do to be ready. I have already suggested that you prepare some interview answers for the day, why not prepare some questions as well? You should get a chance to ask about the company you are attempting to join and intelligent questions will show that you are interested.
Don’t wait until the assessment centre to have all your questions answered, do some research beforehand. Which products will you be selling? Are there any new products on the way? What are the company’s strengths? A lot of information can be found on the internet but not all of it.Try to find a rep that works for the company you are trying to join and ask them for some information.They will generally be happy to tell you what you want to know, and you will be able to find out more about what it would be like to work for that company.
If you are not an experienced rep it is also worth practicing your selling technique, either in a mirror or with a friend, and do the same with your presentation skills.
Other than this there is not too much you can do to prepare. Be ready to think on your feet, this is an important aspect of being a medical sales rep anyway!

Improving your chances

If you get to the assessment centre stage you already have a great chance. It means your CV or your first interview showed you have potential. However, even the most brilliant candidate can have an off-day, so don’t get complacent. If you put the effort in you are more likely to get results. If you are keen and interested on the day this will show.
Don’t worry about the other candidates.They may not be competing for your job and even if they are you can only do your best. If they are showing off about how well things are going they are probably nervous and are trying to convince themselves.
Remember you are not always being assessed, but at the same time you are always being assessed! How you behave between activities is important. You may not get the job by what you say and do between tasks but you might lose it if you act like an idiot. Maintain your professionalism throughout the whole assessment.This is particularly good advice if there is an overnight stay and a bar involved.
My final piece of advice is not to worry about your assessment centre. Stay calm and you’ll be fine. If you panic you will not perform well. I know it is easier to say than do, especially if you really want the job, but breathe deeply and remind yourself that there is nothing to worry about.You are capable of handling everything that is thrown at you.

Good luck!


Want to know more? Check out our article on the assessment centre process explained

Looking for more career advice? Read hereCareers & graduates

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