Graduate jobs: Assessment Centre and final interviews

What to expect, how to respond and top nerve-busting techniques 

By Poppy Osborne

Final year is tough. It’s tough enough without the pressure of getting a job but unfortunately for many of us this isn’t optional! I know first-hand how stressful and nerve-racking the entire process can be but hopefully this article can provide some useful pointers and get you one step-closer to your dream graduate role, whatever industry it is in! It’s also important to remember that our digital learning experiences have been preparing us for the digital recruitment process already, so please don’t feel panicked about having to do it online!

It’s worth remembering that I’m a Business and Management student and my application experiences are in Business Management and Consulting. I hope that lots of the tips will be universal but keep in mind that the assessment centers (ACs) and interview content can vary significantly industry to industry. Also, if there is one thing to take out of this article PLEASE use Exeter Career Zone, their advice and support is invaluable! I’ve had many meetings with advisors to workshop interview techniques, talk about ACs and to have support with my CV. Without the Career Zone, I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be in the fortunate position of having the graduate job offers that I currently do! Thank you, John Greaves and the rest of the CZ team!

Assessment Centers 


The STAR technique is infamous and I’m sure you’re well versed in it already. If you aren’t the career zone have in depth guidance on this, but it essentially is a framework to help you answer interview questions like “tell me about a time when…”. It stands for situation, task, action and result. Adding an additional R, reflection, after the result demonstrates your capacity to learn and reflect on your experience and always makes your answer stand out. After stating a result it’s great to share upon reflection how you think you coped or what went well to show your evaluation of the situation you’re describing.

2.Why this company?

Perhaps the most important part of interview prep is getting some good points for why you want to work with this specific company. Everyone is so well versed in STAR now that to stand out developing some good answers to ‘Why do you want to work for us” is vital. When you’re prepping for this question remember to ask yourself ‘is this true for their closest competitor?’ For example, if I was prepping for a PWC interview and I could give the same answer in an EY interview then it’s not specific enough. Make it incredibly obvious that you don’t just want to work for an organisation who does (Consulting, HR, Marketing) but that you want to work for this specific one.


  • Look at their news section. What’s happening for them right now?
  • Listen to their podcast and bring up something they discuss
  • Look at their targets (e.g female representation in SMT, Mental Health awareness etc.) and discuss these
  • Talk about their alignment with your personal values (e.g their climate change initiative is fantastic and you’re very environmentally conscious too.)


Piggybacking other people’s ideas is a great way of showing your team working skills. Developing someone else’s idea is almost as good as having had the great idea yourself, it demonstrates both initiative and team working. Even if you don’t have anything to help develop it, just reiterating why that’s a good idea/point is great…

“Thanks Sophie, I think that’s a fantastic idea because….”

“Sophie, what if we added ____ to your idea…”


You’ve been asked something, and you’ve got absolutely no idea what to say. We have all been there. Feedbacking, (a word I’ve just coined), means to discuss and feedback what has been said or asked in order to allow yourself more time to think before responding. It might go a little like…

Interviewer: Whacky question/confusing statement e.g Why would I hire you and not wait for a robot to be invented that can do the job?


A. Repeat and rephrase — Ah, thats a really interesting question regarding the technological advances that could fulfil this job role at some point

B. Clarify — do you mean the robots would fulfil all the responsibilities of my job or just X capability?

C. Answer — I think …

5. AC matrix

When you are marked in an AC on your group task they are often using a marking matrix similar to this one. This illustrates all of the skills they are hoping to see you exhibit and some really useful examples of what to do. Remember that there is negative marking for ‘bad behaviour’ such as interrupting others so if someone at the AC is doing this don’t be put off – it will show in their marks and you won’t be negatively affected.

(Image sourced from Exeter Career Zone)

Final Interviews (FIs)

6.The introduction

Have a good idea of how you could structure an intro question. These are usually open ended ‘tell me a little bit about you’ style questions. Good things to include are:

  • University course & current average grade
  • Important work experience e.g I’ve done an internship as a consultant before …
  • Volunteer work (they won’t always ask about this directly, so make sure to include it if you can!)

7.Your motivation

Often in interviews they want to know what motivates you and this question can be phrased in a number of ways such as “What makes you get out of bed in the morning?” (to which, “my annoying alarm”, isn’t what they’re looking for!)

It’s important to prepare for this question as being asked it on the spot can throw you off. Think back to your core skills

  • Are you a people person? Do you like helping others?
  • Are you analytical and you thrive when challenged by interesting data?
  • Are you family orientated and you want to make them proud?
  • Are you driven to reach a certain job title? Are you a future CEO?

8.Your capabilities

Again, practice your STARR answers as a couple of these are likely to come up. It’s important that these aren’t just general, make sure they align to the organisation. Look at the ‘core values’ of the company and make sure you have examples of these. For example, if their mission statement says that the organisation is driven to integrity and honesty practice an example for these!

9.Ask about them – They’re important

In the final interviews usually it’s someone relatively senior interviewing you. Ask about them too! At the end they will ask you if you’ve got any questions and to inform this make sure you’ve done some LinkedIn research. What projects have they done? What department do they work in? Make sure they feel like you care about their job, their work and their experience of the organisation.

10.Killer final question

The killer final question should allow you to make a fantastic final impression.

“Is there anything about me that you are unsure of, or any qualities you haven’t seen in me yet that you wanted to see?”

This gives them the chance to say… actually I’m not sure about your leadership (or other) skills. You can, instead of being rejected for this 2 hours later, re-establish this skill with a STARR example.

“I’m so glad I’ve got the opportunity to share that skill with you further. One time when I …”


Time to ‘cheat’

Yes, really! There can be challenges with virtual interactions so it’s important for us to also exploit the benefits where we can. What I mean by this, is that it’s time to take advantage of the opportunities virtual meetings give us and one of these is notes. Stick them to your wall, write them on your desk – however helps you remember what you want to say or ask. These prompts were unavailable before during in person ACs but now you use the virtual sessions to your advantage and can tape notes up everywhere (provided your housemates are happy to lose their deposit from your bluetac marks!) Don’t read verbatim from your wall, they will be able to tell, but do use words or phrases to remind you of things you need to say.

It’s all the same

If you’ve ever done ACs or FIs before, then please feel reassured that nothing has changed! The interaction, questions and same principles all apply just without the handshake.

Digital skills

Online learning at university has been preparing you for this and your digital skills more than suffice for this process. You are used to interacting virtually now and this will only benefit you in the AC or FI. Not to mention, it is daunting and scary for lots of people, so it is actually an opportunity to excel and demonstrate your strength and confidence when using Zoom and other relevant tech. If you can stay calm if you’re thrown out of a breakout room of if your background glitches and they can see the pile of messy clothes behind you, then you’re demonstrating yet another skill- resilience. (Ideally move the messy pile of clothes to a location that isn’t visible – but you get the point!)

While you are doing the AC or FI (almost definitely virtually at the moment, thanks Covid) remember to keep calm, keep going and don’t forget – you’re the best of the best or you wouldn’t have reached to this stage. Nerves are normal, but don’t let them stop you sharing your experience, personal qualities and personality through this process. Best of Luck!

Not the result you wanted?

Please do remember that every experience is an important one, even if you don’t have the result you expected. If ever you receive a rejection, and honestly everyone does at some point, then getting feedback is the next step. If they haven’t been forthcoming and immediately provided this then please feel free to use or adapt this template. It might be the most important thing I am sharing in this post because we often learn and develop more from rejections than from successes.

Dear ______,

Thank you for your invitation to ___assessment centre/final interview___. I really enjoyed the day and had a fantastic time meeting ______ and working with the other students. I have received your __email/voicemail/phonecall__ letting me know that I have not been successful this time round. Naturally, I am disappointed by this news as I was incredibly motivated to work for __(organisation’s name)__. I am hopeful that you can share some detailed feedback about my performance and development needs so that when reapplying or attending other __ACs/FIs__ I am able to further improve.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to receiving the feedback which I am very grateful for.

All the best and I sincerely hope our paths cross again in future,

___ Name ___



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