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Acing assessment days at bigger companies

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7 months ago

by Paul Mears

Acing assessment days at bigger companies

​If you have applied for a job at a big corporate-style company, for example, a graduate scheme at a big pharmaceutical firm like GlaxoSmithKline, the chances are you will have to go through assessment days as part of the hiring process. There could be an assessment day, or a similar aspect of this interview format, for any level of job and at any company; however they tend to be employed by larger firms for reasons I will refer to later in this article.

Assessment days can seem intimidating, but going in prepared can really help your chances of landing the job. Here are my top tips for acing assessment days at big companies.

Tip #1: Research the company values and culture.

Corporations and larger companies will very often have core values like innovation, integrity, collaboration, etc, very prominently referred to on their website and other marketing materials – and one job of their assessment day is to ensure this hiring process reflects these values outwardly, plus to ensure their new recruit also fits well within their values framework. Look up what the company values and try to demonstrate those qualities during the assessment day. Aligning with the company culture is key so the first task is to find these out, then reflect on them when preparing your answers to questions where you touch upon actions and behaviours which reflect those core values. Write them on a notebook and take the notebook into the interview with you.

Tip #2: Brush up on your technical knowledge.

Review all of the technical skills required in the job. This might even mean rolling back the years and getting out your textbooks covering basic chemistry, biology, etc. Ensure you are conversant with the lab skills (HPLC, GC, PCR, aseptic technique, etc) referred to in the job description. You'll likely have some technical questions or even practical lab-based tasks to gauge your abilities so practice if you still have access. Understand the breadth of the job role you're applying for and refresh the relevant technical knowledge – you might have former colleagues who can help you get back up-to-date with a technique you have not touched for years.

Tip #3: Prepare for behavioural interviews.

All interview processes will serve a purpose to evaluate your soft skills through behavioural interviews. Prepare STAR stories that demonstrate skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, and attention to detail. STAR is an acronym meaning Situation, Task, Action, Result, and you can find strong examples on the internet to help you prepare your own STAR stories ready to illustrate your strengths. Remember to prepare, and write in your notepad to refer to during the interview, several STAR stories demonstrating your practical and soft skillsets demanded by the job description. Referring back to my “Tip #1” – go back through the STAR stories you have prepared and note how well they reflect the hiring company’s values – if they do not, re-write them through the lens of the company values.

Tip #4: Present your best self.

The above preparation will ensure you are mentally well prepared which will help any nerves and allow you to focus on the basics upon arrival. Dress professionally, be polite to everyone you interact with, and project confidence about what you know. Assessment days are about evaluating how you'll represent the company and how you interact under various levels of uncertainty, so make a good impression. Show passion and enthusiasm for the industry, and again, reflect the company values in your actions and interactions!

Tip #5: Lead the group activity.

Assessment days allow a hiring team to put on a group activity – think along the lines of the “Chicken and Fox riddle”, - to assess the interviewees’ soft skills under the aforementioned uncertain and pressurised circumstances. You may get notice of this ahead of time, in which case you can prepare for it, but you also may not get informed until the day. It is important to understand what the hiring team want to see from their preferred applicant; they want to see a person who will understand and relay the overall goal and process of thinking to the team, ensuring that while you canvass opinions from the full group, you ensure absolutely all members have their views heard. Then of course go ahead and lead the team towards the solution in good humour.

Tip #6: Ask thoughtful questions.

When given the opportunity, which will usually be at the end of an interview – or at the end of a given part of an assessment day - have insightful questions ready to ask the interviewers or panel (write these ahead of time, and during the day itself as they come to you, in your trusty notepad). You will demonstrate genuine interest in the company and role by having authentic questions about the job opportunity, the sector the company operates in, their challenges and plans, and the progression pathways for diligent employees.


With preparation and practice, you can really stand out during assessment day interviews. With the above tips, you will stand out for all the right reasons. Assessment days are used by companies who have a strong brand identity; they therefore tend to have far more applicants than they could ever interview in a more bespoke format, so need to quickly rule out candidates who have not researched the role, their work environment, the company values, and hence preparing to ace these aspects put you in the driving seat. You will face stiff competition, so focus on showcasing your technical expertise, soft skills, and cultural fit to prove you are the right person for the job. Let me know in the comments if you have any other assessment day tips!

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