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Assessment days: How to prepare and stay calm

Assessment days: How to prepare and stay calm

Assessment days are increasingly being used as a recruitment tool by companies. While assessment days clearly provide the employer with a valuable tool for choosing the best candidate for a job, it can be harder to see how students can turn a day of pressure and testing into a beneficial experience. AAU Career has talked to students who have experienced assessment days at the two Danish companies Neas and Ørsted. Read their advice below.

It can be a challenge to get through an assessment day — especially if it is your first one. Neas Energy A/S seeks to create a comfortable and informal atmosphere for the students when assessing their abilities. However, in order to get the clearest possible impression of who the students are, and what they can bring to the company, Neas needs to push the students to the limits of their abilities.

One way of doing this is through group exercises. The students at a Neas assessment day are for example faced with the pressure of diffusing a virtual bomb by working together as a group. The complexities of various puzzles combined with time pressure and loud noises make the students forget time and place. They unconsciously show their true colors, so to speak.

“Their body language, their voices, their impulses - it all changes when we start the timer on the bomb,” as one Neas employer explained during the exercise.


A simulation of reality

One might argue that assignments like these are putting too much pressure on the students. Though, the purpose of assessment days is often to simulate the daily reality in a company in order to get the most suited candidates for the job.

AAU Career has talked to some of the student assistants who have already made it through an assessment day at Neas. They all agree that the assessment day was a good experience that prepared them for their future tasks at the company.

“I learned later that what we did during the assessment day was very close to what the job actually is. Even though there is no bomb about to explode, it sometimes feels like it, because we are working under the pressure of deadlines,” Ioanna Jivan, a Romanian student, studying Computer Science and Software Development at UCN, describes.


Focus on group performance

Sebastian Jorna from Germany is studying a master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration at AAU. He agrees that assessment days often simulate the reality of a company. When studying in Germany, Sebastian Jorna also experienced assessment days, and even though his experience at Neas was different from the other assessment days, he sees a general structure in all of them.

“They have all focused on group work and solving specific tasks that are relevant to the company. One time, the task was to have discussion between groups of different sizes, where the goal was to agree on your arguments within each group before presenting them to the other groups. All of my assessment days have also included certain tests in e.g. language, logical thinking or common knowledge,” he explains.


Preparing for pressure

While the content of assessment days can vary, they all entail some sort of pressured situations — either because a virtual bomb is about to go off, or merely because you are being evaluated on everything you do. The students working at Neas and Ørsted have various suggestions on how to prepare for this:

“It is very important to learn how to stay calm under pressure,” German student Laura Edtmüller, who is studying a bachelor’s degree in International Studies at AAU, states. “One way to do this is to be aware of how you communicate. Communication is a top priority for especially international companies. Therefore, it is a good idea, before the assessment day, to think about how you communicate under pressure and how this might be perceived.”

Sebastian Jorna adds to this point: “If you get any material about the tasks for the assessment day, read it thoroughly, and then consider how you will react in and contribute to certain situations. Be self-aware about how you usually handle group assignments and do not try to be someone else. Whether you are the dominant type or the listening type, the main thing is to show that you can apply your abilities and communication skills when needed.”


Know the schedule

Monika Sandelić, a Croatian AAU student, studying a master's degree in Electrical Power Systems and High Voltage Engineering, has recently experienced an assessment day (link) when she applied for a graduate position at the Danish energy company Ørsted (previous DONG). The assessment day at Ørsted included a full day of testing, interviews and exercises, where more than 80 students were competing for a few graduate positions.

Similarly to the students at Neas, she describes how difficult it is to prepare in detail for an assessment day. Monika Sandelić emphasises the importance of being aware that the assessment day can be a somewhat exhausting experience, where it can be a struggle to stay focused and energized throughout the day.

“It was a very long day with a packed schedule. I was perhaps not completely prepared for how much energy it would take to be evaluated on so many different things during an entire day. Therefore it is important to get an overview of the schedule beforehand, and to consider at what moments it is extra important to make a good impression,” she states.


Relax and loose your expectations

Even though you can do a lot to prepare for assessment days in general, it is crucial to remember that all assessment days are unique to each company. Therefore, Ionna Jivan emphasizes that it is important not to have specific expectations. “You do not have control, and you do not know which specific qualities the company is looking for. Therefore, try to stay relaxed and be yourself during the day,” she suggests.

Being relaxed while trying to impress can, however, be a challenging task, as Sebastian Jorna describes. “There is always some pressure when someone is standing behind you and evaluating your performance. I guess you just have to try to ignore the situation, focus on the task in front you, and stay concentrated. And if you do not know the solution or answer right away, you should stay professional and dedicated. The assessors will help you when they see you are struggling with a task.”

The  students AAU Career has talked to all admit that preparing fully for an assessment day is almost impossible. However, they do agree on some specific aspects that you can prepare for:

  • Research the company thoroughly– both during the application process and before interviews and the assessment day.
  • Prepare interesting questions which show your interest in and knowledge about the company.
  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses – this will help you a lot in staying calm while being assessed for your dream job.


Learn more about assessment days:

Assessment days:  How to make a good impression while diffusing a bomb

Assessment days: How to get there and do well