Career advice

Preparing for success at an assessment centre

Assessment centres are increasingly being used by employers to ensure they recruit nurses with the right skills, values and beliefs for their organisation. 

Assessment centres are increasingly being used by employers to ensure they recruit nurses with the right skills, values and beliefs for the organisation.


Candidates applying for nursing roles are frequently invited to assessment centres. Picture: IStock

 The quest for a new job will lead many nurses to an assessment centre as part, or all, of the recruitment process. 

The RCN says assessment centres are being used more frequently, often as the first stage of the recruitment process to whittle down a large pool of candidates before moving on to the interview stage with a smaller number. 

What to expect

Tests carried out at assessment centres can include literary and numeracy tests, written scenarios and case studies to test nursing knowledge, and practical clinical skills tests. 

Applicants could also be asked to give a presentation on a subject or have group discussions, and some employers use psychometric tests to look at a person’s values and attitudes. 

RCN careers adviser Julie Watkins says there has been a particular rise in ‘seen presentations’, where nurses are given a subject beforehand and asked to present their thoughts and findings as part of the interview. Members who contact the RCN for advice can receive tips on presentations and interview skills. 

‘An assessment centre can be used as an initial screening exercise, before progressing to an interview,’ says Ms Watkins. ‘Or an applicant may need to pass a certain element, such as a numeracy test, before they can progress further.’

Numeracy, literacy and compassion

Some nurses appear to struggle with the tests, particularly numeracy and literacy. According to a report from the Health Foundation in March, one London trust rejected between 40% and 60% of band 5 nurse applicants because they did not reach the organisation’s standards for numeracy, literacy or compassion. 

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust uses assessment centres to recruit newly qualified nurses and other band 5 nursing staff. Lead nurse for education and workforce Sarah Needham says it is a comprehensive process that takes half a day and involves a number of different tests, including a short interview.

Using life experiences to pass the tests

Candidates are asked to bring in an object and explain how it demonstrates their passion for nursing. Taking part in role play, with a member of the public playing a patient, helps test their communication skills. Numeracy and literacy tests are currently included, but this is under review. 

‘The process lets us see our potential workforce from different angles and helps ensure we recruit people with the right values and beliefs for the organisation,’ says Ms Needham. 

She recommends that nurses, especially those who are newly qualified, use their own life experiences during the process. 

‘They could talk about their hobbies when asked about risk assessment, for example, such as when they went canoeing or horse riding. And try to think of three scenarios when responding to each question to show you have understood.’ 

Tips for assessment centre success

  • Visit the employer’s website to learn as much about the organisation as possible.
  • Reflect on your own style and its impact on potential group activities. For example, if you are naturally talkative, you may need to focus more on listening. 
  • Get plenty of rest the day before as it will be quite tiring.
  • Be positive and enthusiastic, but don’t act. Try not to see the other candidates as competitors.
  • Assume you are being assessed at all times.

From: Nurses. Thinking about your career: Assessment Centres 


Erin Dean is a freelance journalist 

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