The Ultimate Guide To Excelling At A Pharma Assessment Centre

The Ultimate Guide To Excelling At A Pharma Assessment Centre

by Mark Nancarrow in career
Assessment centres can strike a frisson of fear into the hearts of the most confident of candidates, while for more introverted candidates they can feel downright terrifying.  

They don’t need to be something to fear. There’s a place for every type of personality to shine in an assessment centre, and as many pharma companies use assessment centre testing as a core pillar of their recruitment, smart candidates know to do their homework to succeed.  

How can you prepare for an assessment centre? Here’s how. 

1. Know what to expect.  

Assessment centres follow a formula, with the core aim to discover both more about you and how you interact and perform in a group. It is highly likely you will also be given individual tasks too.  

[IMPORTANT: You can download our comprehensive guide on preparing for the personal aspect of the interview here.] 

For now though, let’s look at the group aspect of an assessment centre.

Group-testing may take the form of: 
  • Reviewing a work-related problem together and then presenting your solution to the assessors, 
  • Playing out a role-play of a situation you might encounter in the role (for example, dealing with a frustrated pharma client) 
  • Figuring out a solution to an abstract scenario, like ‘What would you do if your plane crashed and you had to survive’.  

There are lots of examples of group exercises on the internet, so study up, so you feel more comfortable.  

2. Insert yourself into the discussion early on.  

Participation is KEY in group testing. If you do not add something to the conversation, you will not demonstrate your skills in working in a group; period.   

If you are confident in nature, take a leadership role by speaking up early.  If you are an introvert who struggles to put their voice forward in group scenarios, quickly volunteer to be the whiteboard scribe or timekeeper—but don’t forget to also add at least one salient point to the discussion as well.  

3. Don’t dominate: credit and include others.  

It can be all too easy to get carried away and monopolise conversation in a bid to make a great impression on the assessors. Unfortunately, there’s a strong chance you’ll be doing the very opposite. Group testing exists to assess how you perform in a group, so don’t steal all the glory!  
When someone else has a good idea, praise them for it, and do it genuinely. When someone is hanging back, bring them into the conversation and ask their opinion. Treating other candidates like competitors completely defeats the purpose of group testing.  

4. Do NOT get aggressive or defensive when challenged.  

The quickest way to failure in assessment centres is by reacting emotively when your ideas are challenged, or if someone interrupts you. Personality clashes are heightened, and emotions can run high in assessment centres, so it’s desperately important to keep a cool head.  

If someone interrupts you and you think finishing the point is necessary, smile and say, ‘Do you mind if I just finish that thought? It will get away from me otherwise!’ It will be tough for the person to say no to such a polite request without seeming extremely rude.  

If someone is rude, it’s not your job to pull them into line. The assessors will be watching, that’s their job.  In fact, they’re closely watching the way you respond to this person, and gauging how you deal with conflict in the workplace. So think hard, and stay cool. If you can defuse the situation, extra points to you - this shows you’ve got great emotional intelligence. 

5. Show your human side.  

An assessor is more likely to look favourably on those candidates who make friends with others. This is group testing, after all. Don’t be shy to have a joke before the assessment starts, and get to know everyone’s names if you can. Using people’s names often makes others like you and listen to you and sets you out as a leader who pays attention rather than only focussing on themselves. 

6. Take a moment to breathe and think creatively.

In a rush to come up with solutions to the problem posed by the assessors, many candidates will come up with the obvious ‘same old’ answers. Don’t be afraid to hang back for a moment to have a creative think about an answer that’s more outside the box. (You’ll generally have about 20-30 minutes to come up with a solution to present, so there’s plenty of time for both thinking and participating!) 

This is often a way that introverts can make a brilliant impression, as introverts often think profoundly and slowly about an issue from all sides before speaking up.  You don’t have to say a lot during the exercise, but if what you say makes a dramatic impact, then it’s likely you will impress on the day. 


7. Know the specific competencies the employer is looking for. 

This one is often overlooked or forgotten in the stress of the moment. Remember, there will be some glaring clues in the job spec and from your recruitment consultant about what kind of person they’re looking for, and you should be able to get some cues on how to act in the group testing as a result. 
For example, if they’re looking for a key account manager who can work in a high-pressure environment, you’ll probably be able to be more dominant and extroverted in the group scenario than you would if the job-spec talked a lot about collaboration and teamwork.  

8. Adapt if it doesn’t go your way. 

If the group decides against your idea or course of action, swallow your disappointment and continue to participate enthusiastically in what they’ve decided to do. It’s not like things will always go your way in a real-life work situation, is it? You’re often going to have to do things you don’t agree with in a workplace, so getting on board with others after a setback is a powerful way of showing your adaptability.  

If you’ve done the right groundwork, get to know the other people in the group, and keep your wits about you, group testing at assessment centres can be a little bit fun.   

Until next time, 


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