As part of the recruitment process, organisations use assessment centres to evaluate job applicants’ suitability for a post, along with an interview.
Employers will often use this method of selection when they are recruiting from a large pool of applicants, such as newly qualified nurses, or in response to a recruitment campaign. Assessment centres are now being used more frequently for all recruitment.
What is an assessment centre?
An assessment centre consists of one or more activities to enable the selection panel to decide who best meets the requirements of the job. These centres look for:
Communication - Able to demonstrate knowledge clearly and concisely, does not interrupt others, listens attentively, demonstrates positive body language and good eye contact, contributes ideas, facilitates the contribution of others.
Adaptability - Demonstrates leadership potential, enthusiasm and determination along with the ability to deal with new situations and resolve problems with confidence.
Clinical understanding - Able to prioritise and identify appropriate clinical actions and demonstrate knowledge of theory, able to be factually accurate.
What to expect
An assessment centre can last for up to four hours, with breaks between activities. You may meet the other candidates and undertake joint activities with them, although some centres will focus more on individual exercises. An assessment centre may be used as an initial screening exercise, prior to progression to interview. Or you may need to pass a certain element, such as a numeracy test, before you can progress further.
Tests of numeracy and literacy skills
Numeracy tests often include drug calculations. Literacy tests may include a written comprehension of a text, where candidates are tested on their ability to understand and summarise information and write clearly. For more information on numeracy skills, see here.
Written scenarios/case study exercises
These often test clinical competences and nursing knowledge. For example, you may be given a clinical scenario and a series of questions to answer, or a care planning exercise.
Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)
This is an assessment of clinical competence, where components of the competence are tested individually. Often simulation techniques are used with mannequins. For example, you may be asked to demonstrate how you would safely assess and manage a patient presenting with a specific problem. For more information on OSCEs, see here.
You may be asked to present on a topic, either sent in advance of the assessment date or given on the day, with time allowed to prepare the presentation beforehand. (If you need advice about presentations, see our page on presentation skills.)
Group discussion about a topic
You may be given a topic to discuss, or a problem to solve. Often employers are testing communication skills, checking that you interact well with others, listen to them and contribute, to the task.
Success depends on contributing enough, without dominating and interrupting the discussion.
It is helpful to stay positive throughout and to reflect on what has been discussed periodically.
Consider your body language and both verbal and non verbal cues (e.g. nodding, smiling) as you interact with other group members.
You may be asked to work with other candidates to show how you would respond to a professional scenario. Sometimes actors or one of the assessors will play the role of a patient or client.
You will usually be provided with briefing information and preparation time and you should behave as you normally would in your nursing role.
Psychometric tests are structured assessment methods. They may include aptitude or ability tests, personality questionnaires, or a combination of both.
Employers may be keen to look for certain values or attitudes which are necessary for providing compassionate, dignified care.
You will usually be rated on your performance in each of the component sections of the assessment.
Employers will select the candidate(s) with the two highest overall score(s). Some tests may have a right or wrong answer.
In other tests, employers will mark against a scale according to specific criteria.
Assessment Centre Tips
Before you go
- If you have a disability that may affect your performance in any activities, let the employer know beforehand to discuss reasonable adjustments.
- Plan your outfit in advance and make sure you look clean, smart and professional.
- Make sure you plan your journey and how long it will take, allowing for delays. If your assessment is taking place on a large hospital site for example, allow yourself extra time to find the precise location.
- Get plenty of rest the day before as it will be quite tiring.
- Never underestimate the importance of eating proper meals. Skipping breakfast or lunch can force your body into "fight or flight," mode, and raise your cortisol/stress levels. This in turn can exacerbate nerves or make it more likely to get brain freeze or mind blocks.
On the day
- Assume that you are being assessed at all times. This even includes when you're waiting in reception, or saying goodbye to a member of the hiring panel at the end of the day.
- You will be assessed against the criteria outlined in the job description and person specification, so it is important that you know these documents well.
- Read the guidance notes carefully. Take your own stationery just in case.
- Visit the employer’s website so you know as much about the organisation as possible. In particular pay to any organisational or company values they might have. It's more than likely that they will be looking for evidence of these values, qualities or strengths during the assessment.
- Reflect on your own style and its impact on potential group activities. If you are naturally very talkative, remind yourself that you may need to focus more on listening. If you are very quiet, remember that you will need to speak up to make an impact on the assessors.
- Reflect on your “best self”. Think of a time when you have worked really well in a team or when your contribution was valued by colleagues or patients. Think about the skills you used in that situation and the behaviours you displayed.
During the course of your career you may be asked to deliver a presentation as part of a recruitment process.
Done properly, a presentation is an excellent opportunity for you to show off your skills, knowledge, expertise and personality; outside the usual constraints of an regular interview.
The RCN Careers Service has put together some advice to help you prepare, structure and deliver your presentation.
Delivering a presentation
In addition to written applications and interviews, you may also be asked to do a presentation as part of the recruitment process. This is especially common for more senior posts.
Some employers may ask you to present on a topic of your choice, others will give you a presentation topic in advance, and some may not reveal the subject of the presentation until the assessment day itself.
- The panel will of course be judging your presentation skills, but they will also be examining:
- Communication skills
- Personality and behaviour
- The clarity of your ideas
- Your ability to influence
- Your preparation and research skills
- How you engage with an audience
Research the subject of the presentation carefully. You may need to research and study local or national nursing initiatives, campaigns, new legislation, news or changes that are relevant to the presentation topic.
You should also get to know the organisation or employer. Identify organisational values or core competencies, if they have any initiatives or campaigns going on, or are involved in any pilots. You may be able to use this knowledge to your advantage with regards to the focus, message or ideas within your presentation.
- You may want to use the RCN library for help with research or literature searches
- RCN forums have lots of resources, and each forum has its own Facebook group if you want to ask for some tips or moral support from your peers.
- The various RCN clinical topics may prove helpful
- If you're going for a leadership role, see the Leadership Skills page.
Once you are completely familiar with your subject area, decide what you want to say.
Start by writing the main message or messages that you want to get across or deciding the order in which you will present your ideas.
The key is to try not to cover too much, and to decide how you’ll communicate your messages and arguments to the panel.
Aim to have:
- An interesting, engaging or attention-grabbing introduction
- A series of main points and/or ideas, in a logical sequence
- A poignant or thought-provoking conclusion
Begin your presentation with a strong and punchy introduction. This section will be the first thing the panel will hear, so the bigger the impression it makes the better.
You could start off by asking a question, open with an interesting statistic or quote, or sharing a story or metaphor.
You may also want to give an overview or summary of what the presentation is about, what you're going to cover, or talk about any aims or objectives for the presentation you may have.
After your introduction comes the main body of your presentation. Keep each slide focused, with just a few points on each.
Your slides should serve as a visual aid to prompt you, rather than a script.
Finish off with a short summary and conclude concisely. Try and make this effective, interesting, or engaging, as it will be the last thing the panel will hear.
Think of ways of making your presentation stand out from the others. Remember yours may be the fifth or sixth presentation that the panel has seen on the same topic.
You could use pictures, video clips, graphs, diagrams, or colour to make the slides visually exciting. That said, it's important that you're comfortable with the technology or format you're using, so find the balance that works for you.
Rehearse until you know your presentation inside out. If you're well prepared and well-rehearsed, you'll feel more confident and more in control on the day, minimising the chances of having a mind block or getting flummoxed if something doesn’t go to plan.
Think carefully about your body language, which should come across as positive and confident.
Consider your posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, whether you want to walk around the room a bit as you're speaking and what you're going to do with your arms as you present.
You could film yourself or get someone to film you so you can watch the footage back and reflect. Were you talking too fast? Did you forget to smile? What was your body language like? What about your eye contact? Did you come across as engaging?
It's a good idea to time yourself so that you know roughly what slide you should be on and when.
Ask someone to listen to your presentation and provide constructive feedback.
On the day: Speech and body language
Try to smile whilst making eye contact with the members of the panel, rather than staring at the screen all the time. (Your slides should be used as a visual aid rather than a script)
Be aware of closed body language, such as crossing your arms, looking downwards, or fidgeting.
If you have a lot of nervous energy, try and convey it as positive energy instead, e.g. passion for your subject, excitement, eagerness, enthusiasm, etc.
Use assertive and confident language. For example, try and avoid saying something like "I'm just going to quickly run you through this little graph." Presentation experts advise that this can sound apologetic or suggest that you don’t think your content is worthy of attention. Instead, try something like, "I'm going to show you this graph…” or, “This next slide is really interesting," or, "Let's take a look at that in more detail..."
On the day: Practical considerations
Keep an eye on the time.
Take several printed copies of your slides, just in case there are any problems on the day with the technology and make sure you've saved your presentation to a USB or memory stick for backup.
If unsuccessful, always get feedback and learn from it. It's sometimes helpful to ask specific questions such as, "What two areas would you say I needed to work on the most?"
Although there's no way of knowing which questions you'll be asked on the day, you can prepare by exploring possible interview questions and rehearsing how you would answer them.
This page explores common interview questions and how to answer them, techniques for structuring your answers, and over 80 sample questions to help you practice.
Sometimes it's the simplest and perhaps easiest of questions that have the potential to throw you off guard the most. You could spend hours researching the latest clinical guidelines only to be left flummoxed when asked, "So, why do you want the job?"
Below are some examples of universal interview questions you could be asked, and ideas about what the employer could be looking for in your answers.
"Why do you want the job?"
With these kind of questions, employers will be examining whether you're a good match in terms of your professional skills and abilities, but they'll also be looking at your attitude, passion, drive and motives. This is a good time to demonstrate that you've researched the employer and understood the requirements of the role.
What employers are looking for:
- That you have the skills, strengths, knowledge and experience necessary to thrive in this job
- That you are passionate/motivated about this job
- Why you want to work for this department / employer in particular
- What you could bring to the job/department
- That you have a thorough/realistic understanding of what the job entails
"Tell us about yourself"
When asked a question like this, you may feel inclined to reel off a factual sounding summary of your career history. However most employers are also looking to find out more about you as a person. Try to give an answer that balances both work related and non work related elements.
It's important to let your personality shine through and demonstrate that you have the sort of personal traits that would make you good employee and teammate. You may want to explain why you became a healthcare professional in the first place.
What employers are looking for:
- Your professional experience and/or educational attainment
- That you have the right experience and skills for this role
- Your personality
- Your attitude towards your profession
- Personal qualities that would make you a good employee/teammate
"What made you become a nurse?"
- What made you become a nurse / midwife / HCA?
- What made you become a Ward Manager / Clinical Nurse Specialist / Practice Educator?
- What made you want to work in mental health / children's nursing / learning disability nursing?
- What made you want to work in oncology / research / primary care?
Employers will want to confirm you're in the job for the right reasons, as well as gaining an insight into your motivation for becoming a healthcare professional.
What employers are looking for:
- Your attitude towards nursing/care giving
- What motivates you
- Your passion, dedication and commitment to your profession, or clinical area/speciality
- That you have the right personal qualities for the job
"Why do you want to work for the NHS / this organisation?"
Employers would ideally like to hire candidates who genuinely want to work for them. If you've cherry picked an employer because of their reputation, because they're considered pioneers in their field, or because it's your absolute dream job, let the employer know this.
You should of course also research the employer thoroughly, taking into account their values, vision, strategy, reputation, what services they offer, what challenges they might face, what type of demographics they deal with, etc. If you arranged an informal visit or chat, this is a great opportunity to explain what impressed you or what made you think it would be the right environment for you.
What employers are looking for:
- That you've taken the time to research them
- Whether you'd be a good fit/match for them
- That you'd be working for them for the right reasons
- Your career objectives and goals
- That your values align with theirs
"What is your understanding of the role?"
To answer this question you'll need to have read the job description and person specification thoroughly. Look at the job purpose or aim, and the duties and responsibilities you'd be required to carry out. Work out how your role would fit within the department and organisation, and the impact it has on any other teams or services. What are the most important skills and attributes needed to perform this role successfully?
What employers are looking for:
- That you understand the aim, purpose and requirements of the role
- Whether you've researched the role properly
- Whether you have the skills, attributes and qualities necessary to perform this role
- That you are aware of any challenges, limitations or expectations involved
"What would you do if... ?" (Scenario based questions)
You may be asked scenario based interview questions such as,
- What would you do if a patient told you they were being abused?
- What would you do if a senior colleague told you to do something you're weren't trained to do?
- What would you do if you noticed that drugs had gone missing from the unit?
- What would you do if you overheard a senior colleague making inappropriate comments to a patient.
- What would you do if you witnessed a nurse administering an incorrect drug?
With questions like this, employers will want to know that you have common sense, good judgement, and that patient safety and wellbeing are your priorities.
They may also look to see whether you encompass the 6Cs, (Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage, Commitment.) or their own organisational values where applicable.
What employers are looking for:
- An assessment of the situation
- That appropriate action was taken
- Whether procedures, policies, guidelines or codes of practice were adhered to
- Appropriate communication
- Record keeping
- Evaluation and learning
Personal qualities and nursing ethos
Why do you think you're a good nurse, and how can you evidence this?
If others could describe you in three words, what would they be?
How would your colleagues describe you?
What motivates you to work hard?
How do you demonstrate advocacy?
What personal qualities do you think are necessary for this role?
What are your strengths / What are your weaknesses?
Tell us about the 6 C's;
What does compassionate care mean to you and how do you deliver it?
Which one of the 6 C's do you think is the most important and why?
Tell us about a nationwide nursing initiative that you're interested in or passionate about.
Tell us about an article you read recently that relates to [relevant clinical area]
How do you demonstrate teamwork?
Tell us about a time when you worked well within a team.
What does good teamwork mean to you?
What could you bring to this team?
Give an example of a situation where you have collaborated with the multidisciplinary team.
Why is communication important within a team?
What does good communication look like to you?
Describe a situation where you've had to deal with a difficult patient / relative / colleague.
Give an example of when you've had to overcome a communication barrier.
What would you do if you disagreed with a doctor?
Problem solving and using initiative
Give an example of when you've used your initiative.
Give an example of when you identified a solution to a problem.
How can you contribute to the improvement of the organisation?
Describe a time when something didn't go to plan. What did you do?
Quality of care
How do you ensure you provide high quality care?
What makes a good shift?
What is the definition of good care to you?
How would you ensure you acted as a role model?
How would you help to create a learning environment?
How do you support your colleagues?
Describe a situation when you had to make a difficult decision.
Tell us about a time when you used your leadership skills to handle a situation.
What kind of leader are you?
Dealing with challenges
Describe a time when you've had to manage professional differences in the workplace.
Describe an emergency situation and how you dealt with it.
Give an example of a challenging situation and how you overcame it.
How do you handle pressure/stress?
How would you deal with a challenging relative?
Give an example of a time you were asked to do something you were not qualified/trained to do. What happened?
Policy and process
What is Clinical Governance?
What is safeguarding?
How do you ensure good infection control measures?
What would you do if you spotted a mistake?
What have you done to professionally develop?
How have you kept your knowledge and skills up to date?
What are you most proud of in your nursing career to date?
What is person-centred care?
How do you prioritise your workload?
Give an example of when you've acted with compassion.
Give an example of when you went above and beyond.
How do you cope in an emergency?
How do you keep calm in stressful situations?
What is your understanding of consent / confidentiality / safeguarding?
What frustrates you?
What does team work mean to you, and why is it important?
Give an example of when you've worked well within a team
What does equality and diversity mean to you?
What skills do you have to offer?
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
Give us an example of when you've promoted dignity.
Scenario based questions
What would you do if a nurse gave you medication to give to a patient?
What would you do if a patient told you they were being abused?
What would you do if asked to operate against manual handling protocols?
What would you do if a patient in your care refused to eat / wash?
A patient keeps ringing the buzzer in the middle of the night, what do you do?
How would you deal with a difficult patient / relative?
What would you do if you identified that a colleague had made a mistake?
We've got advice on writing your first CV, a step by step guide on how to construct a CV, example CVs and CV templates you can use. Members can also have their CV checked by the RCN Careers team.Start writing your CV now