Revisiting the assessment centre – from the other side!

Posted by: Faye Simpson - Posted on:

I have just returned from 2 days spent in Leeds at the NHS Leadership Academy HQ where I, along with a few graduate trainee colleagues, helped out at some of the assessment centres for this year’s NHS graduate scheme intake. It was a really enjoyable experience and so I wanted to do a quick post on my thoughts and reflections across the two days. (NB: I’m not going to use this post to give advice/hints and tips for the assessment centre, as there is plenty of this about on the website and in other blogs already, including my previous post ‘Application process and advice’).

I put my name down to facilitate the assessment centres largely because I remember mine well as a candidate and I found talking to current trainees useful at the time of my application, so it seemed only right to go back and return the favour somehow! To be honest, when I signed up, I thought I would spend the two days preoccupied with setting candidate bases up/down, completing paperwork, answering questions and guiding candidates around the building, and didn’t think about it more deeply than that. I was therefore surprised (perhaps more so than I should’ve been by now!) to find myself reflecting, mainly on two things: my journey since my own application to the scheme two years ago, and the quality of the candidates I saw coming through the assessment centres.

I was surprised by how much the time, and physical distance, away from busy placement life provided me with an opportunity to stop and think about my progress since I applied to the scheme. Being in the very same room as my own assessment centre and seeing it set up the same way was all too familiar and watching candidates arrive, I actually felt a bizarre pang of nerves. I wasn’t the only one; the other trainees and I joked how ridiculous this was, especially given the amount we have been at HQ since our own assessment centres, but this felt different somehow. There was a palpable nervous energy in the room and, having been in their shoes, we all felt it.

While candidates were busily completing activities (without giving too much away about what these entail of course), my colleague and I paced around the room, poised to respond to any raised hands. As I watched them quietly working away, I thought of myself two years ago, almost to the day, going through the very same activities. I thought about a previous job I was in at the time; about how I was still reeling from being made redundant so early on in my career; about how much I wanted a place on the scheme. Later, my colleagues and I shared with candidates some of our experiences on the scheme. When answering questions, having to summarise my placements and projects without the nitty-gritty detail or jargon was actually a great way for me to look broadly over what I’ve done so far, and think about how much knowledge and experience I have gained – even in the relatively short time since I was on the other side of the table. In some of the answers I gave, you’d even be forgiven for thinking I actually knew a thing or two! I hadn’t anticipated being asked things like ‘what’s been your biggest challenge?’, but thinking of an answer to such questions on the day turned out to be as useful for me, in its own way, as it (hopefully) was for the candidates.

Importantly, even in the short time I was part of the process, I was impressed by the quality and calibre of candidates I saw, eager to join the scheme and the NHS. I had conversations with many bright, enthusiastic, positive candidates, who bring with them fresh ideas and passionate beliefs about the future of healthcare and our population. While I wasn’t responsible for assessing their performance, I personally felt the standard was really high and as I left at the end of day two, I felt reassured that if what I had seen was anything to go by, the future of the NHS is in safe hands.

I’d like to wish all candidates who have been or are heading to an assessment centre – in this or any future years – good luck with their applications. If you are looking for advice on an application to the scheme, or have questions about life on the scheme, there is plenty to be found on this website, or you can find me on Twitter @faye_NHS.

Faye Simpson

I’m Faye, I joined the HR stream 2016 intake. I graduated from University of Birmingham in 2013 with a BSc Hons in Psychology, which is where I discovered my passion for people. After a year out doing bar work and travelling abroad, I started my HR career in the private sector. While I loved HR, I found that my personal values were less suited to a profit-seeking organisation and would be more aligned to the public sector. The NHS Graduate Scheme offers just that plus a fantastic structured development programme, which suits me well. I’m looking forward to making a positive difference to a service that we, and our loved ones, rely on.

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Applications for the September 2021 intake will open in October 2020