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The only things that I know:

  • An assessment day is much more than a simple interview. Actually 1 or more interviews are just a part of it.
  • Both individual and group based programming activities are involved.

Any ideas about what kind of programming activities to expect (preferably by people who have already participated in an assessment day)?

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You ask your question as if you expect there to be a universal answer. Every employer is going to have its own interview/assessment practices, and there's no way to know what they might be like aside from asking someone who has already interviewed at that particular company. –  Adam Crossland Mar 28 '11 at 18:54
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Sorry, I tried to submit a specific question about the assessment days in ARM but it was closed. Thus that's an effort of submitting a more general question to get some more information about the programming activities involved in an assessment day. –  faif Mar 28 '11 at 18:58
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

An assessment day is a spectacle held by some companies wrongfully convinced it is a good idea. You are there an actor and you need to define for yourself which role you are going to play.

Assessment arrangement is supposed to provide interviewers with genuine information to how a particular candidate behaves in real world situation. Unfortunately:

  • The situation is not real by any stretch of a definition

  • People attending are not selected yet therefore they make up a random bunch possibly incapable of ever forming a team

  • Everybody knows they're on clock and is therefore stressed

  • Everybody understands they are being watched and is therefore stressed second time

  • Everybody thinks they know what the interviewers want to see and is therefore wearing a certain mask and playing a particular role which annihilates the very idea of unveiling their true personality

  • Since everybody is behaving ingenuinely everybody is stressed. The third time.

  • Since everybody is stressed several times over nobody is capable of behaving naturally, even if they wanted

At the end of the assessment day interviewers select those baboons who guessed the desired behavior correctly and managed to improvise it. The interviewers end up with a random bunch.

I've attended such events myself. At the one we had a group of graduates who apparently lacked any sort of practical development skills. As it was closing to an end and we still haven't figured a solution I jumped in with a working solution, explained it to everybody then we presented it. I was then told I tried to exercise authority and pushed my solution on the team.

At the other one I tried to restrain my activity not to look authoritative again, listened to the others' input and tried to find a compromise. After the event I was told I was passive and initiativeless. Go figure.

A few tips what they want to see:

  • Initiative. Unclear however up to what extent.
  • Enthusiasm about solving a problem
  • Involvement. Watch out not to overdo it.
  • Admiration for the company. Shining eyes almost weeping about being granted with an invitation. Show it on the face, in action and in communication with the interviewers.

Otherwise it is a show, a spectacle as it is. Play, watch, enjoy, have fun. Unfortunately you're not allowed pop-corn.

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After having done it, I totally agree with your answer. IMHO this is not a good way of hiring people but unfortunately many companies (especially in UK) are convinced that it is. –  faif Jun 1 '11 at 12:19
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Wikipedia and Assessment Day tend to suggest this is more of a general aptitude component, with a specific example or two being found on The Guardian. As the last couple of links are to UK sites this may be more likely to be found in that part of the world as I don't know of the term and have lived in Canada and the U.S. just to disclose that part of things.

I'd be tempted to suggest it is about what can you do quickly without a lot of prep work, what do you seem to just naturally know versus what was crammed, and lastly that a lot of this could be to build a bit of a psychological profile based on skimming the above links. Of course the terms are rather generic enough that there may be an alternative explanation out there somewhere.

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The approach will depend on the organisation and there goals: i.e. are they trying to find someone experienced or recruiting a graduate. If it is graduate selection, there will be a lot less credence put on specific technology prowess and much more on your capability.

I would expect:

  • A group problem solving exercise (Balloon debate and variants)
  • At least one interview.
  • Some form of numeracy/logical capability test - examples here, here and finally here. The diagrammatic tests in the third link are generally considered the hardest. The next hardest would be a situational judgement test, which really test your ability to solve problems.
  • For experienced hires - some form of programming test.
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