Assessment days for retail apprenticeships: what to expect and how to prepare

Assessment centres and the on-job evaluations
If you’ve been successful in the initial application process for a retail apprenticeship, the employer may invite you to attend an assessment day.

Retail apprenticeship assessment days are generally between five and eight hours long – often with a break for lunch – although this will vary depending on the employer. They are often held at retailers’ headquarters (known as their head office) or in a store or branch. You will be assessed alongside a group of other candidates and participate in a variety of activities and exercises designed to assess whether you have the skills required for the apprenticeship or job.

Remember that you are not in competition with other candidates – assessment days are about showing your individual skills.

What exercises and tests will retail employers use to assess my skills at the assessment day?

Retail assessment days vary between employers, depending on the skills that they’re looking for. However, knowing commonly used assessment methods within the retail sector can help you prepare. They include:

A group exercise

Group exercises are a common feature of retail assessment days as they allow employers to assess skills that indicate good customer service, such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork. Customer service is key in retail and retailers including Tesco, McDonald’s and TK Maxx all emphasise this.

Group exercises are often case-study tasks in which you are given a work-related scenario or problem to solve as a group before giving feedback on your ideas and solutions either in writing or a presentation. Several employers have used this approach including:

  • John Lewis Partnership – candidates for its retail apprenticeship reported a group task involving matching a selection of products to the most suitable customer.
  • Harrods – at a sales assistant assessment day candidates were asked to match items to a fictional customer to the value of £500.

The Argos assessment day has involved a listening exercise – candidates are paired up and asked to tell the other about themselves before presenting what they have heard to the rest of the group. To succeed in this task you need to listen carefully to your partner and remember the most important information.

Other top tips for performing well in retail group tasks:

  • Find a good balance between offering ideas and keeping quiet – contribute, but give others a chance to speak too.
  • Listen to others and encourage shyer members of the group to share their ideas.
  • Stay focused on what the retailer is asking you to do.
  • Stick to the time frame you are given.

A presentation

Many employers in the retail sector ask their candidates to do a presentation during their assessment day. It may be based on a brief sent to you by the employer in advance – such as for the BHS ‘accelerate’ 18-month school leaver programme assessment day – or you may be given time to prepare during the assessment day itself.

Tesco is a retailer that has been known to give its candidates a presentation brief on the assessment day. Hannah Skinner, early careers recruiter at Tesco, says this can often be challenging for candidates. ‘They have 40 minutes to read the candidate brief and create a ten-minute presentation. Candidates struggle to come up with a comprehensive plan and instead repeat the candidate brief to the assessor. We ask them to come up with original ideas, a plan, and facts and statistics to back up what they are saying. Their presentation technique and style is often strong, but the content often lets them down.’

You may be asked to present the findings of a group exercise. In some cases a single candidate is nominated to speak, or the responsibility is split between members of the group.

Aptitude testing

You may be asked to take aptitude tests at retail assessment days in areas including numerical, verbal and logical reasoning. Read our advice on how to approach aptitude tests.

The retail apprenticeship assessment day interview

An individual, face-to-face interview with senior employees or managers is a common part of retail assessment days. Read more about retail assessment day interviews.

An alternative assessment day: the store visit and on-job evaluation

Some retailers – including Aldi and McDonald’s – ask you to visit one of their stores for an assessment day. This is often called an on-job evaluation (OJE). Read our advice on how to prepare for them.

How you will be assessed

The retailer will have a list of competencies that it is seeking from candidates, and each task in the assessment day will look for several different skills. Don’t worry if you think you’ve done badly in a task, as it is likely that you will have another chance to show off your skills in a different activity.

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